Friday, May 05, 2006

AMHL Thursday Championship: Pinch Me

April 27, 2006
Concord, MA

“No pinching,” Aaron Sherman says to the three defensemen in the Bruins’ locker room, ordering us to keep our opponents in front of us.

“What if you have offensive talent?” Mike “K” Kennedy counters.

“No,” Sherm points to me (career-high four goals). “No,” he says to K (career-high 11 points), and then looks at Rich Yamartino (missed a few games but still registered 11 points). “Sometimes.”

In the first period against the Capitals, Yamartino has the puck at the left point. He winds up for a slap shot—freezing the defense—then slides the puck to Mike Schneider, waiting at the bottom of the circle. Schneider, who’s game-winning goal last Thursday opened the eyes of NHL scouts across North America, one-times the puck past netminder Dan Barros to give us a 1–0 lead against the heavily-favored Caps.

The scouts will remark after the game, “We knew Schneider had it in himself to score a beautiful goal like that. We think this kid is going to shine in the NHL…Hey, do you know where I can get a good blueberry donut?”

At the other end of the ice, Bruins’ goalie Anthony “Fig” Bonfiglio has been solid, making all the saves he’s supposed to make and others the scouts don’t expect: a spread eagle glove save to rob AMHL points leader Kevin Leverone and an on-his-belly glove save against Leverone.

In the waning seconds of the second period, we have a 2–1 advantage but can’t get the puck out of our zone. The Caps even the score.

“We gotta get it out off the boards,” Schneider repeats several times to his teammates gathered at the Bruins’ bench.

“2–2. Championship game. Good place to be,” K reminds us.

“Cream rises to the top,” my dad is fond of saying. For us, our cash crop has been the SMM line, which stands for Sherman (48 points) Mahoney (29 points) and Mikkelson (22 points). SMM: Show Me the Money.

We’re used to Mahoney or Mikkelson delivering precise passes to our primary cherry picker and vocal leader. Sherman gets big goals. He yells a lot, but he gets big goals in big games. Today is no different, and Sherm gives us a two-goal lead. But he surprises his teammates, opponents—and the NHL scouts in attendance—by launching himself from the top of circle in our own zone, sprawling toward the point to block a shot.

Thud. Sherman blocks the blast but then just lies there.

“Get up!” we scream at him.

Ten seconds feels like ten minutes. Sherman struggles to his feet. No injury. Just surprised to find defense in his hockey tool bag.

Yamartino finds himself on offense, deep into the Caps’ zone. He jams his shoulder into the boards. Out for the game.

Jim Glode, not known for his face-off skills, lines up to Fig’s left and squares himself against Caps’ superstar Dave Losier (aka AMHL’s Mr. Hockey). Up 4–2 against the league’s most potent team, which two weeks ago overcame the same deficit to win in OT, we need to win this draw. Glode proves too much for Mr. Hockey, sliding the puck back to Kennedy, who clears the puck.

When Sherman scores on an empty net to complete a hat trick to secure the upset victory, the NHL scouts shake their heads in collective astonishment.

“Total team effort,” they’ll remark after the game.

We help the wounded Yamartino lift the Cup, and five minutes later—it feels like five seconds—we’re pinching together in the team photo with the Koffey Cup.