Saturday, August 19, 2006

AMHL Thursday: On Guard!

Thursday, August 17
Concord, MA

“It almost feels like you should get some special music or something because it’s the playoffs,” the AMHL photographer says to Avalanche forward Chad Mikkelson as he approaches Rink One.

Chad steps onto the ice—and flops onto his fanny. He removes his skate guards, laughing.

“I won’t tell anyone,” the photographer says.

“I’m gonna tell everyone!” he replies, walking back to the Avalanche locker room, where his seven teammates are still getting dressed for the first round game against the first place Caps. Mikkelson tosses the stretchy and absorbent blade covers toward his faded blue and gold hockey bag, which he’s had since he was a teenager in Bloomington, MN, as we laugh—in part because at least two of us have made the same mistake at least once.

Chris Howell and yours truly skate around the ice with Mikkelson, David Hale, Rob Rohlfs, Scott Lauder, and Scott Gelin, taking turns at peppering our goalie, Mike Chase, with shots. We’re as ready as we’re going to get. Aaron Sherman and company have beaten us three times this season, but we’ve clubbed the Caps twice. Should be a good game.

It’s tied at one in the first period. The puck comes back to the right point. I fling a weak shot toward the net. Lauder collects the puck and shoots. Cap backstop John Torney makes the initial save, but Gelin drills home the rebound to give us a 2–1 lead, which is really a 2–2 tie because of the AMHL’s rule whereby the last place team in a first round playoff game against the first place seed must start the game with a one-goal deficit.

At the intermission, referee Peter Bagley skates toward the scorekeeper area and looks up at me. “Jimmy, you gotta… (in a split second I think he’s going to say ‘get more power on those shots,’ but he doesn’t)…do somethin’ about that rule.” (Pete doesn’t realize that although I have the power of the pen, I have no clout when it comes to making decisions about league rules.)

The second period is an explosion of goals including a bullet by Brent Delehey that first clangs off the post and a beautiful “Bloomington Backhand” from Chad Mikkelson, who redeems himself for his pre-game spill with a short-side, top shelf shot.

Ten seconds into the third period, we score to build a 5–3 lead, but the Caps counter with two quick goals to even the score. Or so it might seem. We cannot shake the curse of a last place finish, which will prompt an anonymous AMHL official to credit the Caps’ Dean Banfield (who’s not even at the game) with a goal.

The photographer has already left the building as Mike Chase chugs to the bench in favor of Chris Howell, but we can’t get the game-tying goal. The game ends unceremoniously, without any fanfare (because there are no fans) or music, on an icing call.

We shake hands with the victors and then exit the ice. In the locker room, we remove our skates and cover our blades…until next week’s consolation game.
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