Thursday, December 21, 2006

AMHL Thursday: The Wicked Wobbler

If you’ve already visited AMHL.com today, you know the results for this week’s games. You know that the Penguins are Tuesday’s champs, the Canadiens raised the Koffey Cup on Wednesday, and that earlier today, the Bruins barely beat the underdog Avalanche.

“So, where are the stories?” AMHL readers are wondering.

On paper. However, Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s stories, which I’ll deliver via this blog later today, maybe tomorrow…soon, promise to be gripping accounts. As for this morning's championship game, congratulations to the Bruins. There you go, that’s your story.

I didn’t cover the championship game because I’m a player first (even if it’s the consolation game), a writer second. All the better if I can write about scoring a goal (which I did, a real beauty. Just ask Mr. Points or Mr. Hockey) and winning (which we didn’t partly because my defense wasn’t as good as my offense).

But, I do have a story for you. You see, the ultimate chronicle isn’t found in this week’s contests but rather is embedded in the penultimate game of the season. I hope you’ll agree: last Thursay was a great day for hockey!

The Wicked Wobbler

IT’S A GREAT DAY FOR HOCKEY

“Badger” Bob Johnson’s famous words, painted in bold red, leap out from the white press box overlooking Rink Two, the perch from where the press corps from the Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Sun and Toronto’s Globe and Mail would jot notes had they chosen to witness this morning’s game featuring the second place Avalanche against the third place Capitals.

Aaron Sherman, the heralded Avalanche leader, is back for his second consecutive game after missing the three previous weeks because of a persistent groin injury. He warms up with teammate Peter Kokas while the other Avs are either suiting up in the locker room, sleeping in at home, or perhaps en route to the rink.

At the opening face-off, Av forwards George “Belly flopper” Morton, Jim “Mother Load” Glode, and John “the Pest” Greszczuk are nowhere in sight, so their teammates, wearing their white jerseys and who’ll skate right to left across your imagination, must rely upon the eight players who are in uniform. The Capitals, meanwhile, have the perfect compliment of players: four “D” and six forwards.

Cap forward Kevin Leverone, second in league scoring to teammate Dave “Mr. Hockey” Losier, flings his body in front of a shot from the point to thwart an Av opportunity. Later in the first period, Leverone falls down as he shoots but then rises to celebrate a 1–0 lead.

In the second period, the Caps lead 3–1, but the Avs keep coming and tie the score.

By now, Greszczuk has joined his Avalanche teammates. Of slight build and wearing glasses, the unassuming Greszczuk plays his low-profile game: fastidious forechecking and plodding puck carrying as he scans the icescape, looking to pass the puck instead of pushing it up ice.

The Capitals hardly noticed he was gone and, truth be told, were happy he had arrived so that he could spell the scoring machines: Peter Kokas, Chad Mikkelson, Peter Anastos—who scored a career-high 36 points in the regular season—and Sherman were among the league’s top ten point getters during the regular season.

With three minutes to go in the game, the Avs cling to a 5–4. The mighty Mr. Hockey puts a weak shot past goalie John Tourney to knot the score. Overtime looms.

But wait, the Caps have the puck deep in Avalanche territory! They can’t conquer Torney, though, and then watch the last few seconds of regulation drift into oblivion.

Sherman, who the Caps have prevented from scoring so far this game, may prove to be a threat in OT, but for now, they’re happy to let the clock run out.

Seven seconds…Greszczuk lugs the puck over the red line. Nobody challenges him.

Three seconds…from way up high in the slot, Grez flips a wicked wobbler if ever there was one, toward netminder Mike “the Eagle” Chase. As Chase prepares to snare the floater, a cold north wind blows in from off the Ottawa River to press the puck down—and past the bewildered netminder!

The buzzer sounds as an exuberant Greszczuk rushes to the right of the goal, not totally believing the puck had slipped past the now demoralized goalie, whose teammates are shocked.

Sherman is the first Av to overwhelm the toast of the town. Which town? Several.

Grez learned to skate as a toddler in Montreal but played his youth hockey just across the river from Ottawa, in Alymer. He didn’t play hockey at the University of Toronto, but the city that houses the Hockey Hall of Fame must be proud to claim Grez as one of their own.

Had it been anyone but else but Greszczuk who got the game-winner, writing about this first-round play-off loss would be painful. Today, I don’t mind losing. Not much anyway, because today is a great day for hockey, a great day to be Canadian, and a great day to be John Greszczuk.
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