Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Mighty Mike Edwards, Part II: "Eye of the Tiger"

Didn't read Part I? We join Mike Edwards—a DJ and AMHL goalie who will make his debut with former NHL players, now known as the Boston Hockey Legends—as he familiarizes himself with his new teammates.

Outside, winter has finally arrived, its icy fingers clutching and grabbing everywhere, reaching through the doors opened by the 300 or so fans who’ve paid ten bucks a pop to watch tonight’s match. It’s so cold the Zamboni driver is wearing earmuffs. The ice should be almost Edmonton-like, which is regarded as the fastest ice in the NHL.

Inside, the Boston Hockey Legends file out of the locker room and into the hallway leading to the frozen battlefield. On the rubber mat skirting the rink, Don Marcotte, who was a Bruin his entire fourteen-year NHL career, kisses his grandson, who can’t be more than a year or two old. The little guy is wearing a Bruins sweater that, on the back, reads MARCOTTE. The grandfather steps onto the ice to prepare himself for another game with his pals against a presumably inferior opponent and to pepper his untested new puckstopper. How good is this Edwards fellow?

A day before the game, Edwards said Survivor’s big hit from Rocky III would be an appropriate reference to tonight’s pre-game session. “I feel like I may really need to psych myself up prior to taking Bruins' warm-up shots to avoid feeling too much like an overmatched underdog, helplessly watching every "pro-caliber" shot going past me into the net.... and in front of a paying crowd! Heck, even though I've been playing since 1968, I'm a goalie who didn't even play college hockey... taking the ice with several players I idolized over the years.”

Now, with the distractions that don’t complicate his AMHL games—the crowd, a PA announcer—Edwards has forgotten all about “Eye of the Tiger”. Instead of the motivational music playing in the goalie’s head, the lyrics-less music that WBZ Radio plays to introduce its coverage of the Bruins, streams from the rink’s sound system.

Left to right across your imaginary radio…

The Boston Hockey Legends warm up on their half of the ice. Edwards wears #1 on the back of his Bruins road sweater, the black one—no Bruins logo, no spokes— with gold shoulders and BOSTON across the chest. His teammates stride toward him, zinging pucks at him. Edwards stops the first few shots, most of them aimed at his leg pads or the glove on his left hand. The former pros understand the concept of building a goalie’s confidence in warm-ups but don’t want to overdo it. A minute or two later, as the PA announcer prepares to introduce the teams, Edwards sweeps three or four pucks from behind the goal line.

On the other end of the rink, wearing dark blue sweaters, the Rowley Police Association (RPA) players complete their warm-ups and then gather at their bench. The PA announcer introduces, one by one, the players, each taking a spot along the blue line.

The Bs, when called upon, do the same. John Carter in his caged hockey helmet stands at the far end of his blue line. Kenny Linseman, goggles strapped around his shaved and helmet-less head is next…Edwards joins his teammates, his black helmet and cage firmly in place as he tries to calm his nerves during the “Star Spangled Banner”.

Edwards skates to his net, but will later admit he wasn’t ready mentally as some fans settle in the stands and a few stand behind the Plexiglas at his back. He can’t see them now, but he feels them watching his every move.

Edwards braces himself for the first shot as an RPA winger—just twenty seconds into the game— snaps a shot from the face-off circle to his left. In good position, Edwards makes a routine pad save.

Two minutes later, RPA’s #49 has the puck in the circle to Edwards’s right. A defender stands between #49 and a teammate in the slot, so #49 shoots…and the puck slithers through the netminder’s pads and then behind the goal line. A softie.

Edwards knows it. He didn’t challenge the shooter. He’ll later say that he hadn’t yet developed a feel for the crease. “I was thinking the wrong things. I got people in back of me watching…then I said to myself, ‘I’m not worried about [the RPA players]’” because their skill level is on par with what he faces in the AMHL every Tuesday morning.

And his teammates tonight are a tad more skilled than his AMHL Leafs. Bruce Shoebottom, who spent four years with the Boston Bruins, scores to tie the game. At even strength, the Bs appear to be on the power play; they toy with RPA, preferring precision passing over bombs from the blue line. Edwards watches the action from 180 feet away, and the Legends eventually score. Again and again.

Ten minutes into the game, Edwards—now comfortable after making a splendid kick save on RPA’s best player—watches Marcotte score to give the Legends a 3–1 lead.

“Start Me Up” blares from the sound system.

Less than a minute later, Stewart, wearing a Jofa helmet “the Great One” gave to him and pants he acquired from Ed Van Impe, strides in from the left point and then shoots from the top of the circle. Score!

But, Stewie’s defense, like the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of his aforementioned hockey pants, is suspect.

How will this affect the Legends’ new netminder? Stay tuned for the final segment of the Mighty Mike Edwards story.
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