Thursday, December 26, 2013

AMHL Thursday Championship: Christmas Miracles

December 19, 2013
Bruins vs. Blues
Concord, MA

Two weeks ago, the odds of the Blues (4–10 regular season record) and the Bruins (6–7–1) advancing to the Final were as slim as Santa Claus in the off-season. (Little-known facts: Papa Noel spends the off-season as a park ranger in the Arctic Cordillera, Canada’s “Far North,” hiking the high peaks and reporting his research to McGill University. Just before he bulks up for Christmas, he weighs about 165 lbs.)

For more than a dozen years, the AMHL Photographer drives to the rink in hopes that everyone on each team will play. Perfect attendance would make her job easier and would increase the likelihood of capturing compelling images that she posts online and places into the prizes given to players whose teams play in the championship game. Even in final games, perfect attendance is not as regular as she would like, and this often means she must haul undistributed prizes back to her workshop.

As we join the game in progress, the Blues leading the Bruins, 1–0, she takes inventory of players she has tracked all season.  

“Everybody’s here except Neal (Hesler),” she says. “It’s a Christmas miracle.”
Fall 2013 Champs

Filling in for Hesler is Steve Scansaroli. Scans cracked two ribs about a month ago. His doctor cleared him to play goalie, a position he will later say allows him to control collisions, but not to skate out as he had done for the Blues in the regular season. Maybe not full-blown miracle, but only four week’s recovery?

As many a New Englander ponders the birth of the Savior and sings along with Christmas carols played on Magic 106.7, Scans watches the Bruins—skating right to left across your IcePad. Blues defenseman Mike Moore launches a slap shot from the right point. Scans smothers the puck against his chest (and upper rib) protector.

Scans braces as Bruins forward and AMHL veteran Aaron Sherman, a right-handed shooter on s his off-wing, passes to rookie Matt Buono. He shoots glove side—ding—off the post and wide right.

Still in the second period and now leading 2–0, the Blues attack again. Tyler Spring, at the right point, shoots—ding—off the post and behind netminder Dan Barros. 3–0 Blues.

“C’mon Yellow,” a Bruins bench jockey bellows, “plenty of time now!”

He’s not talking about the five shopping days until Christmas but rather the twelve minutes remaining in the second period.

Two minutes later, Bruins forward Andrew “Kala Christougena” Zacharakis, cuts from the far boards fronting the Bruins to the slot. He wrists a shot past a defender and past Scans, the puck bulging the twine. 3–1 Blues.

The teams trade exchange presents (a Bruins player scoring on his own goalie and Scans surrendering a softie or two, and the Blues lead the Bruins, 4–3 after two periods.

Buono makes good on a rebound attempt, which Scans considers another gift, and Buono scores again less than four minutes later. Almost faster than you can say Buon Natale, the Blues have not only squandered a three-goal lead but are now down a goal.

But they still have eleven minutes to tie the game.

Blues defenseman Brian Rogers shoots from the point as oncoming traffic approaches. As the opponent blocks the shot, Rogers’s stick breaks, the blade separating from the shaft. As play continues the other way, d’Entremont reaches over the boards with his own stick to retrieve the detritus. No way is he going to pull this off—or up. d’Entremont hoists the blade up the boards and lifts the blade along the boards and then lowers his makeshift crane to retrieve the shaft. He repeats the exercise with such strength, determination and dexterity—all in the name of player safety—yanking the detached shaft upward and then over the boards.

The Bruins dominate play but have not scored as the puck is frozen along the near boards.

“Time out!”

With 2:30 on the clock, Barros poises himself for the inevitable onslaught, generated by the squandering a three-goal lead, testosterone, and the thought of unfinished Christmas shopping.

The Blues once again carry the play. Barros turns his left heel out to make a save. He rises, seemingly hurt and unsure of himself as the teams prepare for a face-off.

His Bruins clear the puck, celebrate the victory, and then pose for the team photo with the Koffey Cup. A Bruin, filled with the joy of victory and mayhap the holiday spirit, yelps his delight.

The Bruins file off the ice to the locker room to admire their personalized photo calendar prizes.

“Nice comeback, eh, Jimmy?” Bruins defenseman Mike Moore to this reporter.

Barros exits and then responds to the question about his awkward save and if he was injured.

Not an injury, he says, and then replicates the save, He turns to his left, extends his left heel outward, and then says, still bewildered, “I haven’t made a skate save in ten years.”

Maybe not Miracle-on Ice-material. But near-perfect attendance, fast-healing ribs, d’Entremont’s feat…and that last by Barros—plenty to celebrate.

Buon Natale, Feliz Natal, Kala Christougena, Joyeux Noël, Merry Christmas…and a happy and healthy New Year, everyone.
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