No repeat as champions, but still a great hockey season

No repeat as champions, but still a great hockey season
Action from a game during our second season. Photo by Rachel Lee Oftedahl.

It was an up-and-down season for my team in the Heartland Novice Hockey League. It started with a five-game win streak for Blades of Steel, and ended with a nail-biting, 2-1 overtime loss in the championship game.

We ended the first season as league champions, then entered a tournament before the second season started. We did not do well. Our team was augmented by a few players from some of the other teams in our Heartland League, so it was still fun to play with some of the guys we would normally play against.

Once the second season started, my team seemed unstoppable. In our first five games, we scored a total of 28 goals and allowed only 8. One of our games was a shutout. Heck, even I had a goal -- and I'm a stay-at-home defenseman. It appeared that we could do no wrong.

We then got some fancy new uniforms, designed by yours truly.

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But in our sixth game of the season, an uncharacteristic penalty by one of my teammates led to a power play goal by our opponents, who eventually beat us 3-1. Close, but a tough loss that started our downward spiral.

We bombed our next game. Halfway through, we were down 5-0. After changing up our lines and defensive pairings a bit, we battled back but lost 5-3.

At this point, we joked about our new uniforms being cursed. We even thought about burning them in a bonfire -- but maybe not too seriously.

Game seven was terrible. One of my teammates was illegally hit to the head by an opponent's elbow. The offending player was kicked out of the game and suspended for an additional game. My player, on the other hand, had a mild concussion, missed some work and our next game. Believe it or not, I lost sleep over this. Although my teammate got up and finished the game -- powered by adrenaline and perhaps a bit of typical guy macho-ism -- he wasn't so well over the next week. It made me both angry and sad that a friend of mine got hurt (he's better now), and that hockey, unfortunately, sometimes brings out bad things in people.

Our eighth game of the season had to be the strangest game in my short hockey career. Nine of my teammates, including our goalie, couldn't make it to this game. I enlisted three players from other teams to help us out, as well as a substitute goalie. But the goalie never came -- he texted me and said he was at the wrong rink, about an hour away. So I contacted another goalie, who came right away but needed time to get to the rink and get changed. After delaying the game as long as we could, we played the first 10 minutes of the game while defending an empty net. By the time the first period was almost over, our goalie took to the ice. Surprisingly, we were only down 3-1. Unfortunately, our backup-backup goalie didn't have time to warm up. We got clobbered 9-2. It was truly our low point of the season.

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A hand-me-down children's trophy, donated by the rink. We call it "The Heartland Cup."

Because we did so well in our first five games, we still clinched a playoff spot. But it seemed unlikely that we'd get too far, given that we lost five in a row.

After giving up an early goal in the first playoff game, we came back and won 5-3. Blades of Steel was onto the second round.

The next night, our playoff game was against the same team that beat us 3-1 and 9-2 during the regular season. What made the task particularly tough was that we had only nine skaters that night, as no substitute players were allowed in the playoffs. So we skated two lines of forwards and just three defensemen. I logged 30 minutes of ice time that night! Even though we were greatly outnumbered, we dug in and won decisively 5-2. Blades of Steel was headed back to the championship!

As much as we would have loved to be back-to-back champs, it wasn't meant to be. Our opponent scored a power play goal late in the first period. With less than a minute left in the third period, the other team got a penalty. We pulled our goalie and tied the game, forcing sudden death overtime. But about five minute into OT, our opponents scored, winning the game -- and the Heartland Cup.

One of my teammates said "so goes the 'Hawks' season, so goes the Blades' season." Come to think of it, within two months my two favorite hockey teams (the Blackhawks and Blades of Steel) lost close games in OT that cost them the championship. And,that will be the only time I will liken my d-level team to the Blackhawks.

A friend of mine from another team and I after his team beat mine. Photo by Shellie Lewis.

A friend of from the other team (left) and me after his team won the championship. Photo by Shellie Lewis.

Sure, we lost the championship game, but a 2-1 overtime loss is nothing to be ashamed over. It was a good, clean, low-scoring game with very few mistakes by both teams. Plus, I had friends on the opposing team -- including a few classmates from my Hockey 102 class -- so I was happy that some great people got to win.

As you can see from our team photo below, taken after the final game, the loss hit some of my teammates harder than others.

Right after our loss in the final game. Photo by Shellie Lewis.

Blades of Steel, after the Spring 2014 championship game. Photo by Shellie Lewis.

Despite the loss, I couldn't stop smiling. I have no reason not to smile. Win or lose, I am still having a great time. I'm excited for what fun new experiences the next hockey season may bring.


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