Previously on View From The Bench: A pair of absences force a young man to assume the mantle of Head Coach. Meanwhile, Team 11 pulls even on the season at 2-2-1, losing their best player to suspension in the process. Will they be able to earn a winning record without him? Will I keep this entry to less than 1000 words? Will anyone read to find out?
The thrilling conclusion…starts NOW!
Going into the game this time, I knew I would be the only coach in attendance. At least last time I kind of thought the other guy would be there (and he was, for a bit). It changes things, knowing you’ll be working the bench by yourself. I was a strange mix of nerves and excitement. I would be missing the first period of Game 3 of Canucks-Kings, but if I could lead this rag-tag group to glory, it would all be worthwhile. This is what I signed up for, right? Well, sort of.
Turns out not that many of the guys were willing to miss the Canucks game. I got an e-mail from Brian as I was walking into the arena saying one of the kids had come down with an “unexpected illness” — I can only assume it was Playoff Fever. I went into the dressing room with a game sheet, ready to pass it around and have the boys sign their names on it. The room was near empty. There were four guys sitting in it. “This is it…?” I asked.
“Pretty much,” was the response. “There’s three guys out warming up already, but…yeah.” A few stragglers showed up and signed the sheet. When I got it back, there were nine names on it, and one of them was our goalie. More than a third of the team was missing. We would have one set of subs, and that’s it. “Keep the shorts shift, boys,” I told them. …wait, what the fuck did I just say? Ugh. Off to a great start.
Arriving on the bench, we had mysteriously gained a player. I don’t know where our ninth skater came from or what his name was, I was just happy to have him there. The opposition was fearsome. The boys informed me they had been badly beaten by this team in the pre-season, and our short bench wasn’t exactly filling me with confidence. Within a minute and a half, it was 1-0 for the bad guys. With no one looking to me for answers, I looked to my phone. ScoreMobile informed me that Mason Raymond had the Canucks up 1-0, and I passed along the news. “On the bright side,” I said. “Canucks are currently winning the game that matters.” It was the most enthusiasm I got from the bench all day. But it wouldn’t last — the enthusiasm, or the Canucks’ lead. By the time Doughty scored to tie things up, we were losing 3-0.
Team 11 trailed 7-2 at the half. I call us The Elevenzies, because coaching is my second breakfast. And come on, what the hell kind of name is “Team 11” anyway. The buzzer sounded and I stepped off the bench onto the playing surface as the team gathered around me. With the extra skater on the ice, we had more players on the rink than on the bench, and they all looked dead tired. I looked around me, and up at the scoreboard, my brain frantically flipping through every inspirational speech I’ve ever seen, looking for the right words that could right the ship. I didn’t find them. In fact, I probably found the exact opposite of that.
“Gentlemen,” I started. “There’s nothing I can say to you that will turn this around, is there?” Silence. “I think we all knew we were going to lose today. I know I did. We never really stood a chance. We could be anywhere right now, out watching the game… But we’re here, and I guess that means something. So if we could just hold them to single digits, that’s a moral victory. Isn’t it? Isn’t it?” I glanced at the slumped shoulders surrounding me, sweat dripping off each of their faces. “I know you’re gassed. Hell, I’m tired just looking at you. But, uhh…” I sighed heavily. “If we can tighten up and save ourselves from total embarrassment, well boys, that’s almost as golden as victory itself. A line must be drawn here. They’ve come this far, but no further!” Thanks Picard. “We might not leave here with the W — we definitely won’t. But we’ll still have our dignity. So, uhh, go out there and lets get this over with.”
Looking over that, it actually reads half decent. My memory is being too kind. It was the worst speech I’ve ever heard, and it was coming straight out of my mouth. Yet strangely enough, it worked. We potted three goals, and could have had more if their goalie hadn’t been equal to the task. With 20 seconds left in the game we made the prettiest passing play I’ve seen all season, only to be stymied by the keeper in the final seconds. We held them to just two more in the entire period. 9-5 final. Nothing to be proud of, but no cause for shame either.
We filed out for a post-game huddle prior to a chorus of hip-hip-hooray’s. “YOU DID IT!” I exclaimed. “I asked you to do one thing and you freaking did it, I can’t believe it! We held them to single digits! We won the half! Hold your heads up high today.” They all smiled half-smiles, probably growing tired of my shtick. “No, I mean it. I really didn’t think we could do it. I’m not trying to say I didn’t believe in you guys, but I mean, hell, you saw what we were up against. Bring it in for the three cheers, lets get out of here.”
Sarcastic as some of this may have sounded, I really did leave the game believing it was a moral victory. With a minute left and the other team sitting at 9 goals, it was legitimately exciting to see us break up a passing play and carry it into their end. “53 seconds!” I shouted. “Eat the clock. HOLD THEM.” While obviously not on the same level, it was a similar feeling to praying for the shutout in the game prior. Looking up at the clock and counting down the seconds. Hoping against hope. It really didn’t matter if we won or not, so long as we accomplished our modest goal. We did. And after a dreary and downright disheartening first half, it made the second frame fun. All your life you’re told that winning isn’t everything, that “the first goal is having fun.” A crock of shit, I’ve always thought. Play to win, or what’s the point? Not that night.
We could have been anywhere that night. Out watching the game. But we were there. And in the end, I guess it really did mean something after all.