You remember I mentioned last week that some friends of mine had lost their baby, yes? Well, a little bird (or rather, a Kat) mentioned to me that they were looking for ways to get out of the house for a bit of distraction. I, meanwhile, had been trying to find something I could do to help the couple in this time of grief. Put that together with the facts that A) I have been desperately wanting to get to an Aeros game all playoffs but haven't been able to (for money or scheduling reasons) an B) I have been talking in vague terms about getting out to a game with this couple "one of these days" and I decided to see if they'd let me treat them to a night at the Yo. Fortunately for me, both the couple and my wife said Yes to the idea, and that's how I found myself at the rink for tonight's Game Seven.
I will say that the night started out a bit jittery, as I was scrambling to make sure friends and family across Oklahoma and Kansas were safe after a line of brutal tornadoes ripped through the region. Once I was sure everyone was out of harm's way (Thank you God!) I was able to focus on the evening.
Game Sevens are some of the most intense contests in all of sports. On top of that, there was no way we should have been playing in a game seven. We were up three games to zip at one point in this series and lost the next three, including a double-overtime heartbreaker at the Yo Sunday night to tie it up at three games apiece. As soon as Game Six ended, I had decided that we were through. We weren't going to win the series. We were out of gas, we were emotionally spent, we couldn't beat Drew MacIntyre, we were done. And I wasn't alone, either. I was going to the game, but it was more to give Stormy and Todd a night out than to watch the Aeros win, because I was convinced they wouldn't.
And then, this morning, I was suddenly washed anew with hope. We weren't going to lose tonight. Somehow or other, the Aeros were going to find a way to win. And they were going to win it because, dang it, I wasn't ready for the run to be over. They were going to win because losing just didn't feel right this morning. I knew Hamilton had all the momentum, the hot goalie, and the better special teams, but the Aeros were going to win. I could still hear my skeptical thoughts from the previous two days, but I had a feeling. And I was just gonna go with it.
You all know my love of irrational playoff talismans. I don't believe in that sort of thing. Honestly, I don't. Yet...in the 2001 Colorado Cup run, I wore the same ridiculous getup for every game. I'll never forget game three, where were trailing until I realized I wasn't wearing the long-sleeved Avs shirt and puckhead and rushed to the back room to throw them on. As I placed the foam hat upon my head, I could hear the game-tying goal suddenly scored. The Magic Double-Overtime Pizza worked. Isaac's Milwaukee spit-up proved prophetic. Dave's Magic Superman Shirt is, I believe, undefeated at Aeros playoff games. The Pens won ever Cup Final game in 2009 when coach Dan Bylsma ate a particular burrito from a particular shop. (He took one on the plane in a cooler to eat before Game Seven in Detroit) That same year, the Pens won every game when the T-rex outside the Pittsburgh Art Institute had an octopus in its jaws during the game. (They lost every game without the octopus) As Rex put it, "It all comes down to simple math. Mojo > No mojo."
But I don't really believe in all mojo mumbo-jumbo.
Unless it's the playoffs.
You can bet that I spent a short bit of time this morning trying to figure out what I could do to swing the mojo in the Aeros' direction this evening. I grabbed my Milwaukee/Houston shirt from a couple of years ago that I wore during our last Game Seven win. I reached for my Pens jersey, because I always wear my Pens jersey to Aeros games, just like I always wore my Lightning jersey to Thunder games. I'm a stickler for consistency. And then it hits me! The Thunder never actually won a championship when I wore my Bolts jersey to every game. Crap! What if that's what I've been missing all along? On a whim, I decided to mix things up and grabbed the Avs jersey for its first ever Aeros playoff game. Yes, I know how absolutely ridiculous this all sounds, buuuuuut....look, folks, I just can't put it any simpler. Mojo > no mojo. Just the way it is.
The game itself was in-tense! Todd and Stormy both seemed to enjoy it as well, but we were all pretty wiped out by the end of it. It was the loudest sporting event I have ever been to. My ears were ringing when it was over. It literally felt like back when I went to a lot of rock concerts back in high school. They said the attendance was over six thousand, but it felt like so many more. The lower bowl was pretty much full. Oh, and did I mention we got free Thunderstix? Nothing makes a crowd twice as loud like Thunderstix.
I thought the key to the game would be getting not one, but two pucks by MacIntyre quickly in the first, and the Aeros did that. We scored something like seven minutes in and then added a second goal a mere nine seconds later. Seriously, Casey Wellman just won the faceoff to himself, skated it past both defenders, and scored before the announcer had finished making the first goal call. It was awesome. Then, just like the series, we choked away the early lead and all the momentum. Todd mentioned he was amazed at how quickly we lost a 2-0 lead. It was stunning. We left the first tied at two, though it felt we may as well be behind. On the second goal, the Bulldog forward skated literally the length of the ice straight up the middle with no one challenging him. It was like a team of second graders learning zone defense in Biddy Basketball. "You cover him!" "No, he's not in my zone!"
(Side note: the only time I notice American sports fans singing along with our national anthem is when the Canadian national anthem is also sung before the games. This is because any Canadian in the house will sing along with O, Canada, and the home fans won't be outdone. Incidentally, O Canada is far more sing-alongable than the Star Spangled Banner. But it's chilling to hear an arena full of sports fans sing along with "O Say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave?")
The second period was a lot like the first. We carried the play for the most part, and another Wellman goal gave us another lead, but more crap-tastic penalty killing left us tied after 40 minutes. We had a raucous crowd, a tie game, and twenty minute of hockey left to play. Well, after a stirring comeback win in the intermission contest by the guy in the green human hamsterball, we were ready to find something to cheer about. Unfortunately, the Aeros didn't seem to willing to provide it once the third period started. We just couldn't keep the puck in the offensive zone like we had in the first two, and then we took a penalty. Back to the PK, which had been a dismal failure so far all series. This time, however, was different. Suddenly, we got a pretty solid kill, and our boys found their wheels again. We buzzed the net, often coming close, bringing the crowd to its feet more than once only to sit back down with a frustrated "OHHHHH!!!" The crowd actually got its act together with a few chants. I've never heard a full house chanting "Let's Go Aeros" with no prompting for a full minute. It was awesome.
Apparently the Aeros had figured out that the Bulldogs were just going to tie it up if they scored again, so they tried to put it off for as long as humanly possible. Finally, with 1:13 to go in the game, Captain DiSalvatore (or "Salad Over Joint") said "ENOUGH!" For the call, I'll give you over to Aero Joe.
And there you go. After a furious seventy second rally attempt from the 'Dogs, the Aeros had won their first series on home ice since 2003. I probably don't need to tell you that the crowd went bananas. I thought I might lose my voice (I didn't). I realized I'd spent almost the entire evening tensing every muscle in my body by sitting as far forward as I could get in my seat or jumping to my feet or beating those blasted Thunderstix to a pulp. It was worth it to watch the boys shaking hands with their vanquished opponents. (I've seen a lot of playoff games in Wichita and Houston, but I've never been there when my team has clinched a series)
Western Conference Champs. Open at home against Binghamton for the Whole Dang Enchilada on Friday. Look forward to taking in a game with my boys at some point if the series goes six or seven (since my boys be out o town this weekend). I don't know if we can beat Binghamton. I'm not gonna worry about that just now. Now, I think, if we don't win the Calder Cup, I'll probably be satisfied with this run. I will admit that I would have been ticked off if we'd lost tonight. I probably wouldn't look back with "Oh, that great playoff run of 2011," I'd just remember blowing a 3-0 series and giving it away on home ice. Don't get me wrong, I really want to win that Calder Cup. Tonight, however, was special. Because of the game, because of the company, because of the crowd, because it was something I've never gotten to witness firsthand before. Tomorrow, or maybe Thursday, I'll start getting nervous over Binghamton.
Tonight, I'll just be happy with tonight.