Many of you have probably experienced it at a variety of levels: your team is in playoffs, and the final buzzer sounds to indicate you’re going to overtime. It’s exhilrating, nerve-wracking, fun and awful all at the same time.
The crowning achievement of my hockey career was a triple overtime goal in an ECHL playoff game, following which I did a Michelangelo Ninja Turtle spin on my back into the boards. There’s no higher high that, save for, I dunno, something like crystal meth (not that I have a basis for comparison, all of my knowledge of crystal meth comes from Breaking Bad).
The dressing room after an overtime win is pure euphoria. It’s loud, there’s a 1000 conversations going on (everyone is explaining their “almosts”), and everybody is best friends. Even the scratches in suits are in great moods. It’s dude hug central. Winning heals everything, and that shared happiness makes you all best buds. It’s one of the greatest things I’ve experienced in sports.
But I’ve been on the other side of it too, and it’s about as much fun as getting dumped in high school, only with more physical pain. You didn’t try any less hard than your opponent, and when it ends, you have nothing to show for it. Nothing. You’d have been better off forfeiting. At least you’d have less bruises.
In the room after, there’s nothing much but a bunch of in-head finger pointing (“How the **** does he turn that over there?”). Silence. Guys slumped over in their stalls, not taking their gear off, just thinking. There’s a shared sense, alright, but “happiness” is not that sense.
On the bench during the game, you immediately want to get back on the ice (mentally, not physically), but when you leave the ice, you’re glad to make it back without screwing it up for your teammates (at least I was). Everybody is confident and wants to make the play to win the game, but there’s a tiny safety in knowing you can’t be the goat from a sitting position.
Still, that safety doesn’t compare to the feeling of pure fear you feel at the same time while waiting to get tapped by coach for next shift. Being in the play is calming. Not playing is like being in a car on the highway while a 17-year-old new driver tries to impress his friends. You’d much rather be in control.
But the periods take their toll and you need your rest; each extra frame that gets played means you need to refuel that much more.
There’s the usual stuff in a pro dressing room: water and gatorade, bananas and energy drinks. They’ll also have a few other things to offer – sugar pills, salt pills, potasium pills to keep you from cramping – all perfectly legal, natural things, but when you’re depleting your bodies’ resources at the rate you do during a game, they’re necessary. With each passing intermission, the training room looks more and more like the infirmary in M*A*S*H during the more violent episodes.
You spend a lot of time hoping too. Each win in the playoffs is massive, and hockey bounces can be cruel at times. All you can do stay as sharp as possible, do the right things (not the risky ones), and hope to get the puck at the right place at the right time and make it happen.
When it does and you see that puck hit the twine you see guys in skates jump high enough to dunk. The group bench-leap is a beautiful sight, and it’s something you don’t forget for the rest of your life.