That reality came with a crushing truth, my life for the last twelve years would either continue on as normal or it would face a dramatic truth that hockey was no longer going to be my everything. As nervous as I was, I was also anxious, I wanted nothing more than to end CCs season and live to play another game with my best friends. I knew there was only one way to do this, I had to be a contributing member of the Spartans lineup, and I had to help my teammates bring the Shamrocks crumbling to their knees to suffer the agonizing pain of defeat.
The time on the road has always been one of my favorite things about playing High School hockey with my friends. Those bus trips were filled with shenanigans and irreplaceable memories. After a while youre able to develop a natural instinct that helps you sense when the ride is coming to an end. Today was no different, as we were turning onto Nick Lidstrom drive I could tell it was time. The bus slowly came to a stop and as I looked up I saw the green and white awning of Novi Ice Arena, the awning read Welcome to Novi Ice Arena.
I looked at my line mate and nodded as a confident grin appeared on my face, he nodded back as we stood up to make our way out of the bus for the big game. I grabbed my equipment bag and threw it over my right shoulder, shortly after I put my head phones on and Tom Morellos electric guitar riffs took my mind to a state of peace. As I took the first steps off the bus I looked up and saw a sea of double blue and white, our fellow classmates had shown up and were decked out in Spartans gear.
This no longer felt like a road game, this was a home game away from home. That calm, confident smile arose on my face again as I walked into the arena and sensed the electricity in the air, signs for both teams were plastered all over the walls as I walked down the stairs towards the visitors locker room. I felt like a rock star walking into the locker room, the parking lot was full and the crowd was abundant, the only things missing were velvet ropes and the girls pounding on our door trying to get into the locker room.
In the locker room I started with stretching, slowly moving my body, avoiding any jerky motions as I tried to warm up my body before putting on my foul smelling gear. With my gear on I looked around the room and saw 19 other gladiators suited up for battle, all eagerly listening to Coach Mitchell and his game plan, we trusted that he had the perfect game plan to defeat our opponents. Earlier in the season we met the Shamrocks at their home building and even though we walked out of there with a loss we knew we were going to be meeting in the playoffs, but I dont think anybody expected it to be in the Regional Finals.
With game time approaching, I listened to the final seconds of Rage Against the Machines hit song Know Your Enemy, as Zack De La Rocha let out his thunderous roar I took my head phones off and made that long walk down the corridor to the rink. As the Zamboni left the ice our goaltender would hit the ice first, after he stepped on the sounds of a thundering herd echoed from the ice throughout the arena. You could hear the sharp cuts being made on the ice as our steel blades carved into the ice. After a great warm-up our team gathered on the goal line for the National Anthem.
The young female singer bellowed the final words to the Star Spangled Banner and we took one final lap around our half of the ice before the team took their spot on the bench as I lead my line onto the ice for the opening faceoff. The fans were deafening with their cheers as I entered the faceoff circle, I looked across from me to find a former teammate standing in the circle ready for the puck drop. As the referee dropped the puck I thrusted my right shoulder into the opposing centers chest and kicked the puck back to my teammate.
We were able to get an early chance as my line mate smoked a shot past the goaltender only to hear the clanking sound of the puck meeting the iron post. After our first rush I skated back to the ice and hurdled over the boards to get onto the bench. I grabbed the water bottle and sprayed it the water onto my face, a cooling sensation swept through my body as I looked on as my teammates were playing a game of chess against the Shamrocks. Both teams were out there playing with caution as they were trying to make the other team create the first mistake.
After a short feeling out process the Shamrocks put the first goal on the board, their leading scoring came flying in on a breakaway and buried the puck past our goaltender. After this goal I could feel the collar of my jersey getting tighter around my neck, our fans were silent, the Shamrock goal took the wind out of their sails. When the clock struck triple zero the buzzer sounded to end the period, unfortunately we were down 1-0 as we headed back into our locker room to make the needed adjustments.
In the locker room I saw Coach Mitchell stand in the middle of the room as cool as a cucumber. I could sense my teammates hearts racing, pounding against their chests the same as mine was currently doing. Coach just stood in the middle of the room and calmly talked about the adjustments we needed to be made heading into the second period. Coachs words were soothing, he gave us a sense of calm that can usually only be found by a mothers voice.
At the end of his speech our team captain stood up and brought the team together before heading out onto the ice for the second period. The second period was going to be ours, I could feel it. Our fans seemed to find their second wind as we took the ice for the second period, their cheers vibrated throughout the arena as we skated a quick lap to loosen up. I took the faceoff to start the second period and was able to win it, I walked through the opposing center and broke into the Shamrocks defensive zone.
I cradled the puck back and forth with my stick before sliding the puck through the defensemans skates, I dished the puck over to my winger as he slapped a one-timer past the goaltender only to hear the cold sound of iron ring throughout the arena, a long lasting gasp could be heard from our student section as we missed the near goal. The second period seemed to have several near goal opportunities that while they didnt go in gave us the confidence we needed. With seconds remaining in the second period I was able to chip the puck past the defenseman, from there I was off to the races, it was a breakaway just me and the goaltender.
I cocked my stick back before snapping a rocket of a snap shot past the goaltender, the twine swooshed back and forth as the puck hit the back of the netting, I pumped my fist in celebration as our student section came to life with an ear shattering roar. I did it, I put the team on the board, and we were now tied at 1-1. We went back to the locker room with smiles beaming from our faces, the knots in our stomachs had loosened and now we knew that this was anybodys game. Coach Mitchell gave us an uplifting speech that was as motivational as they come.
His voice was a mix of intensity and pride, he knew that his team was doing everything they could to win this game. We entered the third period optimistic, we knew that we could win this game, what we didnt know was that the team we were playing against in the third period was a different breed of monster. The Shamrocks hit the ice in the third with a snarl on their face, they werent happy about being tied to a public school with twenty minutes left to play. Within the opening minute Catholic Central took control as they scorched the puck past our goaltender to take a 2-1 lead.
The goal deflated our student section and wiped the smiles right off of our faces. Several sticks slammed against the boards in frustration as we were now closer to our season ending. The third period was intense and the intensity only seemed to grow as the minutes faded away. With less than two minutes left we gained control in the Shamrocks zone and had two near goal opportunities. The first was a one timer that bounced off the cold iron into the corner, the second opportunity was a wide open net that the goalie somehow found the way to make a save that would make David Copperfield blush.
With less than a minute to go we pulled our goalie, we had six attackers to their five, we rushed the puck into their end and had shot after shot fired against their goaltender. Their goaltender went into Tasmanian devil mode as he spun around in his net like a tornado, he made his job look effortless. With seconds remaining the puck found its way onto my stick and I shot a screamer onto the net, the goaltender made the initial save and kicked the puck out to the slot, our defenseman pinched and spanked the puck past the defenders and past the goaltender only to clank the boards.
He missed the net as the buzzer sounded to signal the end of the game. I looked up at the scoreboard and saw the final score, 2-1 in favor of the Shamrocks. Our team huddled up and slammed fists before getting into a line to shake the hands of the victors. An agonizing pain shot through my body as I shook the hands of the Catholic Central players, kids I grew up playing with and against were all smiles, the look on their faces looked like children playing at recess as they shook our hands. I stood at the goal line as they accepted the Regional Championship trophy, after their Captain took the trophy my team left the ice.
Before stepping off the ice I took one look back at the Shamrocks team that was now celebrating with the trophy, sweat dripped from my brow as I stepped onto the rubber floor and made my way back to the locker room. I shook my head in disappointment as I slammed my helmet against the concrete wall. This was the end, it was over. Life as I knew it was about to change, my days as a competitive hockey player had ended. I sat there with my head against the wall and took in the silence that fell upon the room. We were a band of brothers that did everything we could to win the game and at the end of the day it wasnt enough.