We Are the Champions, Statistically, of the World, More Or Less (Part 2)Ah, the joys of a 6:30AM Sunday game after not sleeping the night before because the people next door were trying to party like it was 1999. Plus, this game was against Laredo, and if Eli's team won, they were guaranteed a spot in the finals.
The thing about being in a rink at 6:30 is that once you step in, you have no sense of time, so it doesn't feel like pre-dawn or anything else. It just feels like rink time.
Eli played as a defenseman for this game, with his friend Sean in goal, and it was tough. Laredo clearly wasn't as good as McAllen, but we were clearly not as good as the day before, and it was a tight, tight game. But they held on for a 4-3 win, putting them in the finals.
It wasn't Eli's best game--he made good decisions with the puck, but clearly wasn't skating as fast as usual--but he made it through, and the coach had already told him that he would be in goal for the finals.
We went back to the hotel, ate breakfast, and then came back for the game between McAllen and Laredo, because the winner would be their opponent in the finals.
When we got there, it was 2-2 in the first period.
McAllen's best player (#99) weighed about (I'm not kidding) 150 lbs. He was huge, and he could skate very well. Laredo had very little defensive discipline, and he started getting loose on breakaways.
After two periods, it was 11-2 McAllen, and that one kid had six goals. That's when I fully realized how well had Eli played in goal against them, and how well our kids had skated.
And how unlikely it was for both to happen again. See, at the end of Scarface, Al Pacino does finally get killed.
"Okay," Eli 10.2 said. "Let's go." We went back to the hotel and hung out for a while, because the game wasn't until 12:10. But it didn't feel right to be sitting around, because Eli never sits around. We had this plush ball about the size of a softball, so we took it outside and threw it around for a while. The wind was crazy, and the ball was so light that it was like throwing a knuckleball. It was just a simple, goofy thing to do, but it was good time, not nervous time.
When we went back to the arena, we went early (we always go early--Eli wants to be at the rink all day long), but again, we were sitting around too much. We went outside and I saw that there was a series of messages (created with those peel-and-stick letters) near the front door about what couldn't be brought into the arena.
It was huge list, with nine or ten different items, but at least half of the letters were missing.
"Clearly, we need to figure this out," I said.
A typical line would look something like this (I'm still pissed that I didn't take a picture, because I intended to):
"N R ERS O S O LER"
That's not an exaggeration--every line was like that. Stare at it long enough, though, and eventually, the words appear: "NO CARRIERS OR STROLLERS."
We spent at least 15 minutes trying to puzzle through the lines, and finally got down to the very last one, but it stumped us (another reason I wanted to take a picture, so you guys could figure it out). We did figure out "NO LONG CHAINS WITH", though, from " O ON HA S W TH" (or something very close to that).
Once we finished playing Arena Door Wheel Of Fortune, it was time for him to get dressed. We always talk a little before he goes out. "Don't try to be Superman," I said. "That will just cloud up your head. Just be yourself. Stay on your angle, be aggressive, and be clear. And don't show them anything--no emotions--because they're afraid of you. How funny is that? They're the most dominant house team in the southern half of the state, and they're afraid of you."
He laughed. "I know, it's just crazy, isn't it?" he said. "I'm a little nervous, but I'm not afraid."
"You know all those McAllen fans with flags?" I asked. Some of their fans bring these big flags with their team logo (Killer Bees) on it, and they waved them like crazy when they score. "You're going to shut down those flags."
"That's going to feel awesome," he said.
I felt like I was sending a tiny sailor to his death at sea. "I have an awful feeling about this game," I told Gloria on the way to the stands. "We're going to get our asses kicked."
"I've never heard you say that before," she said.
"I know," I said. "I've never felt it before."
The game started, and in the first minute, McAllen had a breakaway. #99. So this kid who weighed at least twice what Eli weighs was bearing down on him, but Eli was fearless, like he always is in goal. The kid didn't try to deke him, but shot low, and Eli kicked it away with his pad.
Then #99 got another breakaway. And another. On the third, he scored, even though Eli was in perfect position to make the save, but the shot was so fast that it went under him a split-second before he got down.
To make it worse, our best player and leading scorer had been skating 1-on-5 near the blue line and had gotten the puck stolen, and no one could chase down the breakaway. It was an awful, awful play, and seeing our best player get schooled like that, I was afraid it was going to turn into disaster.
It didn't, though. Breakaway after breakaway, most of them by #99, but Eli was fighting them off. It was only 1-0 after the first period. In the second, #99 scored again (Eli said the kid had the heel of his stick on the puck, then used the front of his stick to lift up Eli's goalie stick, then slid the puck through the gap, which is pretty freaking impressive). A few minutes after that, though, we scored an ugly goal on a shoved-in rebound, and it was 2-1.
Then our star finally got a breakaway and was almost tackled as he neared the goal. Penalty shot.
It was easy to feel what was happening. Momentum was shifting, we were handling their rushes better, and our guy was about to get going. He was going to score on this penalty shot, the game would be tied, and Eli would shut them down for the rest of the game.
It felt like that, all right, but as soon as I saw our star gather the puck, I knew it was all wrong. He was skating so fast that it was hard for him to control the puck, and when he shot, the puck never went off the ice, deflecting harmlessly off the goalie's leg pad.
After that, the momentum was gone. The kids fought hard--it was still 2-1 with 3:30 left in the third period--but on one last breakaway, their star scored again. Eli had read the shot perfectly and was in position to make the save, but the puck went under him again.
Final score: 3-1, McAllen.
I knew it was going to be very tough in the dressing room, and it was. Eli was crying, and in between tears he said, "They let me down, and I let everybody down," he said. That was an accurate description--his defense was terrible, but he still could've stopped all three shots that scored. He was bereft.
So was our star, who had what was surely the worst game he's ever played. He was crying harder than Eli. Other kids were teary, some were mad, and all of them were disappointed.
TOMOROW: The aftermath (sorry, I meant to finish today, but the length got away from me, which should come as no surprise).