BeastThis time, let's start at the ending:
That's a tournament game Eli 11.6 played two weekends ago. He was in goal. His team was outshot 52-15. He wound up with 48 saves.
With 10:00 to play in the 3rd period, though, it was 2-2, and he already had 41 saves. I've seen Eli doing some crazy, ridiculous things, but this was new territory. I've never seen a kid dominate a game like he dominated this one. He made every save imaginable, in every situation.
Since Jack Campbell came to practice, Eli's been a different kid. He was always the hardest worker in practice, but now he works harder. He's more precise. More importantly, he explodes into every movement. He gets it in a way that he didn't before.
I'm happy for him, more happy than I can explain. I was almost tearing up a little in the 3rd period, watching him make save after save and listening to the crowd swell as they watched him.
I still want to edge him forward, though.
On the way back to the hotel, we talked. "Okay, so now you've been in one of these games," I said. "Tell me what you need to do to be able to finish next time."
"Finish?" he asked.
"Win," I said. "Seriously, you looked like Superman out there. I didn't think they were gong to score again, even if they got 100 shots. So now that you know you can play in one of these games and dominate, what do you need to improve to be able to finish?"
He thought for a few seconds. "Get in better shape," he said.
That wasn't the answer I expected.
"Really?" I asked. "You're in better shape than any kid I've ever seen."
"Yeah, but I got tired," he said. "On that third goal, I saw the shot, but my body just wouldn't respond. I felt really sharp mentally, but I was just so tired."
"All right, we can improve that," I said. "I know it felt great to play like that, and I'm so proud of you, but some day, you're going to win one of those games. They'll build a statue."
He started laughing. "That would be the greatest feeling EVER," he said.
In practice last week, he was just killing it--razor sharp, working harder than anyone. He practices with the travel team on Thursday nights, and at the end, everyone does one final sprint down and back, and the goalies skate with the players. Eli beat one of the travel team skaters--which, in goalie gear, should be completely impossible.
He skated off and I stopped him as he walked toward the dressing room. I put my hand on top of his helmet and said, "That was beast!"
He laughed. "Once I was ahead halfway," he said, "no way was I going to lose."
In his house game on Sunday, they were outshot 44-11 and lost 6-2. It might have been the best game he ever played, even better than the tournament, because the other team had added a couple of second-year Bantams (three years older than Eli), and Eli's team just couldn't skate with them. Those two players had 15 breakaways between them. Eli made them work for everything they got, though.
What really mattered, to me, was how he played the third period. They were behind 5-2, his teammates were tired, they weren't going to come back, and he was facing shot after shot from kids who were three years older than he was.
Didn't matter. He played like it was game seven of the Stanley Cup. It was the best period he's ever played, hands down, and while the other team did score once, it was on a brilliant shot. He stopped everything else, and he made so many two and three-save combinations that the crowd was pounding the glass for him, not the team that was winning.
I was sitting with him in the dressing room after the game when his coach walked in. "Holy molie, what a goalie!" he said, beaming. "That was an incredible game."
"Thank you," Eli said.
"The referee skated up to me after the game and said, 'That kid covers more ice than I do!' " his coach said, laughing.