PainI've mentioned before that we're big fans of the Dallas Stars. Eli 11.8 played with head coach Glen Gulutzan's sons and daughters in the Austin youth hockey program, so we adopted the Stars as our second favorite team (behind the Penguins, of course).
The Stars probably have the third or fourth worst talent in the league (although they have some very promising young players, some of whom practiced with Eli before they were called up), and Coach Gulutzan has done a phenomenal job of keeping them in the playoff hunt the last two years. Last night, they played at San Jose, and with a win (or even a loss in overtime), they would control their own destiny with two games remaining.
I don't normally watch late games anymore--too old, and too tired--but I stayed up for this one, even though it started at 9.
A playoff berth would almost certainly mean a contract extension for Coach Gulutzan, and he'd be a "made man" in NHL coaching circles. Even though he's one of the youngest head coaches in the league (41), a two-year extension would give him four years of head coaching experience, and if he ever worked at the assistant level again, it wouldn't be long.
There are plenty of possible courses for a career, but a contract extension is definitely the fast track.
This was all on my mind as I watched the game. And, like most NHL games, it was gripping. The Stars, in one of the toughest arenas in the league, played with an incredible amount of effort, and had a 2-1 lead with only six minutes left in the game.
At this point, I'd been watching with gradually rising anxiety for about two hours. The game was almost over, though, and I could see so many good things on the happy path for Coach Gulutzan. It made me feel good that someone I know as a grounded, gracious person was going to be rewarded, and his family (also gracious and grounded) as well.
Just six more minutes, which is several lifetimes in an NHL game.
Then, in 30 seconds, the Sharks scored twice. The first goal caused a sinking feeling; the second, a plummeting one.
The Stars went, in 30 seconds, from having control of their destiny to having no control. They must win out and have plenty of help as well to make the playoffs.
There's no question in my mind that Coach Gulutzan deserves a contract extension. The Stars have played far above their talent level, they have over $15M in cap room, and their AHL affiliate (our hometown Texas Stars) may win the AHL this year, so the future looks bright.
What struggling franchises sometimes do, though, to generate excitement in their fan base, is hire a "name" coach who is older and more experienced, even if he might not be as good.
Sport is both fantastic and cruel.