Wednesday, May 04, 2022

The Big Hockey Post

I've written many times that athletes rarely get closure. 

Eli 20.10, though, did. 

After visiting nine countries in six weeks during term break, he returned for the conference tournament. His team hadn't  practiced at all during the break, so they'd gone almost four weeks without a practice. 

It wasn't looking good. 

The tournament was in a very odd format. Five games of pool play the first day, all in a one-period, twenty-minute run clock format. The last game of pool play the morning of the second day, followed by quarters/semis/final. The playoff games were two periods of twenty-minute run clock. 

Confused yet?

The tangible effect was that Eli spent the first day warming up constantly, in addition to playing the equivalent of almost two games. He said he felt terrible in the first game, then felt great after that. 

The scores of the games reflect it: 1-1, 0-0, 5-0, 4-0, 5-1. 

He was exhausted, but up bright and early for the last game of pool play (a 0-0 tie). 

That put them into the quarterfinals against Cambridge, and a chance for revenge after the Rivalry loss. 

The game was 0-0 going into a shootout. Eli stopped all five shooters, and our fifth shooter scored for a 1-0 win. 

That put them in the semis against St. Andrews, who were (by far) the best team in the tournament. Their high-end players were terrific, and they had depth, unlike most of the teams. 

The entire conference championships were broadcast on YouTube, so I got to watch live. 

The announcers were fantastic, and very funny. As the shots kept piling up for St. Andrews, they wondered how long Eli could keep Oxford in the game. 

As it turned out, for a long, long time. 

At the end of regulation, it was 2-2, even though Oxford had been outshot 34-4. And Eli made it look easy, too, which has always led to him getting less credit than he deserved, because coaches never understood how difficult it is to make something hard look easy. 

It was all on display, though, all the things he's done so well during his career. Puck control. Anticipation. Balance. Composure. 

I'd like to say there was a miracle win in the shootout, but there wasn't. He stopped the first four shots, but the fifth beat him clean. Nothing you can do when a guy hits his spot like that. 

After the tournament, he was named first-team All Conference. 

I talked to him after the game and he was disappointed, but he also knew it would be hard to top that weekend as a way to end his competitive career. And he sounded completely at peace, which was the best thing of all. 

As a bonus, you can watch the game if you'd like. Since it was twenty-minute run clock, the entire game is completed in under fifty minutes. I'm not sure I've ever been able to link to one of his full games, but no more appropriate time than now. Here's the link: Oxford--St. Andrews semifinals.

He got back to Oxford at 11:30 p.m., slept for two hours, then got up to go to Jordan. That's for tomorrow. 

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