What a way to end the 2011-2012 season, Snakes fans! Two excellent games, one at each Civic Center. Game 1 was intense enough. Then we all hit the road...
Since my daughter flew to all the playoff games via private jet :) I drove by myself to Pensacola. Such an easy ride, just me and my ipod...haha. Made arrangements for my loyal assistant and friend, Kevin Mills, to ride home with me late that night. actually, early the next morningt.
We'd arranged a pre-game meal at one of Pensacola's landmark restaurants. Maguire's Irish Pub is only three blocks from the rink. No problem, right? Well, not sure how Maguire's got its reputation. Certainly won't get any thumbs-up from our party. The restaurant is huge but appeared to be pretty well staffed. My pal Dana Barker had reserved a couple of tables for us.
Had been looking forward to sharing a pregame meal with Dana and his fiancee Sarah Reppert, Everett Duke and his mom Irma, Barney Slayton and his folks. Well, the service was dreadful. Dana and I were freaking out as we're accustomed to being at the rink an hour ahead of time. Needless to say, I was too nervous to eat much. UGH.
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When we finally got out of the restaurant, the traffic was brutal. Dana was driving. Let me just say that Dana could have a second career as a NY cab driver...haha. Finally, he just dropped Kevin and me off...just as warmups were finishing.
Honestly compels me to say that I don't actually contribute a lot to warmups. Actually, I add nothing but a brief conversation with Brad Prefontaine and pregame hug for Jerome. That may strike you as strange, but I'm sure it's a ritual all beat writers and their coaches share...:)
Finally I get to the media table above Section 216 and find Greg Harris, with whom I'd e-mailed about credentials, access etc. I hate other rinks. Check that, I don't actually hate the rinks or the people. I hate having to find new stuff...haha. A place to sit, a place to file, the locker rooms, etc etc etc. I want my friend Paul Ezell guarding my "office", my pointstreak stats delivered after every period, Miss Flit and Joe and our banana pudding. Most of all, my sweet Hendricks family sitting right in front of Larry and Reese.
So I meet Greg and tell him there seems to be a problem. I have no seat at the media table. He said he didn't realize I needed a seat. Huh? By this time, I'm about to go over the edge. I'm actually getting a little woozy I'm so stressed. Never fear, Kevin and Dana took care of me. Kevin and I found me a seat in the handicapped section, coincidentally right by Snakes fans Wanda, Donna and others. So the game begins...
I should say the game began for most of us. I was so upset to hear later that a large group of Snakes fans, including wives, girlfriends, Everett, Eric Barlow and others were stuck at Will Call trying to get their tickets. They missed nearly the whole first period. :(
It was obvious to me that the Ice Flyers decided to match the Snakes hit for hit. Good strategy. Bret Tyler was absolutely leveled on the very first rush. The Snakes got a quick advantage in SOG, 7-1, and finally the 8th one found the back of the net.
Jordan Braid scored his first playoff goal and the Middlebury boys assisted. It was Tom Maldonado's first post-season point. Former college teammate John Sullivan chipped in an assist as well.
Ryan Salvis tied it up 1-1 late in the period and that's the way the score stayed with 40 minutes left.
Let me regress a little...I knew that the Snakes would win by two goals. How? When I got gas for the trip, the pump stopped on 40.02...Ian Vigier by a two-goal margin. Duh. At dinner, I predicted the final score. Really. I have witnesses.
Well, there's a ways to go to get to 3-1. Ian specialized in kick saves in game 2. He also spent way too much time on his belly.
The second period started the same as it did in game 1. Very tight D and not many crisp passes. Both teams did a great job of limiting the other's chances. Both teams had power play chances, but no lamps lit until the Greg Beller-Derek Pallardy-Orrin Hergott line went to work. Again, Tom assists as Greg gets the goal and Derek an assist. 2-1 with 25:04 to play. An eternity in hockey.
The Snakes had to kill a couple of penalties on Jordan in the third. All the while I'm thinking: pleeeeeeeease no OT. Between OT and a Central time start, I'm in big trouble. :( Derek and Greg had a good SH attempt on a PK late in the period, but just missed.
Meanwhile, the clock is moving ever so slowly. Ian is in even more of a zone than usual. He stopped 11 shots in the third period. Yikes.
Sam Bowles cleared the puck out of the Snakes zone with 1:45 left. Pensacola goalie Steve Christie is looking for the opportunity to head to the bench, which he got with 50 seconds left. Now my heart is beating a mile a minute, thinking about the joy that the guys are about to experience or my OT agony. John hits the empty net with 28 seconds left and the large and very vocal Snakes section goes berserk.
I head down to the ice, trying to give myself as much time as possible to write and make my extended deadline, which I was very grateful for. My first championship story in '05 I had 14 minutes to write. Not good.
I grabbed Ian, Tom and Will Barlow before the ceremony so I could write. Little did I know that another adventure awaited me. Kevin went up to the media table to make sure that the internet connection that I'd been told would be available to me was there. Uh...no. So I'm scrambling to find a way to file when my friend Todd Gordon helped me out.
Todd's team had just lost a hard-fought series. I'm sure he had better things to do than have Kevin and me invade his office and borrow his internet. But he was so gracious about it. Thank you so much, Todd, and thanks for always complimenting my work. I appreciate it!
With my story filed, Kevin and I headed to the locker room where I found out that the guys were celebrating fully clothed and the spraying of beer and champagne was over. YAY. Kevin and I arrived in time to hear a rendition of "We Are the Champions" and "All I do is Win, Win, Win" by the Snakes Family Singers. Let's just stick to hockey, boys. haha.
I got to meet Sammy's mom and speak to my pal Dave Kessler and some of the players. I can't describe to you the pure joy in that room. The sense of accomplishment they all felt was so obvious.
I've covered this team for 8 years and I've never seen a group more focused, more mature, more willing to do whatever it took to win this Cup. I've also never seen a group that got along as well as these guys do.
Apologies to Jeff Bes of the Surge, but Jerome Bechard is the coach of the year. Every move he made, many tough and downright gut-wrenching, paid huge dividends. Sure, there were a few bumps in the road, but Jerome deserves a lot of the credit for the success of this year's team.
You can't underestimate the importance of bringing Brad on board. In the locker room, Brad posed proudly with his defense. You should be proud, Brad. You and those guys have done an amazing job this season!
I always feel such a letdown at the end of the season. This one is a little different. This has been a terrific year for me. What a great bunch of guys to work with. So pleasant, so professional. It was fun meeting new family members and telling these guys' stories.
One more major story to go...besides tomorrow's on A-1. :) My annual Q and A with Jerome is coming up later this week.
As always, thanks to you, my readers, for continuing to enjoy this blog. It's so much fun to write, and great to hear that you enjoy it, too.
Thanks to Jerome and the players for their cheerful cooperation. Not a single one of them groans when I approach them, though they probably want to sometimes!
Thanks to my editor Kevin Price and all of my friends at the L-E for making this team's story such a priority. Our photographers Mike Haskey and Joe Paull did so much for me this season. Their beautiful pics added so much to my stories. Thanks, guys.
The Gierer family enjoyed one more season at the Pit, though in a non-traditional sense. Lindsey working, Larry and Reese as fans and yours truly writing. Thanks to Larry who takes on more responsibility at this time of year for Reese and our grand dog, Jaxon.
Be on the lookout for the Q and A, friends.