Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Back To The Roots

I rarely get a chance while away to see some live hockey simply because it's no fun going to watch people you don't know nor is it fun hanging out at an arena by yourself. In saying this, I was lucky to have arranged a night at the rink watching a good friend by the name of Teri as her team took to the ice at 9:30pm this evening. What should I expect? How good is the level of competition in her league? All of this matters not as beer league hockey is part of the fabric of this country with hundreds of thousands of adults suiting up in evenings and on weekends to play one more game!

Teri, seen to the right, is the netminder for the Sharks. As seen above in the lede photo, the Sharks are in first-place in their league so things are going well for the most part. Tonight's game has the Sharks playing host to the Ladybugs, and I automatically am giving the edge to the predatory animal due to both standings and the their lust for blood. Ok, so maybe the ladies don't have a real lust for blood like sharks do, but they would need to be aggressive against the Ladybugs!

The puck was dropped shortly after 9:30pm, and the action started slowly as both teams looked to get their legs under them. The Ladybugs got the first great scoring opportunity, though, as Teri was forced to make a good save less than a minute in on a partial breakaway. The first period contained a lot of play in the corners and through the neutral zone, but there were a few highlights from the opening frame. A Ladybugs forward got loose behind the defence for a breakaway, but her backhand-forehand deke caused the puck to roll off her stick as Teri avoided what could have been an early goal-against.

At the other end, Jalina, wearing #29, had a couple of chances late in the period including a good shot that was stopped and smothered by the Ladybugs netminder with 1:53 to play that had the back of the net written all over it. The Ladybugs pressed in the closing minutes of the period, but Teri stopped two glorious opportunities by #15 with under ten seconds left, and the two teams would swap ends at the horn with the game deadlocked in a scoreless draw.

Early in the second period, the Sharks came out with pressure and it appeared that Stacey would break the 0-0 tie, but she just couldn't elevate the backhander over the Ladybug goalie enough to light the lamp. A minute later, the Ladybugs had an incredible opportunity as #8 spotted #77 cruising into the slot and send a pass out to her that #77 attempted to one-time, but she fanned on the shot that seemed destined for the back of the net had she connected.

The first marker was not far behind those two scoring chances. The Ladybugs built some good pressure and had the Sharks chasing them in the defensive zone when a redirection by #17 found its way past Teri on the backdoor, and the Ladybugs led 1-0 with 6:34 to play in the second period. Jalina had another partial breakaway, but was stopped by a shoulder save. The Sharks kept the pressure coming and they had multiple chances on sequences in the period with less than two minutes to play, but the Ladybugs would not break.

With 43.8 seconds to play, speedy defenceman Clara made an nice move down the left wing, cut hard towards the net, and attempted to go across the crease with the puck but was upended by the diving Ladybugs goaltender. Clara fell on top of the sprawled netminder, and her reward was a punch to the cage! Pretty clear penalty on the goalie, right? Well, according to the officials, the roughing call was a no-brainer, but somehow Clara ended up in the box for goaltender interference for the off-setting minor penalties! I'm not sure how Clara was assessed that penalty, but the officials gave her two minutes to think about what she did. The final seconds would tick off in the period with the Ladybugs leading the Sharks by a 1-0 score.

The Sharks clearly needed a spark to start the third period if they were going to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but the third period started off with a massive save! Just 14 seconds in to the period, the Ladybugs worked the puck deep only to spot #9 wide-open in the slot for the one-timer on Teri, but the agile goalie showed incredible lateral movement to deny the Ladybugs their second goal! That save was worthy of the highlight reel! What came out of that was a momentum change ass the Sharks began to assert their will!

The Sharks had opportunities as they retrieved pucks dumped into their zone and moved them quickly up the ice as they put the Ladybugs on their heels. It would be this quick puck movement that would get them on the board. Megan, wearing #19, chipped the puck past a defender on the left wing and broke in on a partial breakaway after gathering the puck. She made no mistake as she ripped a wrist shot past the Ladybugs' goalie on the stick side for the 1-1 equalizer!

With the thought of a tie looming, the Sharks continued to pressure the Ladybugs with good puck movement and an excellent transition game that kept the Ladybugs from mounting any real offence. With time ticking down, Megan forechecked against a Ladybugs defender at her own blue line when the defender fell! Megan quickly scooped up the puck, went outside-inside on the second defender to get loose where she cut across the top of the crease, and she slid the puck under the diving Ladybugs goalie with 1:02 to play as the Sharks grabbed a 2-1 lead!

With the final minute ticking down, the Sharks were just content to dump the puck down the ice to kill the clock, and the final buzzer saw the Sharks escape with a 2-1 win! I have no idea how many saves Teri made in the victory, but there were at least two highlight-reel saves for her on this night, and the win bumps the Sharks to 14-5-3 as they hold onto first-place in the league regardless of the other outcomes!

Teri and I had a post-game adult beverage where we talked a lot of women's hockey, and it was great to be able to sit down and just talk about the game. We went over what I saw on the ice, and we eventually began debating who may and may not be on the Canadian Women's Olympic Team in 2018. It seems we have the majority of the roster set had Team Canada approached us, but there was deep discussion on goaltending and defencemen that needed to be had. At the end of the night, I'll give a major stick-tap to Teri - she knows her hockey well!

A win, a beer, some hockey chatter, and lots of laughs. That's what grassroots hockey is in Canada. No one lets the wins get too high or the losses get too low, but the competition is high and players still enjoy the thrill of a win. I enjoyed watching this game, and it's always great when I can break out of the professional hockey world by returning to the place where dreams of Stanley Cups are built. Tonight's game at the Westwood Arenas complex in Etobicoke was well worth the visit!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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