Beer tickets in hand, I located a small section of bench to call my own in the Revelstoke Forum for Game Seven on Thursday night. The Revelstoke Grizzlies had surmounted a three goal deficit the night before to force their series with the Kamloops Storm into Game Seven, and Revelstoke was ready.
I've written before about the passion and drive of junior hockey players and how watching such games has rekindled my own love for the game.
Last night, it was apparent many others in my little mountain town felt the same. An hour before the game, the arena was packed. By the time the puck dropped, it was standing room only. Over 900 people ventured out to cheer on the Griz in their last ditch effort to survive.
It was an exciting game, that was for certain. Both teams were determined to move on to the next round. It was apparent midway through the third period, however, that the Storm were just too much for the Grizzlies to handle.
Now, when you are almost certain a team is going to lose a game, there are two options a team can take: the high road or the low road. The upper route, in this case, was to battle on until the buzzer went, keeping fists and tempers in check. The lower, and sometimes more entertaining option, is to take out the disappointment and frustration on the opposing team.
I've seen many games where the latter option is chosen. Not at the junior level, but in the elite leagues. Grown men who lose control as their dreams of victory are shattered, who throw down their sticks and use their fists instead of their brains.
The Storm and the Grizzlies have a history of chippy, emotional games. I've witnessed several that degenerated quickly into penalty box parades and cheap shots along the boards.
Not last night.
The Grizzlies put their entire effort into winning the game, right until the final buzzer sounded. When it did, and the scoreboard showed defeat, the boys didn't watch their opponents celebrate in sullen silence. They circled their goalie in a show of solidarity, raising their sticks to the victors.
As the teams shook hands, there were smiles and jokes being exchanged. Many of the players had a hug for the opposition.
When the announcer asked the crowd (whose standing ovation lasted from the last minute until well after the game's end) to congratulate the winners, there wasn't a boo-bird to be heard.
In an even larger show of sportsmanship, the Storm then applauded the Grizzlie's playoff run effort along with the hometown fans.
Congratulations, Kamloops Storm, and good luck as you move on to the next round.
Thank you to all players from both teams for demonstrating, once again, what true sport is about.