As heart-wrenching as it was for Blackhawk fans, like myself, to watch that small round disc be stolen away from Chicago’s Chris Campoli; you just knew in a millisecond that Alex Burrows was going to get it past Corey Crawford somehow. Yet I couldn’t help but feel good for Vancouver, and I really mean that, even after all the entertaining trash talking with Canucks fans this past week.
When I looked at the Blackhawks, leaning on their sticks, attempting to look unemotional as they watched their foes in sheer jubilation, they reminded me of the Russians as they watched that crazy group of college kids from the US celebrate on the ice with their home crowd in that tiny little upstate village of Lake Placid just over 30 years ago.
The Blackhawks know what winning feels like, for most of them, it is still fresh in their minds. Yet for this group of players on the Canucks team, they had been knocked out of the playoffs the past two years by many of these players with the Indian Head on their jersey. They were living under a cloud of questions and if they were to lose to Chicago again, many felt their organization would certainly be in turmoil. The Vancouver Sun’s Cam Cole outlines the turmoil here.
Like most Hawk fans, I enjoyed the back and forth about Luongo, his mental state and the fact that this one game was going to make or break the Canucks; preferably, break. During the second period, as I watched sweat drip down from inside Luongo’s mask and looked in his eyes through the metal webbing in his helmet, I realized that this game was not about bragging rights, it was about the man behind the mask–the man, not the player.
The almost insurmountable amount of pressure that this man had on his shoulders was mindboggling. I knew that if I were in Luongo’s shoe I most likely could have never even skated out onto that ice Tuesday night, let alone put in a performance that will be remembered and revered for years to come.
He had his status as the No. 1 goalie, his commitment to his teammates and his family, the criticism of the media around the world, the beating from the local press as well as the Canadian v. American team, not to mention the Vezina Trophy nomination. All of this pressure was resting on those sagging shoulders. Few men could have mentally or physically pushed through that evening, let alone in front of a home town crowd.
While my heart sank when the back of the net swayed from the force of Alex Burrow’s slap shot and I saw the sea of blue and green erupt just before midnight my time, I was happy for the game of hockey and for those Canucks’ fans whose loyalty had been tortured and tested over these past two weeks. At that moment, it would have been perfectly acceptable to watch Roberto Luongo cry.
I truly smile at the image of all the players piling on him in jubilation, many feeling a similar relief of pressure and tension much like Luongo must have been experiencing, yet certainly not as profound. This game will follow Luongo for the rest of his career, much like Patrick Kane’s winning goal in Game 6 in the Finals last June.
We can use all the cliques possible and make reference to all of the superstitions that were embraced by Canuck fans and players alike yet it is safe to say that the monkey is finally off Roberto Luongo’s back. I wish him all the best because he reminded me of a valuable lesson late Tuesday night, one that my Italian grandfather passed on to us. To summarize, and put it into hockey terms; the name on the back of the jersey is what gives the name on the front meaning.
With the playoffs ready to move into the second round, the hockey fan in me is excited for the game of hockey which had to have just survived the most amazing first round of the playoffs ever. The sports fan in me can almost forgive Hendrik Sedin’s post-game comment, “They had no business being in this series.” Yet the die-hard ‘Hawks fan in me says, “Go Preds!” :-)