Who ever said big, strong, tough, playoff-bearded hockey players don’t have tear ducts?
The season is over, and if there is any crying, it’s because it all mattered so much to the Nanaimo Clippers – the whole year of hockey, and these playoffs, and the chance at a championship and coming so close.
The Clippers were beaten 3-2 by the Penticton Vees in Game 6 of the B.C. Hockey League finals on Friday night at Frank Crane Arena and if the Clippers were going to lose, then it happened the right way. They managed a frantic game-tying goal in the third period, and then another in the dying minutes, before finally, in overtime, they ran out of chances to tie the game and were defeated.
Usually after a loss, coaches and players talk about how the team didn’t play a full 60 minutes, or didn’t stick to its system, or didn’t get the bounces. But there’s something different about losing a playoff elimination game. When there aren’t any more periods of hockey to play, then the X’s and O’s don’t matter as much.
So Mike Vandekamp, coach of the Clippers, had a different sort of discussion with his players in the locker room late Friday night.
“The thing I said to the guys after the game is just not to be afraid to put their hearts out on the line again in the future,” he said.
The Clippers didn’t make it one goal away from getting to Game 7 in the finals without giving it everything they’ve got, their best effort, their highest level of hockey. Blood, sweat and tears, literally.
So it was heartbreaking, the coach said, for them to lose. They’d worked so hard and wanted to win so badly. They couldn’t even bear to stand on their blueline and watch the trophy-presentation ceremony. The Clippers are the second-best junior A hockey team in B.C., and somehow, finding that out hurt worse than if they had missed the playoffs altogether or gotten upset in the first round.
“At the end of something like this you can have tears of sorrow or tears of celebration,” the coach said. “But a large number of people in life never have either because they’re afraid to try.”
And so when we sportswriters comment that such-and-such a team competed bravely, it’s almost always true. Courage comes in many forms, and losing at sports isn’t just losing at sports, because these are the goals and dreams of young people and goals and dreams are just what the world needs more of. Achieving goals and realizing dreams matters in a way that can’t be measured on a sports scoreboard.
For this group of Nanaimo Clippers, hockey will continue to be their passion, for now. Some of them will report back to the team at the end of the summer, some will go on to college, maybe one will make it to the NHL one day.
Some will never again come this close to winning a championship. But all of them, in some way, will have a chance to put their hearts on the line in some aspect of life, and they might get hurt, or they might get everything they ever wanted.
I think they will play with heart again, whatever the game, and I think they will try again. Because never trying, well, that would be a crying shame.