We have been home from the state hockey finals for about three hours now. There is a little bit of sadness, a little bit of wound licking, and a lot of talking about what might have been.
Three Vail Eagle Hockey Association teams went to states: Squirt B (Declan's team of 9 and 10 year olds--and a few 8 years olds!), Peewee B (11 and 12 year olds), and Peewee A (also 11 and 12 year olds). Three teams from our little valley--that's pretty darn good.
Both Peewee teams lost on Saturday, but Declan's team, the Squirt Bs, duked it out with a very strong team from Boulder (whose coach indicated to ours that as soon they got through this "formality" of playing us they were heading to the final) to advance to the final round this morning.
And as exciting as that semi-final game was on Saturday, Sunday was even more dramatic. If you're unfamiliar with hockey, here's the scoop, at Declan's age group, they play three 12-minute periods with a short break in between to catch their breath.
There are 5 players and a goalie on the ice.
Depending on the tournament or league rules, if there is a tie after regulation, they might go to overtime. Or they might have one overtime followed by a shootout--it just depends.
So at this tournament, it was all overtime. On Saturday, two teams played into a third overtime. I was exhausted just watching.
Anyway, we played through the first two periods today--no score. We outshot them 18 - 8, but just couldn't land one in the net. Angst from the stands, I'm telling you. So many missed opportunities! Then, with 1 min., 40 seconds left in regulation play, they opposing team scored.
I figured that was it. I think all the boys thought that was it. Declan thought that was it. He was devastated. It's hard when you're the goalie. No matter how many times you tell a goalie you win and lose as a team, you feel like in the end, when they score, it's your fault.
I could never be a goalie.
Back to the game. Play resumed with 1 min., 40 seconds to go. They were clearly trying to tie things up--rightly so. They did something called icing and ran the clock down to under a minute. They iced the puck again at 17 seconds and started cheering.
But there were 9 seconds left on the clock.
Our coach had a word with our boys, set them up for the face off near the opposing team's net, and BAM, the puck dropped and a kid named Joey flipped it in with 5 seconds to go.
Holy cow. We went nuts. A level playing field, as it were, and we headed into a 10 minute four on four sudden death overtime.
In the end, the opposing team scored 6 minutes into overtime and it was over. Our boys fought hard to the end, but it wasn't enough this time.
There were tears--and not just from the players. Our season was ending today regardless of a win or a loss and I think with either ending, it would have been bittersweet.
Every time the boys have played a sport, I'm always sad when the season is over. Even though I marvel at how much time we spend at the rink, compared to some families with multiple kids in multiple age groups, it's not that bad. And even though hockey spans a hideous length of time--September tryouts - March state finals--it really encompasses some of our best family times of the year (although Finn might debate that when he is tolerating a 5-day tournament in another city).
But the end of the season brings some sadness with it. Those of you with kids in team sports or activities know what I'm talking about when you realize that everyone is moving on and you probably won't be together again. Sometimes you're going on with a few or the same kids and parents, or many--it just depends--but let's face it--over the course of 5 or 6 months, you form bonds watching your kids practice, compete, win and lose together. Every time we have a changeover in teams or coaches, I feel a little bereft and think, "Nothing could be as good as this year was."
Happily, I'm pretty much always wrong. We have made great and lasting friendships over the years through sports. New teams bring a combination of old friends and potential new friends. And we're just in that transition phase again. Waiting to see what the next season brings.
But there was something special about this group of kids. Declan has talked about it before--they all genuinely like each other. It's a camraderie that is really deep for kids of this age.
As Declan was walking upstairs to bed tonight, he said, "I wish today would have turned out differently. But what I'm really sad about is that hockey season is over."
I am in 100 percent agreement.