A Pain Unlike Any Other

Two weeks ago, beginning merely hours after the Habs snuffed us out of the postseason, I noticed a precipitous drop-off in the traffic of colleagues about my office. An appropriate intuition and empathy enveloped them, affording me the imperative buffer I needed from the rest of humanity who follows common, mainstream sports. My colleagues just knew to treat me like a stranger on an elevator.

This interval of social disengagement was appropriately-lengthed, too: about two full days. By the mercy of a hockey-loving God, Friday 5:00 p.m. finally arrived, and I could exit my office and saturate my aching hockey heart all weekend with bourbon.

Problem: I’ve a colleague immediately next door to me in the office from Boston, and when it comes to hockey, he’s just like me. The last words I heard from Ken as I left the office last Friday night were, ‘I think if we score the first goal we’ll be alright.’

I’m thinking I may not be able to approach Ken before the next millennium.

Seriously, imagine all those Bs fans assembled in all those world-class Beantown taverns last Friday night, watching their boys heroically vault out to a normally annihilating 3-0 lead, only to see it . . . the Southies early Saturday morning must have been suicidal.

I was flying cross-country Saturday, and an airline attendant bearing a Red Sox pin on his uniform vest leaned over to take my beverage order. ‘You’re not a Bs fan, too?’ I asked.

Of course he was. ‘My son actually removed the Bruins’ pin that I had on yesterday and replaced it with my Sox one,’ he noted with a pained smile.

‘You’ve a good son,’ I returned.

Once upon a time a hoops fan, I remember the playoff demises of the Bullets. I still wince at the recollection of the ’79 O’s losing the World Series. Savage stings to be sure, but I’ve found nothing a close rival to the agony associated with the spectacular defeat in hockey’s postseason. In our sport, the instant death of a season can arrive from an innocent rush up the ice, from an indecipherable deflection (Isles, game 7, 1989), from an out-of-position zebra who raises (or fails to raise) his arm.

The fate that befell the Bs on Friday didn’t arrive with the suddenness of sudden death, but it delivered its own novel realm of gory agony. The Flyers acquired a winner’s momentum at some point in game 4 of the series, never surrendered it . . . until, seemingly, Friday’s first period. What a hockey fan most looks for in a game 7 is his team’s scoring that seemingly decisive, now-I-can-sip-my-beer-in-reasonable-comfort goal, ushering in sports’ most appreciated, most craved calm. Everyone in Boston and Philadelphia thought the Bs had acquired it.

At least in extra innings of baseball’s game 7s the viewer knows to hone in on the stretch of a pitcher. Fate in that sport is to no small degree forecast-able — its drama moments tipped off by its nuances. But in hockey, with the puck in play in an elimination game, fate offers as many angles of outcome as a fancy pinball machine.

Too many men on the ice. The same error, also in a Game 7, that cost the Bs a trip to the 1979 Stanley Cup Finals. Unbelievable.

Up 3-0 Friday night, the Charles River must have seemed filled with chilled Sam Adams. How quickly it soured.

In the blink of an elimination game eye we’re delivered either a life-altering guy-wins-beauty queen romance or a gorefest of a horror film. We who sign up for this devotion duty on ice each and every spring could, with merely our courage, form a civilian corps of four-star generals. Had I been that flight attendant from Beantown on Saturday I might have been rooting for engine failure. Then again, Boston breeds a special enduring heartiness among its sports-loving faithful.

When I was 17 doctors examining a foot I’d broken playing hockey noticed an abnormality in my pulse. A week later I was at Johns Hopkins, where I’d remain a week, a catheter ultimately thrust down a vein in my neck, and a clamp at its end tearing off a piece of my heart’s tissue for examination. This was before medical science knew a great deal about arrhythmia. I was awake for the entirety of the procedure, and to this day I remember vividly the piercing pull of that clamp wrenching its sample from my heart.

It seems to me only slightly less painful watching one’s team exit the NHL postseason prematurely or perversely—it’s truly a tear at the hockey heart that accompanies our sport’s annual extermination.

Friday night Bs fans had a meat cleaver taken to theirs.

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This entry was posted in Boston Bruins, Morning cup-a-joe, National Hockey League, NHL playoffs, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A Pain Unlike Any Other

  1. Mark Miller says:

    I’m reading a book that all sports fans — including Caps and Bruins fans — should read. Matthew Syed’s new book “Bounce” is like Freakonomics for competition. It talks about what choking is and why it happens, including a psychologicial examination of doubt. I thought about that chapter as I watched the Capitals, Penguins, and Bruins — all home teams — lose at home in Game 7s. At some point, they thought “We might lose this thing,” and that became true.

    Good book, and especially timely for hockey fans.

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