Hockey was always full of disappointment for me. The first year I learned to play, my little U-12 girls team lost every game that winter. It must have been frustrating, brimming with disappointment, but I hardly remember the scores. What I do remember: one precious moment playing in a Lake Placid tournament, where, on the sparkling sheet of miracle ice, for an impossible few minutes my team was winning 1–0. My mom took a picture of the scoreboard, it was so unbelievable.
But we did lose in the end.
Losses like that are easier; you’re a kid, it’s just a youth game. Losses like what the Bruins suffered in Round 1 are heartbreaking. Maybe even more so because as fans we have so little control of the game. We do not wear the skates. We do not take the shots or make the split second judgments players have to make every single minute of every period, game, and season. But the losses hurt us too, the spectators who feel as if we could have made the outcome different by sheer force of will, aiming our belief at the ice surface.
It’s hard to walk away from a game when your heart climbs up into your throat and you believe and hope and want with your whole being that your team pulls through — and they don’t.
Last night the entire first round series of tension and drama and comeback was over in a moment. One of those split second decisions that players have to make.
There will surely be fans and commentators alike pointing fingers at where the Bruins went wrong for a long time, as if those questions, the blame they hold, give us outside viewers a little control of why we are being forced to hold the crushing disappointment of a loss that seemed so much like it could have been a win.
This isn’t a silver lining pep talk. I, too, am sad about the Bruins, heartbroken for the players I’ve grown up watching who might not be back next season. But in my disappointment I recover the thing that draws me back to this sport like a flame. As a player, as a fan, I am reminded that I love this sport because every time it’s different.
I loved it from the first wobbly moment I stepped on the ice in hockey skates. Loved it in snowstorms, in 2 degree weather, at 5 in the morning. I’ve loved it as defense and as goalie, I’ve loved it when I’ve had what feels like the worst game of my life.
In front of thousands of fans or in front of empty bleachers at 10pm on a Friday night, there is always something to marvel at with hockey. It could be one goal you cannot believe went in, it could be one save you absolutely should not have made but did. As a goalie I’ve recognized and respected when an offense player just flat out beats me on the shot, because no one can always make the save. That puck flies too hard, the bodies move too fast. I wouldn’t want to save every shot ever taken at me because that’s not the give and take that makes any sport so gripping to watch, so enticing to play.
We get so caught up in the winning that when we don’t, we walk home and can’t even remember Jack Edwards calling Charlie McAvoy a bona fide stallion, we don’t remember how close Marchand came to putting Game 5 away with four seconds left in regulation. We don’t remember that our captain and patron saint Patrice Bergeron scored a goal his first game back. The almosts, the along for the rides, the headscratchers, the can’t believe its, the never seen that befores, are why I come back. And when the winning goes away, the disappointment sets in, and I let it turn me right around to look at what this sport is really made of.