The days are getting longer. There’s a buzz in the air, a tangible mood on the airwaves that brightens every room and illuminates every athlete.
The playoffs are here.
Minor hockey, junior hockey, senior men’s and the Stanley Cup Playoffs - each set of playoffs has the same effect: a heightened intensity and an unmistakable focus on the beautiful parts of our game.
And, for certain writer/hockey coaches as well as parents and fans of the game, the playoffs do a great job of barging in and replacing the negativity that may have accumulated over the course of the season.
Sorry about all that, guys. But I’m back! The playoffs are here! Woohoo!
Alright, I realize this instantly sounds negative, but it’s not. Playoff hockey time in Canada is accompanied by an unwritten rule that it’s ok to sacrifice other aspects of your life.
“Zach Pantelakis didn’t come to school today, Alex.”
“I know, he has a playoff game tonight.”
“Goodness, my apologies! Might I acquire a helicopter to air-drop a chicken dinner and a box of power bars?”
Everyone knows it, everyone gets it: you don’t mess with a hockey player when it’s playoff time.
Most of the regular season is about grinding it out and trying to get better every day. It can be a long season for everyone.
Playoff time? Playoffs are about coming together as a team and working on a new goal: winning.
Putting your new skills to the test. Playing for the shirt, as my friend John likes to say. The best playoff hockey is played by teams who are more than the sum of their parts. The best teams come out in packs - individual, ruthless wolves who have different roles all dedicated to the same result.
There is nothing like winning a championship, regardless of the level. Some people only get to experience it once or twice in their entire life time.
When you see Patrick Kane scoring in overtime this spring or John Tavares finally leading his team to post-season success, think of the hours and hours and hours and hours of practice and development time behind that success.
Every player who lasts in the playoffs is there because they have some combination of skill, stamina or just sheer determination.
Like they say on The Walking Dead: “Everyone who’s still alive is strong.”
I don’t hide the fact I’m a proud Oilers fan. That’s how I was raised (propaganda, I tell you, it’s evil - thanks DAD). I remember exactly where I was in 2006 when Shawn Horcoff scored in triple overtime to vault the 8th seeded Edmonton Oilers over the 4th place San Jose Sharks into the conference finals against the 2nd seeded Anaheim Ducks.
This was after defeating the 1st place Detroit Red Wings in the opening round.
See? ANYTHING can happen in the playoffs. It’s high-stakes sports drama of the purest form.
The greatest thing about the playoffs? The goal is bigger than any one player. An individual can make a difference, but it’s the team that wins.
The best teams on Earth are built of selflessness. The Edmonton Oilers won a Stanley Cup without the greatest player who ever graced a sheet of ice, Wayne Gretzky.
Hockey is never, never about one player.
The playoffs are won by teams. The playoffs are won by packs of predators who rise into the light with the rest of the world on the edge of their seats.
Let’s get started.