I have been a hockey fan since I was 8 years old and have watched many game 7’s on television, regardless of the sport. Most of the time I do not have a rooting interest, but somehow I constantly found myself getting nervous watching them. The two words — Game Seven — exude an energy and finality that cannot be duplicated anywhere else.
My first in-person game 7 experience was a very unique one. Allow me to share.
It was the first year for Minor League Hockey Report. We were at Game 6 of the President’s Cup Finals where Zach Courter and I interviewed then-CHL Commissioner Duane Lewis regarding the state of the league. Heading into the game, Allen was leading Wichita 3 games to 2 in what had been a very competitive series to that point. Our plan was to cover the postgame festivities, should Allen clinch, in Intrust Bank Arena. To that end, I covered my marantz recorder up in a plastic rain poncho from the radio station I work at, so as to keep any champagne from getting inside.
The interview went well and Intrust Bank Arena was as loud as I can ever remember it being, outside of concert. Wichita won the game 3-2, forcing a game 7 the next night in Allen. Almost immediately after the game was over, a surge of adrenaline, nerves and emotion washed over me as Zach and I met to discuss site duties and to plan for our game 7 coverage, and I searched for tickets over my phone. A credit card later, we had reserved a hotel room and two seats for the game.
It was 1am before I went to sleep, and it was one long, restless night. I woke up at 3:30 to prepare game notes, any questions for the postgame locker room and pack my overnight bag. Suffice it to say, when my wife’s alarm clock went off at 6am, I was like a 4-year-old on Christmas morning…eager to get to Allen for the game.
Throughout that day, the nerves and rush of adrenaline I felt the night before, never went away. I knew at the end of the night, history would be made and I had a front-row seat. One team could end an 17-year championship drought, the other could finally break through the glass ceiling and become champs for the first time.
What is interesting about this retrospective is that I don’t remember the entire game, rather, I remember sights, sounds, songs played and a crucial moment in the game. My wife thinks I am weird, but I chalk it up to the radio news reporter in me, always needing to describe things that seem out of the ordinary. For example, I remember the “thunk” sound that the puck, shot by RG Flath, made after he scored his second goal of the game. Immediately after the goal, Flath skated to the Thunder bench where the team assembled for a hug to celebrate.
During the second intermission, I remember answering a flood of text messages from my friends back in Wichita, who were getting ready to celebrate a Thunder championship. Shortly after the zambonis left the ice, the in-house DJ played “Animal,” by Neon Trees. In the song, a part of the chorus is:
“I want some more
What are you waiting for?
Say goodbye to my heart tonight
Hush, hush, the world is quiet
Hush, hush, we both can’t fight it
It’s us that made this mess
Why can’t you understand?
Whoa, I won’t sleep tonight
I won’t sleep tonight”
I am not sure why that stuck with me. Perhaps, it was a subtle foreshadowing of what was to come.
The third period was sort of a blur. I don’t remember seeing Jarret Lukin score Allen’s first goal, rather, I remember defenseman Mike Montgomery selling out to keep a clearing attempt in the zone while Allen was on the power play shortly after the first goal. Everyone remembers Aaron Dell’s two-pad stack on Les Reaney to keep it a one-goal game. I remember Jim McKenzie pinching on the wall to keep the puck in the offensive zone late in the 3rd which set up the game-tying goal by Trevor Hendrikx. Immediately after the goal was scored, the Thunder bench, once jubilant a period earlier, now looked despondent, almost with a sense of inevitability.
The overtime was very quick paced and intense, not just for the fans but the players. The levee of emotions, on both sides, was opened up at 2:47 of extra time when Todd Robinson beat Torrie Jung blocker side to win the title. In a moment of pure chaos, I could not help but watch as Jung slumped down to his knees and stayed there for a few moments until he was consoled by defensemen Nathan Lutz and Andrew Martens. In that moment, came the finality a championship game 7 brings, someone must experience the pain of losing.
Minutes later, Zach and I were in the Allen locker room documenting the other side of the ledger, the thrills of victory. The Allen locker room had quite the concoction of smells, from sweaty equipment and guys, to cigar smoke, to the perfume from player’s wives and mothers. The Cup was being passed around by the some of the players, some drinking champagne out of it, while others took the chance to hoist it over their head. It was a scene that I, and I’m quite sure Zach, will never forget.
I write the last 850+ words to say that tomorrow, something very special will happen. One team could win their 3rd straight title, while the other could win their 4th in franchise history. Take a few moments to appreciate what you are watching and its place in ECHL history. I will watch the game, and like many times before, be just as nervous as I was watching my first game 7.
May the best team win.