Teamwork. Grit. Determination. Strength. Perseverance. Power. Physicality. Focus. Finality.
It’s the time of the year when legends are born and babies are named after gladiators of the ice. It’s about the warriors who give it all for the sake of what’s on the front of the jersey while caring less about what’s on the back. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd lines simply don’t matter anymore; it’s all about achieving the ultimate goal.
For the veterans, it’s seen as a final chance at glory that will stay with them for eternity. For the rookies, it’s a chance to prove that you have what it takes to play at the next level. Either way, the intensity is turned up a notch and the game ebbs and flows at a different level. Each trip up and down the ice defining what will be remembered forever or what will be a forgotten trip towards disappointment. For the eventual victor will go the spoils, but for the defeated it will be a long off-season of what if’s and unfulfilled expectations.
What is about the hockey playoffs that brings about a new level of play?
The dictionary defines intensity as showing exceptional concentration, force, or power. For a hockey player, however, all of those prove to be true on a nightly basis. This is not a game for the weak of will or the meek of heart. But when it’s all on the line and infamy is attainable, it’s observant that the level of intensity reaches a new notch.
So, what changes from the regular season to the playoffs? It could be the fact that the same combatants will share the cold sheet of ice for a best-of-7 battle royale for the ages. Potentially, it’s the pressure of each moment in each game bearing down on each player as the wiggle room dissipates. It’s possible that the finality of the entire festival of hockey glory is incredibly draining physically and emotionally for all involved. However you want to look at it, there is simply no other event in all of sport that can match playoff hockey. Even the faintest of hockey enthusiasts will admit that our playoff system is the finest in all of sports. The level of focus required for the grind of a 70-plus game season is magnified to a truly epic level when the ultimate prize is on the line. It’s what truly makes April, May and June so special.
The interesting thing is what makes it special for each faction involved is different and yet very much the same. For the players, you would have to think the pressure is incredible.
Former Missouri Mavericks player Andrew Darrigo said, “It’s probably the feeling of being so close to your goal, holding that cup, everything you work for all the grinding battles and Injuries is summed up into those final games and minutes of a season. Playing for the guys next to you and having something that no one will ever be able to take from you.” Those are pretty heavy words from a player who has spent considerable time in the trenches digging towards playoff glory.
Mavericks captain, Trevor Ludwig, went on to say, “Make sure the highs aren’t too high and the lows aren’t too low. Each series is a long series and it’s just one game.”
You’ve heard this writer say before that if it was easy, everyone would do it; and nowhere is that more evident than reading a locker room full of cup-hungry hockey players. These teams are incredibly tight-knit and to see them come even closer together when the intensity steps up a notch is invigorating at least and life-changing at most.
For the fan, the intensity is palpable. In barns all across our fair land, the atmosphere of playoff hockey is unmatched. While attending game one of the Mallards/Mavericks tilt, the mood in the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena was decidedly more energetic than for the previous few weeks in which the men decked out in orange and black had had less to play for. The fans were more lively and engaged. The cheers were yelled louder and lasted longer. The players fed off of the energy from the crowd and when the final horn sounded, a collective exhale from the 5500 gathered that evening could be heard and felt throughout the arena.
What does make playoff hockey so special? We asked you, the fan.
“It can be the most amazing and most devastating time of the year. If your team is lucky enough to make it to the playoffs, you are in an elite class.” – Mary Ann
“The hits are harder, the skating faster, the unannounced injuries that players play through. It’s not wanting to let the guy next to you down, to being accountable. And when it’s over, there’s relief (and elation) if your team has won.” – Bob Klem
“The feeling that any game could be the last…then what do I do until October?” – Sandy
“As a fan, playoff hockey makes you feel a deeper connection to said team.” – Ashley
“There isn’t 76 or 30 or 10 games left. They aren’t coasting because when they clinch it’s on to the next series. There is no time to rest and take a night off. They play through the final horn. Tensions are higher than normal. Does Bobby Orr lay out for a normal goal? We remember Ray Bourque finally lifting the Cup and possibly our eyes sweated just a bit…even though we might hate the Avs. We remember moments like these because they don’t etch your name in the President’s Trophy, Brabham Cup or Conference Championship trophies.” – MJH
The words of these passionate fans ring true. We are a hockey family and we enjoy the highs and ride out the lows of each game of the regular season. But those things become a moot point when it’s man versus man and seeds are just another number. This time of year, we’re all trying to achieve the same goal.
Because it’s the Cup.