We can dish out blame for last night’s Devils playoff loss all over the place: the inconsistent referees, the fact that Kovulchuk skated like he’s got a “lower body injury” (groin, hamstring, torn back), DeBoer’s line shuffles that accomplished nothing, Marty’s decision to play the puck without looking at the forecheckers, Volchenkov once again managing to take himself (stickless) and Zach Parise (borrowing a stick) out of the play. This one is way beyond blame for individual details or efforts.
The Devils lost as a team, just as they did in the Game 3 disaster. The question is: do the Devils have the team work and the individual accountability, and those things in the right proportions and blends, to win two games in a row, and make a playoff run that doesn’t end with a May Day call? As players, coaches, and trainers, when you look in the mirror, before, during or after Game 6 and (hopefully) Game 7, please make sure you can honestly say that you’re delivering on your end of the experiences we expect, we demand, and we hope for as your fans.
I had hoped, entering this season, that it would be a neat bookend to the first year in which Ben and were season ticket holders – the 99-00 Cup run, the first year he played ice hockey. In this last year regularly sitting next to me at dinner, on the couch and at games, I’ve probably over-rotated on high expectations, facing a shortly empty nest. But at the same time, sports memories from our last year in high school sit on the saddle point of experience. They are the net summation of people, places and things chosen for us by older family members, and the first events we can pick through given the independence of spending money, a driver’s license and formal adulthood.
Baseball had diminished interest for me in 1979 until my first sports hero Willie Stargell led his Pittsburgh Pirates to the World Series as I wrestled with college applications and parallel parking. Stargell united a diverse group of players; the “We Are Family” soundtrack to their pennant run wasn’t just a media post-production effect. They came together as a team, played as a team, and won as a team. Everyone did their part. Just a few months after he died in 2001, I had the opportunity to pick a jersey number of my own and I remembered my fondness for all things related to first baseman, number 8, Willie Stargell. The twin circles on my back are a continuous refresh of those memories that illustrated sportsmanship, leadership, bridging differences and taking personal responsibility for winning.
There are lifetimes of memories waiting to be created – for our families, for the Devils team’s families, for fans and potential fans across the Garden State – and two games in which to make them.