Every post-season ends for every team but one with a loss. When it’s a team you love, that makes it further than you dreamed hope on Opening Night, that loss hurts. It’s worse than finding out the cute girl in 5th grade thinks you’re weird. It is, in the words of the Bubba, heart breaking, and often it’s breaking younger hearts that haven’t been through the ups and downs memorialized in a Sinatra song.
What a season for the Devils. I am immensely proud of the team, and proud to have been a fan right through Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals tonight. The overcame adversity from all corners, make smart trades, gelled as a team and had fun right til the final buzzer. In my oft-quoted words from hero Willie Stargell, that is what sports is about — if you aren’t having fun, you’ve missed the whole point. We beat the Rangers and Flyers in the playoffs, showed poise in taking down the team that fired our coach, and started as a six seed in a year when The Hockey News picked us to miss the playoffs completely. As Adam Sandler would say, not too shabby.
Some thoughts and hopes to close out the hockey ramblings (at least until the trade rumors and free agency begin):
1. Sign Parise. I believe he’ll stay in NJ, because NJ believed in him when he was passed over in the draft, and he’s seen what happens to players who amble across the Hudson in pursuit of money and glory. The end up going 100 games without a goal (Gomez), getting bought out (Drury), or being booed forever (Holik). Parise has more cachet, more integrity, and more loyalty than that. He may not sign a 10-year deal, nor should he — but five years at $7M is a nice chunk of change.
2. Fix Kovulchuk. Can we please hear the truth? He’s hurt, he was coasting through most of the Finals, and tonight he looked like he belonged in my inhaler league. He should stay in NJ and get team-supervised treatment until he’s capable of skating at full strength and speed again.
3. Build a base. Retain the playoff fan base. The Devils proved that the Rock can rock. No reason it shouldn’t be like that every single game, every single season. It’s a house built for hockey, and with the clown circus (sorry, the Nets) moving to Brooklyn, it’s mostly hockey again. The Devils need to market, adjust ticket prices, and recapture that noise any way possible. The team deserves that kind of welcome even when playing the Oilers on a Wednesday in mid-December.
4. Don’t blame Bernier. This series had more bad breaks (crossbar in game 2, slow whistle on first goal in game 3) than dumb plays, and he shouldn’t be pilloried for a mistake early in a tight game. Lots of if only, would have, could have scenarios, but the fact is – the Devils played it out, and played all but the last possible home game of the year. How cool is that?
5. Sign Marty. Give him a 2-year deal and let him mentor his successor, playing no more than 50 games a year, so he’s ripe for another playoff run.
On that note, hockey people, it’s baseball season, free agency is arond the corner, we’ll be watching for Livingston native Nick Ebert at the draft, and we’ll see who gets traded, fixed, sold out, bought out and heaped with praise in the next month.
It was wonderful to watch hockey in June. And it’s only a year until the Bubba is home from college for the summer and we can do it again. I hope — for that is the lifecycle of a fan.