What I Have In Common With the USA Women’s Olympic Hockey Team
Today is an exciting day if you watched the final game of the women’s hockey tournament at the Winter Olympics. The USA women won the gold medal in an exciting shoot out after the game ended in a tie in regulation. Full respect to the Canadian women. Canada won the last four Olympic Gold Medals and could easily have won this one.
So what do I have in common with the US women’s team?
Not much, you might say…but no! First of all, six of the women on the team attended the University of Minnesota and played hockey there. So did I. They won the gold medal in a shootout. I won a game in college the same way.
After that the comparisons dim a bit, but let us review.
In high school I played a lot of hockey on the weekends, because I was not good enough to play for the school team. No shame there, as high school hockey in Minnesota sets a high standard of excellence.
In college I played on an intramural team. The intramural games were played on the same ice in the same arena where the Gopher varsity men played their games. I attended almost all of them, watching people with skills I could only dream of possessing. (There were no women’s hockey games in those days) On one occasion I turned down an invitation to be part of an exhibition of Frisbee skills at halftime of a Gopher basketball game because I would need to miss the hockey game next door at the same time.
Playing hockey on the same ice as the varsity, with goalies in full gear and real referees, was a great thrill for someone of my skill level.
I have only two memories of the games. The first is that when I started student teaching I was suddenly racking up the most penalty minutes of anyone on my team. In truth, intramural games were not meant to be violent, so you did not have to commit much violence to earn time in the penalty box. Still, I did some things that had even my own teammates looking at me and saying “What is wrong with you?” I did not know at the time how stressful my student teaching experience was. Another story, but it had little to do with the students.
The other memory is the overtime shootout after one game. In intramurals, the rules called for three players from each team to take turns going “one on none” against the other team’s goalie. If those six attempts did not determine a winner, you did it again with three different players from each team. If no result then, the game was simply declared a tie, because ice time was precious and the next game needed to start.
I was not one of the three best players on my team. In fact, I was adjudged to be the 6th. When it came to me the score was still tied 1 to 1. If I scored, we would win. If not, the game was over and it would be a tie.
As I skated to center ice to await the referee dropping the puck, I was aware that a large crowd had gathered. The two teams and friends who were watching my game had been joined by the teams and friends awaiting the next game. The ice surface was huge, and glowed in the powerful lights. The referee dropped the puck and waved me forward and now I was skating toward the goalie.
If you have seen the winning shot for the USA women, it is exactly what I did not want to do. The woman skated in, faked one way, and then the other, and then back again, moving the puck and her legs from side to side in a dizzying cadence, and then tucked puck off her stick and into the net behind the goalie. I knew that if I tried something like that I would probably simply lose the puck during one of the maneuvers or make an ass of myself in any of a couple of dozen other ways.
Instead, I decided to skate to about 20 feet in front of the goalie and let loose with a slap shot. If it went in, fine. If the goalie stopped it I would at least not look like a total fool.
I swooped toward the goalie, and wound up for a mighty slap shot, I swung the stick in a big arc down to the sliding puck – and totally missed it.
I’d done exactly what I’d wanted to avoid. What an idiot! As feelings of shame began to crush my soul, my adrenaline-fueled brain realized I had not actually taken a shot. You are allowed one shot, and I had not touched the puck at all. In panic, I swiped at the puck with my stick, and my actual “shot” slid toward the goal with all of the speed of a Zamboni surfacing the ice.
My whiffed shot had been so close that the goalie had reacted to it, moving his stick and body toward where he calculated the puck would go. He was still moving that way, and his stick was tipped back a bit. The puck hit his stick, popped up and over, almost in slow motion, and went in the goal. We had won!
There was a huge pig pile on the ice, and I could hear the applause of the crowd. The goalie was smashing his stick on the ice in frustration. My teammates all thought I had done the greatest fake slap shot ever, and so did everyone else in the arena. I kept my mouth shut. (For once!)
There were only two people who knew what had happened. Me, and I think the goalie.
Congratulations to the USA Women’s Hockey team, and thank you for reviving a cherished memory.
Copyright 2018 David Preston