Prologue, June 2006
"The emptiness of sports is most felt in victory," at least according to evangelical lifestyle guru Joshua Becker. As one of the winners, I have to agree about the eventual emptiness of victory, or at least the potential emptiness of some victories. By August 2006 the echo of the most important win of my short professional career arrived with great emptiness, the realization that it had all been too easy.
Listening to the Canadian and American anthems tonight I was reminded of that emptiness and it seemed that an even greater emptiness was about to begin. Wikipedia reports the spring of 2005 as the apex of my career - and it was. But it was also the apex of my faith. I believed in my country, the game, Christ, that I could follow His will, progress, and love. That faith materialized into the Conn Smythe, the Cup, and my marriage to the light of my life - my beautiful wife Cody.
I remember after the loss in Rexall on June 19th, 2006 pastor Ernst met me outside the dressing room in that little carpeted area where they corral our family and friends. I talked to the security guard and got permission for Ernst to come and pray with me on the far-side of the bus, which was parked inside under the stands. I loved pastor Ernst. I was so glad when Sherwood Park Alliance hired him to work with the youth. He started a bunch of small groups that worked on all sorts of projects. He was different than a lot of the other adults in Church. For one thing he didn't know anything about hockey, nor did he care about it. He treated me as he treated the other kids, like a person. He was pretty charismatic for an Alliance pastor but he kept the heavy stuff for behind closed-doors so as not to offend the uptight elders (fat chance of that).
As we stood on the far side of the bus, the driver started the diesel engine indicating that it was time to go. I was startled during our moment of prayer; Pastor Ernst didn't flinch. He laid his hand over my forehead and prayed for my protection and that I would hear God's still small voice, a voice that was "life to me." He repeated this a few times with his dutch accent: "Thank you Lord, I want to hear your voice, your voice is life to me, your voice is life to us, thank you for Cam, I pray for his blessing and that he would hear you…" I heard the rumble of the diesel engine drop into a low growl as the driver took it out of park and put it in gear. I guess we were going to miss the plane if we did't leave soon. I gave Ernst a firm hug-shake (half hug, half handshake) and ran around to the door-side of the bus while waving goodbye to some other friends.
The first period tonight was a tough one. Like always, I sang a few songs to myself to break into rhythm and focus on the puck. You know, stuff like Creed, U2, Radiohead. Eric, my brother in Christ, started the first with a hit on the bad Andrej at about forty-seven seconds. Eric's like that you know: "Love God, love one another, 'nough said," but he's got this competitive streak that would put the fear of God into Ayn Rand. I didn't see my first shot until a couple of minutes in. It was the bad Andrej again, I guess looking to take Eric's aggression out on me: no biggy', that's what the pads are for. I made a nice stop on Teddy Purcell a few minutes later. It went back and forth like that for a while, until Justin took a penalty around six and a half minutes.
I hate the PK. We're not so good at it you know, 26th in the league - 7 spots behind Edmonton. The other guys take the penalties then I have to stand on my head and split my groin to save 'em (WWJD?). We lost the faceoff in our end and again the bad Andrej was trying to make my life difficult with a slapper, thankfully it was blocked and Ron got control of it. Instead of getting it out of the zone he handed it right to Nail Yakupov and before I could cry-out it was in the net off a deflection or two (tip to young goalies: if they ask it always goes in off a deflection or two). Thanks for another great PK Coach Smith. On the replay I noticed that the broadcasters had thought that the goal belonged to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but I could have told them from the start that Benoit Pouliot was in the paint for that one and was making my life difficult. Nail Yakupov got his one-hundredth point and Pouliot got his one-hundredth goal (lucky bounce).
After being down one, we started to take it to the Oilers. It was so intense in 2006, I'm not certain who wanted to beat the Oilers more me, Doug or Glen. Pretty weird from the outside, a couple of Alberta boys and an ex-Oiler going against the copper and blue. Anyways, screw Kevin Lowe. He passed me over for the draft in 2002 and I was determined to get back at him. I felt strong, like everything was going to go right if I just took the next step of faith, one blade and one puck at a time.
Twelve minutes into the period Eric took a stupid tripping penalty against Jordan Eberle: time for me to stand on my head again. Mom and Cody never watch the PK, "too much stress," they say. I made a couple saves while we were short-handed, one from Taylor Hall and another from Mark Letestu. It felt pretty good.
It sort of went back and forth again. Right at the end of the first Eric put us back in the game after some hard work behind the net from Jordan. At least from where I was it looked like Eric, but maybe it went off a skate or something (it always goes off or something).
By the end of the first, I had made five even-strength stops, and faced three short-handed shots. At the other end of the ice Anders Nilsson had faced seven even-strength shots.
The second started normal enough but took a turn for the really weird a couple of minutes in. If you think it was weird that Yakupov got his one-hundredth point on an assist to Pouliot's one-hundredth goal, it was about to get weirder for the young Russian. That kid got tackled by a linesman during a centre-ice faceoff (the ref kind of linesman not the football-Roughriders kind) and got hurt. Looked like his leg on the jumbotron. Weird stuff.
After Yakupov was led-off of the ice and they dropped the puck again, we started taking it to the Oilers for a bit. Until we took another stupid neutral-zone penalty. Good thing I'm pretty good at what I do, and the The Big Guy's on my side because we have an Oilers' designed PK. Mind you, it's facing a Shark's designed powerplay implemented by the Oilers, so basically an exercise in futility, an empty victory if you will. I made two saves during that time while Mom and Cody weren't looking. They were wrist shots from Pouliot and Eberle that were about 25 feet out. Thank goodness that my other buddy in Christ, Ryan Smyth, wasn't in my crease to harass me like in 2006.
Edmonton started throwing the puck at me after their powerplay. There was a slapper from Griffin Reinhart that I stopped with a pad. It ended up on the stick of Leon Draisaitl but no worries I nabbed it. Draisaitl won the ensuing faceoff whereafter Darnell Nurse tried to sneak one in on me with a wrap-around. There was more action thrown at me from Taylor Hall and we finally decided to ease the pressure a bit by icing the puck. Thankfully we won the defensive zone faceoff, and before I knew the puck was in the Oilers' net on a feed from Eric. I told you about his competitive streak, right?
After the goal both teams put out their fourth lines and the bodies started flying. Justin got a good one in towards Anders Nilsson but didn't find the twine. Meanwhile, the Taylor Hall and Leon Draisailt pair kept coming at me, but it really wasn't more than I could handle. WIth three minutes left in the second, Jeff put one behind Anders Nilsson. Justin got an assist on that one.
I made eight even-strength stops and two short-handed stops in the second. That young giant kid Anders Nilsson faced twelve even-strength shots while allowing two goals (after a couple of bounces, of course).
We were outshot in the third period eleven to seven. I made another twelve even-strength stops. I was good. Who am I kidding? I was great! But honestly the shots don't say everything! We gave the Oilers shots but we didn't let them come inside and get high-percentage chances. Twelve minutes into the third Victor got one of those stupid delay of game penalties and Mom had to look-away again. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins got a good chance on that PK but I stopped him cold. The Oilers continued with the shots until the end of the period when they pulled Anders Nilsson and the good Andrej put one into the empty net.
The after game text
My cousin Matt is really into the new fancystats and he texts me after every game with the results. This game the Oilers threw 57 Corsis at me with eight of those on the powerplay. We threw 53 Corsis at Edmonton with two of those being on the powerplay. But the real difference was in so-called "High-Danger Scoring Chances" . Edmonton had nine and we had fifteen. At even-strength we beat them fifteen to seven on those High-Danger Chances.
The Oilers had five powerplays, a total of ten-minutes that Mom couldn't watch, and they only got one goal. I guess their Coach summed it up pretty well:
"Our goaltender was just fine," McLellan said. "He wasn't capable of getting up in the forecheck or establishing a net-front presence or backchecking like he's determined or winning a faceoff battle. He has to stay in the crease."(source)
Or as I told the same reporter:
"[The Oilers] have a lot of skill and a good transition game... They gain a lot of speed. We were able to clog it up a bit and make it an easier night for me." (source)
Or as Joshua Becker put it:
But when you win, the pursuit of the goal is removed. There is no one left to defeat. There is no obstacle left to overcome. Your team has reached the pinnacle of its sport. But it doesn’t change your life in any way. In fact, work begins again in the morning. (source)
The emptiness of victory is only eclipsed by the emptiness of losing. Victory might not change your life in any way, but losing does. When there is no hope of winning the rock gets so heavy that pushing it uphill just seems pointless. If you lose enough it ends the cycle and changes everything, forever.