For hockey players, Game 7 'the chance of a lifetime'
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It may not replace words such as abracadabra, presto or hocus-pocus, but mention Game 7 for the Stanley Cup and something magical happens. Tough, bruising hockey players are transformed into little boys.
The Pens' Max Talbot, who grew up in LeMoyne, Quebec, dreamed about just such a moment when he and his pals got together for pickup games.
"I've played this game a thousand times already in my driveway," he said. "Every time you play street hockey, what game do you play? You play Game 7, Stanley Cup final, and we just gave ourselves a chance to play that game. It's the chance of a lifetime."
The magic doesn't just apply to hockey. When he was a boy hitting rocks with a broom handle, Bill Mazeroski dreamed of smacking a home run to win the World Series. Tiger Woods would hit putt after putt thinking about draining one to win the U.S. Open. Michael Jordan tossed up shot after shot on the playground while pretending it was the NBA crown.
But a Game 7, involving the oldest trophy awarded to professional athletes, has an aura of its own. The Penguins will have to be at their best to dethrone the Red Wings in Detroit, but suffice it to say, the moment has awakened the inner child of players who practiced and practiced in towns like Sault Ste. Marie, Sorel-Tracy, Thunder Bay and Cole Harbour.
When he was playing Canadian junior hockey with the Rimouski Oceanic, Sidney Crosby fashioned a Stanley Cup out of aluminum foil wrapped around a waste can. By his own admission, he envisioned himself in a Game 7 for the Cup hundreds of times.
"Like every kid growing up, you play street hockey, you play in indoor rinks, you always dream of that opportunity," said the Penguins' captain, who had a mini-rink within range of the clothes dryer in the basement of his family home. "I've watched Game 7 on TV, and you dream of making it to the NHL, but something that always sticks out is playing for the Cup in Game 7. We've got an amazing opportunity here."
For some, the dream was scoring the winning goal to claim the ultimate prize. Marc-Andre Fleury, donning the goalie gear on the frozen ponds of Quebec, visualized making the ultimate stop.
"Since I was young, I've been dreaming about making a save on a breakaway for the Cup. So to have a chance like this to get that thing, it's awesome," he said.
The Penguins had to go seven games against the Capitals in the second round, winning in Washington. But in the Cup round, the franchise has never experienced a Game 7. The Penguins won the prize in 1991 in six games and swept Chicago in four in 1992. The clinching games both came on the road.
The Red Wings have been unbeatable at home in this series so far, and history favors the home team in these affairs. In the 14 times the final round has gone to a Game 7, the home club had won 12 times. The last road team to win a Game 7 was Montreal in 1971. Toronto also won at Detroit in 1945.
Maybe the Penguins are too young to know any better, or perhaps they have the youthful disdain of the impossible. But Jordan Staal, whose father built an outdoor rink for him and his brothers, shrugs off history.
"We've taken the hard road a lot in the playoffs, so why not take it to Detroit?" he grinned.
When asked how many times he dreamed about being in a Game 7 to win the Cup, Matt Cooke answered: "Too many to count."
As a lad in Belleville, Ontario, he'd stay on the ice after sundown and wouldn't stop playing until his parents summoned him home.
"When I was in grade three or four, I remember taking my skates to school and walking to the pond after classes. I didn't finish until the horns started honking on the road," he said.
The Penguins gave themselves about five minutes to savor the win in Game 6 before coming to grips with the fact they have unfinished business.
"We started thinking about Game 7 right away," said defensive mainstay Rob Scuderi. "The whole point has been to give ourselves a chance. The big thing for us is to be more prepared. If we can stay with it, continue to play our way, it's the only way we can win."
Only one team in 42 years -- the 1984 Edmonton Oilers -- has lost in the final round one year to come back to win it the next season. But heck, the Penguins were down for the count in mid-February before going on a run that has them on the brink of doing the improbable. They can play as if they have nothing to lose in Detroit.
As a player with Anaheim in 2003, Dan Bylsma played and lost in one Game 7. Trying not to lose is no way to approach the contest. "Play the way you've played all year long. Don't sit back and wait for a mistake," the Penguins coach said. "I can tell you that we're going to approach it like we just gave ourselves an opportunity that we didn't have before. That's one game for the Stanley Cup."
There's no sorcery in that approach. But Game 7, with everything on the line, still could be a magic moment. Just look for the inner child emerging in every member of the team that hoists the Cup.
First Published June 11, 2009 12:00 am