Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Finality.

I suppose it couldn't have ended any other way. The Red Wings' effort last night was terrible for two periods. The conditions of the ice were atrocious and probably a deliberate ploy by Anaheim to slow down the Wings, allowing their one-line Ducks to keep up. The Ducks were, as usual, a bunch of gutless assholes when the game ended. I'm sure Corey Perry felt really good about himself after he jumped Brian Rafalski, a non-fighter in his first game back from injury. Scott Niedermayer throws his elbow at Datsyuk's head, and then makes sure his visor is pulled down to protect himself should Datsyuk throw a punch. The Ducks are what they are: a bunch of spineless cheap shot artists.

And none of that matters anymore.

What matters is that the latest chapter in this bitter war will come down to one of the greatest things in sports. The Seventh Game. Just the words "Game Seven" evoke memories of warriors past. Those who saw it will never forget Stevie Y's blast against St. Louis in 1996. We all remember where we were for Game 7 against Colorado in 2002, when the Red Wings finally won the war against Patrick Roy, sending him away for good, ending the Detroit/Colorado rivalry.



For outside observers, nothing is greater than Game Seven. For fans of the teams involved, there is nothing worse. The obsessive qualities that make us diehard fans, they all work against us in a Game Seven situation. The emotional investment we pour into these teams threatens our sanity. Four years ago, during the day of Game Seven between the Pistons and Spurs, I felt sick to my stomach all day. I was literally trembling from anxiety and fear. Is it unhealthy? Is it over the top? Yeah, probably. For most, sports is just a hobby. Something to follow, something to be interested in. For me, it has become something more. Some people become addicted to certain types of food. Some people become alcoholics or worse, drug addicts. Me? I'm addicted to sports. It's a religion, as far as I'm concerned. It dictates my mood. I'm in the category of Red Wings fans who are like drug addicts. When the Red Wings win, it's a high that can't be matched. When they lose, we shiver in the corner, we zone out, we become irritable, irrational nutcases incapable of rational thought or reason. It's a passion that those who don't have it cannot begin to comprehend. For people like me, Game Seven is a cathedral and a cemetary all at the same time. It's the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

Tonight will be a restless one of Red Wings fans of my ilk. We know deep down that we cannot affect the outcome. We know that the ones who will decide it are the players who lace up the skates and put it all out there on the ice. And yet, we still have our superstitions and rituals that we go through, perhaps simple, naive belief that there are higher powers at work that will strike us down if we deviate from the motions we go through. "Hockey Gods", as it were. There are coaches and players who believe in the Hockey Gods. In this case, they believe that if they work hard enough, do all the right things and keep hacking away, the Hockey Gods will reward them for their dedication. For fans, it is similar in the sense that we naively believe that if we follow the same stringent procedures, the Hockey Gods will smile on our team. Since Abel to Yzerman busted it out earlier in this series, I have included "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" in my pregame ritual, along with my usual "Hell's Bells". The latter is just one I rock out to so my adrenalin is up for the game, but the former is effective too, I've noticed. It does a great job serving as the calm before the storm.

We sometimes like to refer to the players of our favorite teams as "heroes". Politically correct people take offense to this, preferring to reserve that title for people in the military, firefighters, police officers, etc. Me, I don't see the big deal. I don't think it's disrespectful. I fully recognize that the people putting their lives on the line to keep us safe as heroes, and I acknowledge their heroism is much more significant than that of those who make a living playing a game. I'm comfortable calling professional athletes heroes if I deem them to be. The Red Wings are heroes because they lay it on the line for us every night (well, almost every night). They bring us happiness. They provide us an escape from the real world. We live vicariously through them. Their success is our success. Their pain is our pain. They are our heroes for this.

Tomorrow night, we will live with them. Or we will die with them. I'm not a big believer in "fate". I don't think it's "fate" for the Red Wings to win or lose tomorrow night. If I believe in anything close to it, I may choose to believe that it was destiny for the Red Wings and Ducks to meet like this. Game Seven, with everything on the line and nothing to hold back. For two teams that have hatred in their hearts for the other and have been through the wars against each other, I can think of no more fitting conclusion than one final game. One final game to decide who advances and who goes home. If destiny is real, that it was indeed destiny that the past two Stanley Cup Champions should meet in a Seventh Game. In less than 24 hours, the final chapter will begin. I characterized this as a battle of good versus evil. We should've expected that evil wouldn't go down without one final salvo. The Joker always has one last trick up his sleeve. He always has an ace in the hole. Last night, he used it. And tomorrow, Batman will face the Joker, one last time.

And like Gordon Lightfoot said, they'll pray in a musty old hall in Detroit.

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