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...at least, not for the half of the protagonists that you care about.

It is with a heavy, heavy heart (and equally heavy eyelids) that I must report that, although it went down to the very wire, last night the Canucks lost the quarter-finals in the playoffs to the Calgary Flames.

After the hectic ups and Stygian troughs of downs that the team went through in the last month of the season, they really managed to put together an extraordinary comeback to win their Division. They started off the playoffs well, too, against Calgary -- a scrappy, determined team that was itself outperforming expectations, and had managed to fight their way into seventh place in the Conference for their first shot in the playoffs in 10 years. Although Vancouver was heavily favored (by, it seemed, just about everyone except wary Vancouver fans), the Flames weren't going down without a fight.

Things took a turn for the sucky for the Canucks when their starting goaltender went down badly in game 3. Nobody's fault, except perhaps the guys who do the ice conditioning at Calgary's Saddledome, but Cloutier's leg got turned under his body awkwardly at one point (and he still managed to get back in his net and make two more saves, even though he couldn't stand on that leg). Originally it looked like a deeply screwed-up knee; it was later announced as a sprained ankle. No matter, Cloutier was out for the series, and possibly the entire playoffs. His #1 backup was, to be fair, a guy who'd had playoff success in the past (with the Penguins, of all teams), but although he came in and played out the remainder of that first game well, Hedberg dropped the next one pretty badly (I think that was the 4-0 loss), and clearly the coach lost confidence in him, because from then on out, the Canucks were playing with their THIRD-string goalie, Alex Auld.

All due respect to Auld -- with a few exceptions, he played amazingly well for a guy who had never played in the pressure-cooker of the NHL playoffs before. Including the unbelievably nail-biting sixth game -- in Calgary, with the Flames leading the series 3-2. The Flames could have won it then. Vancouver went up on them 4-0 in the 2nd...and then pissed away their lead and allowed the Flames to TIE it, for gods sake. The two teams had to go into TRIPLE OVERTIME (42 extra minutes of hockey, on top of the 60 they'd just played) before the punchy Flames made the first mistake and Vancouver put together a good rush and scored. Jubilation. A forced Game 7, back in Vancouver.

Sadly, if you have been following the team, you would know that Vancouver generally doesn't play as well at home as on the road. No, nobody understands why, it's just a fact.

Last night was do-or-die for both teams. Appropriately, the action see-sawed back and forth. Calgary went up by one, then Vancouver came back. No sooner was everyone breathing a sigh of relief, than the Canucks took a penalty, and Calgary scored. Then, with less than 2 minutes to go in the game, Calgary took a penalty, putting the desperate Canucks on the powerplay. With their goalie pulled for the extra attacker, the Canucks then took a penalty with 20 seconds to go. Calgary's captain (the estimable Jarome Iginla, their highest scorer) then missed the empty Canucks' net by *INCHES*. And the Canucks' captain, Naslund, swept down the length of the ice, battled the puck off the boards to the front of the net, and his linemate Matt Cooke batted it in for the tying goal with 5.7 seconds left on the clock.

After a story like that, you'd think the only dramatic outcome would have to be a triumphant Canucks victory, in front of their standing, screaming home crowd. But -- oh god -- no. They started OT with their player still in the penalty box for another 1:33. And the Flames managed to score at 1:25.

I've been saying all along that watching sports, for me, is all about the stories that give it depth. Once you learn the stories, that's why you care, even if you may also enjoy the game for other reasons.

To be fair, Calgary was putting together their own great storyline all throughout this series -- one, obviously, at odds with the one that the Canucks wished to fulfill. Calgary hadn't been in a playoffs series since 1994 -- when, coincidentally, they were eliminated by the Canucks (on Vancouver's way to their last appearence in the Stanley Cup finals). The Flames hadn't *won* any playoffs series since 1989 (when, again, if I'm not mistaken, they beat the Canucks in the first round). Calgary had a somewhat uneven season this year, so their getting into the playoffs at all took a great deal of effort, for which they are to be commended. They don't play boring hockey -- they're not one of those teams (like, sadly, the Wild; or last year's Cup champions, the New Jersey Devils -- who have already been eliminated this year, too) who have decided to ride a smothering defensive style to success. I respect Calgary, I respect most of their guys, especially their captain. I respect what they did to get into the playoffs, and what they did to win. This series was, at all times, great to watch -- dramatic, exciting, balanced.

If the Canucks had to lose (and I still wish they hadn't, of course), I feel a tiny bit consoled that their loss allows Calgary to advance. It's not one of those cases where not only do you want your team to win, but you desperately wish the other team to lose. All I can say now is, if Calgary had to oust the Canucks, then let them make it count. I hope they ride this wave of success for a long way. That would make me feel better.

But meanwhile, my guys are out. I'm not the kind of fan who can get angry at a team that has disappointed its fans (and in Vancouver, the Canucks lately are regarded similarly to the way Boston regards the Red Sox -- a very good team who will achieve just so much success, and then fail in the clutch). I'm too busy feeling badly *for* them. I spent almost 80 games getting to know these guys -- their stories and their personalities. The camera panned down the bench right after the final goal last night, and those poor men just looked stunned. For a fan, it's a feeling of terrible finality -- how much worse must it be for the players (who had expectations of themselves, and who knew exactly how high their fans' expectations of them were)? No more second chances, until next year (if there *is* a Next Year, next year -- what with a possible work-stoppage looming.)

I've remarked to people throughout the year that this has been like watching an 82-episode dramatic series, for which it is absolutely impossible to obtain any spoilers for how it will all come out. Now it feels as if the show has been cancelled, abrubtly, without a satisfying resolution -- not even on a cliffhanger.

Am very, very sad. And now, the Bruins are out of it, too. I'll still keep an eye on the playoffs, and of course watch the finals, but.... Bummer.

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Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
maxineofarc
Apr. 20th, 2004 07:52 am (UTC)
I'm sorry, man.
(Deleted comment)
(Anonymous)
Apr. 20th, 2004 01:18 pm (UTC)
Yeah, with the Bruins and the Canucks both out, there's nothing left going on in hockey for me but the bizarre gay assasination plots.

-len
(Deleted comment)
eregyrn
Apr. 20th, 2004 05:48 pm (UTC)
Well...see...no, it's way, way more fucked-up than that.

This young guy, Mike Danton, who plays (/ed) for the St. Louis Blues (who were eliminated from the playoffs by the San Jose Sharks) was arrested over the weekend on charges of having hired a hitman to kill somebody. His "girlfriend" (we think she is, anyway) was arrested along with him. The supposed hitman strung them along and turned them in.

Initially, all the stuff coming out in the press was about how Danton had originally told the girl that some guy was coming down from Canada to kill him because he owed someone some money, so he wanted to hire a hitman to kill the guy first. He said the guy would be going to his apartment in St. Louis, and he was very insistent that the murder had to happen there. Comes the day, the "hitman" goes to the apartment with the girl, and finds a man there -- who says that he is Danton's FATHER. However, later, the FBI manages to tape a phone conversation between Danton and this man (described in all the papers as "an acquaintence", and in some places as a man who lives in the apartment with Danton) in which the man asks Danton why he wanted to kill him, and Danton breaks down sobbing and says he was afraid the man "would leave him".

It is further revealed in truth that Danton and this man had had a big argument, supposedly about the other man's disapproval of Danton's drinking and promiscuity, and that Danton was afraid that the man would go to the management of the St. Louis Blues and try to ruin his career.

Okay, so THAT totally sounds like a lovers' tiff, doesn't it? But wait, there's more!

It was revealed today that anonymous sources in law enforcement are identifying the alleged target of the hit as David Frost, Danton's agent. And here's where it starts getting REALLY fucked up, because many articles appearing in Canadian newspapers are happy to lay out the history of Frost's involvement with training junior hockey teams. He is widely regarded as a sort of Svengali, characterized back in 1999 even as having unusual influence over the young men he coached -- including, from the age of 11, Danton, who was born Mike Jefferson, but who legally changed his name in 2002 because of estrangement from his family. Particularly, estrangement from his father -- who back in 1999 was quoted as calling Frost "the best thing to ever happen to my son", and yet in recent articles, has been quoted as calling Frost "a monster".

(Despite Frost's influence over these young men, and despite being widely characterized as a creep and an asshole, there have never, apparently, been any allegations that his relationship with his players crossed the line sexually. And he has been charged, in Canada, with so many other questionable practices with regard to his official role with various hockey teams and leagues, that you'd think this would have come out, if he had ever acted in that way.)

So what do we actually have, here? Well, one very, very fucked-up young man, who also sounds like he isn't exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. Frost, his agent and mentor, may in fact be the unnamed acquaintence of earliest reports, and also may have been the target of the hit. Given everything I've been reading about Frost's own modus operandi, and thus the example he's set, it would hardly surprise me to find Danton falling prey to paranoid delusions regarding a feared betrayal by Frost, particularly if Frost was criticizing his conduct and threatening him with exposure. Maybe it wasn't even paranoia or delusion -- it sounds like Frost would be capable of trying to handle one of his players that way.

But this case only broke over the weekend, and it's still unfolding. I imagine we'll be hearing a good bit more on it. Danton hasn't even been extradited to St. Louis yet.
raqs
Apr. 20th, 2004 09:00 pm (UTC)
Dude. With that kind of shit, I can't imagine why EVERYONE isn't watching hockey.

I mean, everyone loved the Tonya Harding story.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )