By Adam Brady
It will be a Game 7 for the ages tomorrow night at Honda Center, an undoubtedly gripping capper to what has already been a thrill-a-minute Western Conference Final between the Ducks and Blackhawks.
And while players from both teams have experienced their share of Game 7s the past two seasons, each of them probably played a thousand of them in their minds years before that.
“I played in a lot of Game 7s as a kid,” said Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf today following Anaheim’s final practice before tomorrow night. “Most of them were probably out front of my house on the street.”
Getzlaf grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan, where he jokes, “There's a rink on every corner, it's almost like Starbucks.” But it was in the middle of the road with his buddies where he ran around pretending he was playing in games like these. “That's where you learned to play,” he said, “where we loved to play, was on our street.”
|“For me, I'm trying to enjoy this process as much as I can because you're not sure when opportunities like these come around again," said Fowler, who pretended to play in Game 7s in his basement as a kid. "So I'm really looking forward to it. It's a great opportunity for our team, something we should be excited about.” |
You see, with all the pressure and anxiety associated with a Game 7, it’s easy to forgot how fun these games really are, something every player dreams of experiencing – no matter where they may be.
“Mine was in my basement at home in Farmington [Michigan],” recalled Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler. “We didn't have anything finished or anything. It was all concrete. I threw one of my buddies in the net, and I'd say '10 seconds left, breakaway, Game 7.' If I missed, I'd do it over again until I scored.”
There isn’t a player on either roster who didn’t do something similar by the time they were old enough to stand on two skates and had a miniature stick in their hands.
“Since I was like 3 years old, I’ve been running around my driveway pretending to score that Stanley Cup winning goal,” Matt Beleskey said earlier this postseason. “That’s everything you dream of, that overtime goal or game-winning goal. It’s something you always want.”
Of course, Beleskey was able to experience exactly that a few nights ago at Honda Center, banging in a rebound just 45 seconds into overtime to slam the door on a thrilling Game 5. It was just one of countless memorable moments in this instant classic series between two high-powered combatants.
“This is the most exciting series I’ve ever been a part of as far as game-changing, being up, being down, coming back,” Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin said. “It seems like every game, the team that is down has found a way to come back and make a game out of it, even if you’re down two or three goals. It’s been a great series for the fans, an exciting series to play, emotions going up and down. It’s for sure the most exciting series I’ve ever been a part of personally.”
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau admitted he’s been too focused on execution to realize how entertaining the hockey has been. “I asked the question yesterday to somebody. I said, ‘Has this been a good series?’ They laughed at me. They said, ‘Are you kidding, it's been as good as it gets.’
“You don't notice it. You're playing game to game. All we see a lot of times as coaches are mistakes. So we don't appreciate how good it is.”
|“Since I was like 3 years old, I’ve been running around my driveway pretending to score that Stanley Cup winning goal,” Beleskey said. “That’s everything you dream of, that overtime goal or game-winning goal. It’s something you always want.” |
Tomorrow night’s Game 7 will almost certainly be another classic, where the energy will be at a fever pitch from the ice sheet all the way up to the Honda Center rafters.
“Obviously, the emotions are going to be high. Everybody's going to be jumping right off the hop,” said Ducks winger Corey Perry. “The crowd's going to be into it. All those things you can use to your advantage. But you can't go over on top of what you have to do. You still have to play hockey. You still have to keep your emotions in check.”
Fowler, who is among the half dozen or so Ducks who have endured both of the Game 7s the past two postseasons, says he is going to soak in the experience this time around.
“I think if there's one thing I've learned, it's to really embrace the opportunity,” said the 23-year-old. “We're lucky to be in this position. I think previous years, I put a lot of pressure on myself, maybe just overthinking the game too much. It's still a hockey game. You just have to go out there, compete as hard as you can.
“For me, I'm trying to enjoy this process as much as I can because you're not sure when opportunities like these come around again. So I'm really looking forward to it. It's a great opportunity for our team, something we should be excited about.”
Just like when he was a kid, firing pucks at his buddy in the basement, over and over again until he got it right.