Playoff mode really starts around January in the NHL offices in Midtown Manhattan. Thats when everyone starts uttering the words that light a fire in eyes all around. They inspire employees to start workout regimens involving push-ups, sit-ups, and stationery bikes. The smack talk begins. Hockey equipment gets dusted off. Skates sharpened.
Those words, of course, are "Mountie Cup."
The annual company tournament can get everyone riled up, and we don't even play until April. This year, for instance, we had four coaches, who spent weeks scouting teams at our pick-up skate, making notes, and ultimately setting up to draft what they hope will be the winner, so that they may raise the trophy high over their head, and in the faces of co-workers while they inscribe their name into Mountie Cup lore.
Before we take to the ice for a shot at intra-office glory, the teams must be drafted, the jerseys handed out, and team meetings had. And then, suddenly, you wake up, and it's Mountie Cup day, and Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers is swarming by 5:00. All four teams - Team Edamame, Team Slim, Red Light District, and Great White - are raring, and ready to go. It's game time.
The first six games of the night served to set up seeding for the semifinal rounds. Highlights from the from this round include three-time Cup champ and Team Slim goalie Pete Pennecke shutting the door on a deeply offensive Red Light District to open the tournament; Great White going to a shootout in every game (with winners from Michael Blinn and John O'Neill, and stellar goaltending from Matt Pekar), Red Light District opening up for six goals against Team Edamame, led by Sean Ellis' hat trick and Nico Torchia's backhanded roof-shot, and Edamame's Brad Holland going off for five goals before the round was out.
At the end of the prelims, three teams held 2-1 records; Team Slim assumed the first seed with just three goals against, while Great White taking second, Red Light District third, and Edamame in fourth.
The standings were pretty indicative of just how close these teams were built - records, seeds, and goals aside, the semifinal round is where everyone put their chips on the table.
It also bear mentioning, the coaches of the respective teams came to play too; White's coach Bobby Correira and Slim's Mark Fischel ordered custom-made Brooklyn-Italian suits for the event, while Edamame's Wes Clarkson donned a more athletic version with a track suit hand-tailored in Canada. Red Light's Eric Dwyer was ready, too, though his jeans-and-sweatshirt ensemble looked more ready to hand out postgame pizza and drinks than game rosters.
Team Slim drew a dangerously fourth-seeded Team Edamame in a matchup featuring the tournament's two most seasoned goaltenders in Pennecke and Dan Hudson.
Edamame drew first blood, with Russ Levine, showcasing the rarity of soft hands on a big man, finishing off a feed from John Dellapina off a faceoff win.
Slim's J.R. Boyle evened things up, slipping the biscuit past Hudson to tie things up, rewarding Mark Fischel's faith in his draft. Early on, this one had all the making of a knock-down-drag-em-out slugfest with a berth in the Final on the line.
Until, that it,s the two-headed Tomo Tamaki-Brad Holland monster took over. The two teamed up to run amok on the Slim defense and goalie Pennecke, using a combination of sheer brute force and deft skill to open the lead up to 3-1. Holland put the final nail in the coffin with his second of the game.
Despite valiant efforts by the top-ranked team, Slim's Mountie Cup hopes were dashed; Edamame moved on to the Final, with just one final piece of the equation missing.
In a rematch of the final preliminary round game (also known as, "The Goalies with Pads Older Than They Are: Manny Lorras vs. Matt Pekar, Round II"), Great White looked to avenge a shootout loss against Red Light District. Things started off quickly, as the ever-sneaky Nick Gennarelli took a feed from Lawrence Goldstein off the opening faceoff and put the District out in front. From there, it was a goaltender's duel. Jen Raimondi, Sean Ellis, Evan Rand, and Derek Kennedy put everything they had into White's Pekar, who stood tall to the task. Red Light's Lorras was no slouch either, stopping the like of Mike Chute, Evan Neel, Bobby Toomey, and Mike Blinn on numerous opportunities.
Late in the game, however, an odd turn of events game the game new life. Dan Near, the NHL office-version of Zdeno Chara in both size and style, was whistled off for roughing, only to return to the ice with a vengance absorbed by Lorras - a blistering shot from the right side that hit the twine to tie the game. Time ran out, and for the second straight game, the teams headed for a shootout.
Lorras was successful in turning away White's Paul Conway, and Raimondi put Red in the lead with a straight-out snipe off the crossbar. In the secound round, Blinn converted with a blocker side shot, while Pekar got the better of Red's Goldstein. Chute ripped a shot from the top of the right circle to put White in the lead, though Ellis made sure things stayed even. Neel was unable to find any ground on Lorras, and with everything coming down to a final shot, Red went with their ace-in-the-hole, Kennedy, who found nothing but net over Pekar's blocker - on an admittedly 'lucky' shot - for the game-winner.
With Kennedy's heroics, the stage was set for an epic matchup between Red Light District and Edamame.
Mountie Cup Final
The air in the rink was electric. It was David versus Goliath, Good against Evil, the Leafs and the Habs, though neither team claimed to be the bad guys.
Red Light District, coming off a long, arduous matchup, took some time to regroup and plan, while Edamame took a differnt approach. Veteran Mike DiLorenzo called the green-clad squad together, and laid it on the line for his mates in a pre-game speech that was not only inspiring, but also put the late Herb Brooks to shame, as well as Bluto Blutarski and Winston Churchill ("Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?!")
The excitment began as soon as the puck dropped. Lawrence Goldstein capitalized on an early defensive miscue and put a beautiful deke on Edamame's Dan Hudson for a 1-0 Red Light lead. Tomo Tamaki tallied his first of the game to tie things up, however Evan Rand answered to put Red back on top.
It was at this point that the Holland-Tamaki tandem again flexed their muscle. Holland tossed Edamame on his back, scoring twice to give the green-clad squad their first lead of the game - including a highlight reel goal in which the righty came down the left side, faked wrapping around, only to tuck the puck neatly behind Red goalie Manny Lorras while the rest of Holland's body was already below the goal line. There was no turning back. Tamaki quickly added his second for a 4-2 lead, though Rand again answered the bell to close the gap to 4-3.
With time running out, Red coach Dwyer pulled Lorras for an extra attacker, but his team was unable to sustain pressure against Hudson and Tamaki capped off the game - and a hat trick - with an empty netter.
While no confetti fell from the rafters, there was plenty of celebrating to be had. Edamame proudly displayed their trophy, sharing celebratory drinks from the cup and smile-filled photos. That included Brad Holland, the Tournament MVP for the second time in three years, despite a nasty gash on his upper lip, which resulted in a "zipper mustache." The rest of the Mountie Cup field joined in as well, but only for a while, anyways.
After all, there's only 364 days until the next shot at Mountie Cup glory, give or take a few.
(A big thanks to Wes Clarkson, for guiding the tournament through some rough patches, friends, family and co-workers for coming out and cheering, the officials for putting up with our prima-donna whining, and especially to all our fellow participants. Even more thanks to anyone accidentally left off this list. More photos, as well as full-sized version are available here)