BAKERSFIELD, CA - They're madmen.
They eat pucks for dinner and, occasionally, get fed punches for dessert.
And they're proud of it.
Video: CONDORS | First for Bakersfield 04.22.19
This being the Condors hockey club in the heat of playoff hockey. Players like Tyler Vesel, Keegan Lowe and Co., who go unsung for the contributions they provide during the second season like shot blocking, protecting the paint and going face-to-face with willing dance partners from their Round 1 opposition, the Colorado Eagles.
"Those are winners right there," said Mitch Callahan.
The Condors forward knows what it takes to be a winner, so his words come with clout. He hoisted two American Hockey League Calder Cups and confirmed that the ugly parts of the game are vital to achieving the beauty that is triumph.
"That's how you win games, by sacrificing your body for the better of the team," Callahan continued. "If you look at the teams that do succeed in the playoffs, they're the ones that have the grinders doing all the hard work or even superstars blocking shots."
Video: RAW | Mitch Callahan 04.22.19
There was hard evidence of the sacrifices made during Game 2 of the series when 14 penalties were called - seven for the Condors and Eagles each.
Vesel, who may as well have minored in shot blocking when he played college puck for the University of Nebraska Omaha Mavericks, was on the penalty kill late in the first period. The forward sunk to the crease as a scramble ensued then impulsively dropped to one knee to eat an Andrew Agozzino point-blank shot and prevent a goal against.
"This is playoff hockey and you got to do what you got to do," Vesel, the Oilers sixth-round selection in the 2014 NHL Draft, said on Monday.
"I take pride in that and it's good to see some other guys rallying behind you or cheering on when you're doing it."
It's an honourable act and one that his peers appreciate. But to Joe Gambardella, the role players have been doing it all season long and aren't changing the way they operate in the playoffs.
"Especially in the playoffs, you need that," Gambardella said. "They saved a couple of big goals for us to keep us in the game. Any time you see that it just shows you the guys are warriors and are ready to go to bat for you every single night.
"That makes you want to play even harder every single shift."
Video: CONDORS | Round 1
The outcomes have been unpredictable in the Battle of the Birds, with both clubs scooping up a win to take a 1-1 series lock into Game 3. What's come as expected, however, is the feistiness. There's been no shortage of skirmishes before, between and after the whistles and, as Callahan pointed out, there's nothing better.
It is playoff hockey after all, so why wouldn't the players love the battle that comes with it?
"That's the fun kind of hockey and that's what playoffs are all about," said Callahan.