I wanted to see the rats hit the ice.
It would have been a moment. Something to remember, I figured. Another cool thing to add to the long list of overtime events, the growing catalog of hockey history I’ve been lucky to experience.
There are the Saturday night overtime games that never seem to end. The Hockey Night in Canada late games from Edmonton or Calgary. The ones where, as an 11-year-old boy, you hope they never score so the hockey doesn’t stop.
Paul Kariya’s breath fogging his visor while he lay motionless on the ice, a ghost rushing back to life. Pizzas delivered to locker rooms and cameras catching sleeping children in their seats during the 17 minute intermissions that feel like hours. More than anything, I wanted another story from Thursday night. I wanted it to be something worth remembering.
The fans in Florida wanted the rats as well.
You could see them clutching the plastic rodents throughout both overtimes, standing for every second. They wanted any reason to rain them down on the ice, a Bubonic Plague of euphoria. They already had their comeback. Just one more shot was all it took for a victory.
The tension was there. The excitement, the nervous energy that comes from a beautiful game like hockey. In a game like that you could root for the corporations on the half-wall and you’d still come away buzzing with excitement. Forget the setting, the usual expatriate paradise of a dull, empty building was long gone. It was a new day in Sunrise, a celebration on the brink.
But the Devils spoiled the party. A bouncing puck, a deflection off a glove and a quick shot between the circles and it was over. Just like that. No more tension. No wave of rats on the ice. Just empty bottles and a quiet shuffle through the parking lot.
The feeling was there, though. When it was finally over, when the handshakes were exchanged, the wave of nervous energy and excitement was the same I’ve felt time and time again about hockey. Another overtime winner for the Devils brought me back to a day in Toronto years ago. A Saturday during the first round of the playoffs when my family went to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Flyers were winning a game shown on a big screen with a bunch of chairs in front of it, and I climbed into a fake announcing booth with my dad to ‘broadcast’ a famous television clip from hockey history. The selection wasn’t great and I ‘announced’ it even worse, but it was a lot more fun than I imagined. It was a New Jersey Devils game, one I had never actually seen. An old memory I’d never had.
Somewhere in an old Yahoo email account is a copy of that clip that I’ll never listen to. I don’t need to anymore. Last night connected the dots back to that feeling I can never shake during an overtime game: how much fun is this?
Thursday night may not stand out in the years to come, but it did remind me of all the times that have in the past. It’s a nice reminder to have. This is an exciting time to love hockey, and we’ve got a long way to go before this postseason becomes the past. Here’s hoping for more overtimes that make you hope Sunday morning never comes.