Anyone who has enjoyed hockey recognizes two things are consistent in every level of this great sport:
One, the teams play for a post season appearance and that is when the REAL SEASON begins.
Two, hockey players and their clubs are committed to their community and making a real difference in people’s lives.
The long run towards the playoffs is what brings in most hockey fans, and certainly was true in my case.
It was watching these warriors in a gruelling battle to make it to the post-season, knowing that once they are in the regular season records mean nothing and the chance to win it all is as much theirs as any of their opponents. If your team makes it to the playoffs they could be champion!
What has made me a lifelong fan of the sport, though, is how much I like the character of the players and the executives that run the hockey clubs.
The kids that play hockey, almost without exception, seem to get it. They are appreciative to play the sport and respectful of the sacrifices of their family, friends, coaches and neighbours. As they develop their skills and friendships with their teammates they also develop into contributing members of their community. And they feel a commitment to give back.
Saturday night, both of these qualities were under the spotlight at the Gatorade Garden City Complex as the Niagara IceDogs hosted the Saginaw Spirit.
There was a great game on display between the two clubs as they were fighting for their playoff lives. But this also was the annual Pink in the Rink game, where the club dedicates a number of initiatives to raising money and awareness for breast cancer and the Canadian Cancer Society. Last year’s event raised more than $16,000 and the hope is that this year’s event will be just as successful.
Special Black-and-Pink game-worn jerseys are to be auctioned off this week and Pink in the Rink hats are still available from the IceDogs’ offices.
As for the game, it was what you would expect this time of year: high intensity, back-and-forth action, trading chances with some big hits and huge saves thrown in. In the end the IceDogs, despite great scoring chances in the 3rd, fell a goal short and lost 5-4 in front of the sell-out crowd.
Currently, the Niagara IceDogs are sitting in the middle of the standings and the return this week of Ryan Strome (New York Islanders) and Brett Ritchie (Dallas Stars), the teams #1 and #2 scorers will certainly be welcome in the final weeks leading up to the playoffs.
The club will need to find additional scoring and leadership, particularly from the backend, since learning that the Boston Bruins are going to be keeping Dougie Hamilton on their roster for the rest of the NHL season.
With less than 20 games remaining in the heart of the season, the boys will need to find all of their character to make their way into the playoffs this year. And once there, who knows… it took them to the OHL finals last year!