Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How I Cope with Bruins Losses & Proudly Bandwagoning to the Cup, Part 1

The earliest memory I have of watching playoff hockey while rooting for a specific team that wasn't the Bruins was in 1996, although I have faint recollections of the years before that. Normally, when the Bruins get eliminated from the playoffs, or fail to qualify at all, I pick a team to root for. Sometimes I pick a few teams, and sometimes I pick one team then change my mind halfway through. Either way, it has consistently been a way for me to cope with the loss of Bruins hockey while simaltaneously learning about and loving new players and teams (or hating them).

Before the Bruins won the Cup last year (WOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), they were pretty consistently early-round exiters or didn't even finish in the top 8. In fact, I was just 3 years old the last time (excluding last year, of course) when the Bruins went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1990 and lost to Edmonton. I was 5 when the last time they had made it to the Conference Finals in 1992. From my earliest memories of Stanley Cup contention that I actively watched was about 1995, and I was 7, although I'd been watching hockey my whole life. Anyway, here are the Bruins numbers in the playoffs since 1995 (excluding the lockout year of 2004-2005):
  • They did not quality for the playoffs 5 times ('97, '00', '01, '06, '07)
  • They lost in Round 1 a total of 8 times, including this year:
    • '95: lost to New Jersey (Eventual Cup Champs that year) in 5 games
    • '96: lost to Florida (who would go on to the SCF) in 5 games
    • '98: lost to Washington (who would go on to the SCF) in 6 games
    • '02: lost to 8th-place Montreal in 7 games
    • '03: Lost to New Jersey (eventual Cup Champs again) in 5 games
    • '04: Lost to Montreal in 7 games
    • '08: Lost to Montreal AGAIN in 7 games
    • '12: We all know. (Stupid Caps in 7 games)
  • They lost in round 2 a total of 3 times ('99: Buffalo, 6 games; '09: Carolina, 7 games, OT; '10: Philly, 7 games...the worst ever)
    • It's worth noting that Buffalo and Philly both went on to the Cup finals (and lost thankfully) those years

The Bruins of course won the Cup in 2011, making up for 3 years in a row of game 7 exits, 2 years of game 7 2nd round exists, and 1 year of historical embarassment. They bounced back by losing in 7 games again in the 1st round.

My point is, I grew up as a huge NHL fan, but more importantly, a Bruins fan. From my early years into my teen years, I cheered for a pretty disappointing and heartbreaking team. They would go a few years without making the playoffs, or go a few years losing in the 1st round and ocasionally the 2nd round. So the majority of my life has been spent cheering for other teams in the playoffs. You would think I have it down to an exact science by now, 25 years later, but it's so random, I can't even explain most of my choices. See if you can follow year-by-year how I came to cheer for who.

1996: Colorado Avalanche defeat Florida Panthers in 4 games.
I was all about Colorado that year. I tend to pull for the brand new teams, and the Avs were 'new' in that they had just relocated from Quebec. My dad, obviously, had a big influence on my tastes and he was a huge Joe Sakic fan. So a Joe Sakic fan I became, too. And I still am, because he's awesome. He won the Conn Smythe that year. I also was and still am a fan of Patrick Roy and Peter Forsberg.

It made me more enthused to cheer for the Avs because I was still enraged at the Panthers for beating the Bruins. Keep in mind, I don't care if a team beats the Bruins fairly just by flat-out being a better team and are a great team in general; when it comes to the Bruins, defeating them is criminal - at least that's how I react. That hatred rarely goes away easily, either. I need at least a few years to recover. Or in the case of Montreal - I hate them forever.

Anyway, I was only 9 so I was still a bit soft; I started to grow a soft spot for Florida because for some reason I thought Pavel Bure was magnificient and liked guys like Scott Mellanby. But the whole rat-throwing thing irked me in a serious way. I remember loving Patrick Roy so much when the rats rained down on him and he refused to seek cover.

If you don't know the story, the Florida fans would throw fake rats onto to the ice for any Panthers goal at home because Mellanby had killed one with his bare hands in the locker room earlier in the playoffs. Previously, the goalies would hover inside the net to avoid being bombarded by the shower of mice (keep in mind, this was before the days of the net protection behind the glass). But, Roy, being a crazy and awesome son of a bitch just stood there, and according to stories after the game, he had said to his temamates in the locker room between periods that he wasn't going to let in any more goals. He was that pissed off. I loved it. I loved it even more because he stayed true to his word and didn't let in any more goals that game, and the Avs won.

My most vivid recollection of that series was Uwe Krupp's goal. In a 0-0 game, the Avs had a 3-0 series lead, and in the 3rd Overtime, the defenseman scored from the point to win the Stanley Cup. It was kind of a flukey goal, and it came out of nowhere, and from such an unexpected source. The Avs earned my loyalty for years to come.

1997: Detroit Red Wings beat Philadelphia Flyers in 4 games.
I have historically been almost as big a Red Wings fan as I was a Bruins fan (just kidding, it wasn't that close, but they were still my 2nd favorite team for a while). My mom and her side of the family are from Michigan and so some of them are pretty big Red Wings fans. At some point that I cannot pinpoint, I became obsessed with Sergei Fedorov. He was so good, always scoring big goals and winning awards and being secretly married to Anna Kournakova. I even have a cheap Red Wings Fedorov jersey that I will always love.

The Bruins did not qualify for the playoffs that year, so I had pre-emptively picked the Avs and the Wings as acceptable champions. I have always been annoyed by teams that win so much (I'm bitter) and repeat championships back-to-back (unless the Bruins ever do it). So I was okay with Colorado getting eliminated by my other top team, Detroit. They hadn't won in decades, and I just loved so many of their players (Fedorov, Yzerman, all the Russians) and particularly loved their goaltenders (Vernon and Osgood) because of their tradition of fighting Patrick Roy in any Avs/Wings games.

I also was strongly rooting for the Red Wings because I hated Philadelphia. I'm not sure when I started disliking them so much, because when I was young, my brother loved Eric Lindros and the Flyers and so of course I loved them too. Yet by this series, that had drastically changed. Two years in a row, the Cup Champs swept the SCF series, which was cool. Mike Vernon was MVP.

The tragedy that happened less than a week after the Wings won the Cup really shook me up at age 10. In a limo crash where the driver had died, Vladimir Konstantinov was paralyzed. This set up my happiness at the Wings winning the next year.

1998: Detroit Red Wings beat Washington Capitals in 4 games.
Another sweep, and this one was sweet, because I hated the Capitals. As I mentioned above, I was pulling for the Wings because I still loved them and wanted them to do it for Konstantinov. I rooted for them even more because the Capitals had defeated Boston in the 1st round earlier in the playoffs. They were not allowed to win.

I'll never forget Konstantinov at a game, standing up a bit out of his wheelchair and waving to the Joe Louis Arena crowd. And I cried when Yzerman was handed the Cup from Bettman and gave it straight to Konstatinov, in his ice, with the team celebarting, in his wheelchair.

1999: Dallas Stars defeat Buffalo Sabres in 6 games.
The Cup was won in triple overtime on the most controversial goal in history by Brett Hull on Dominick Hasek. I had fallen in love with the Stars because I really, really, really wanted them to make the Sabres suffer for kicking the Bruins out of the playoffs in round 2 - the first time I'd witness them get so far! I didn't realize it was an illegal goal when it happened, but while the Stars were skating the Cup, the ESPN announcers said that the Buffalo Sabres were outraged with the league because the goal should have been disallowed for the "foot in the crease" rule. The reality is that, yeah, it probably shouldn't have counted. The leage made up some bullshit excuse on the technicaity of possession of the puck when his foot enterted the crease, but he definitely was not. The league got rid of that rule completely and Buffalo fans still cry NO GOAL! while Brett Hull trolls them with t-shirts and tweets.

I had come to like Brett Hull during that playoffs. He had never won a Cup before and I wanted him to get one - same with Eddie Belfour, who won me over. My dad and therefore I, absolutely loved Joe Nieuwendyk, the MVP, and I became obsessed with Jamie Langenbrunner because, I don't know, he was good and cute. I just came to like Dallas quite a bit, and still do.

2000: New Jersey Devils defeat Dallas Stars in 6 games.
Another 6-game series, and for the first time in history, the Cup was won 2 years in a row in Overtime. This really sealed the deal. I was in love with playoff hockey and would never look back. The Bruins didn't qualify again that year, but I had a clear front-runner: the Colorado Avalanche. Ray Bourque was traded there earlier that season because the Bruins were so terrible, he was getting old, and he wanted a chance to win the Cup. He was traded to Colorado.

I already adored the Avs, and I loved them more and more. So I was pretty pissed when Dallas, despite still liking them in general, defeated the Colorado Avalanche and killed Ray Bourque's dream of winning a Cup. I had enjoyed the Devils, even as a fellow east conference team, and so when they faced the Stars in the finals, I jumped right on the bandwagon and held on for dear life.

I had always liked Martin Brodeur, Scott Stevens, and a few others, but I had a newfound love for Jason Arnott. That was an intense obsession. It still exists. So imagine my elation when he scores the Cup-winning goal in the 2nd OT. Man, that was an awesome moment. I stayed up to watch the whole thing as I always do, and was so nervous. The Devils were leading the series 3-2 but the Stars were the defending Champs.

In the 1st OT, Arnott got a rare OT penalty by crosschecking someone in the neck who was down on the ice. 2 minutes for being an asshole. The Devils awesome penalty kill saved them, though. And then in the 2nd OT, Arnott scored, skating along the boards towards the blueline and throwing off his gloves. I couldn't believe my favorite player (that wasn't a Bruin) had scored the Cup-winning goal.

I was also happy that the Devils won because Petr Sykora had been knocked out of the game and had, what looked like, a pretty serious concussion. Another moment I'll never forget is Patrick Elias laying on the ice as they celebrated, talking on his cell phone to Sykora in the hospital, wearing a Sykora jersey backwards.

To Be Continued...
I will finish this post through each playoff series up to the present. This is a pretty long post so far, and I have homework to do, so I'll type it up and post it tomorrow or something.

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