Ask anybody who covers sports for a living – it’s so much better when you know that people actually care about the outcome of the game you’re writing about.
Nobody wants to write for an audience of three, or spend 1,000 words on kids who didn’t want to be there in the first place. It’s an exercise in boredom.
When there is genuine interest, and you can see it through the intensity of the game itself, and you can feel it as the crowd reacts to every big moment, then it’s exciting. It makes up for some games that aren’t so big.
On Saturday, at Thayer Arena, there was a genuine level of excitement from the first time the puck dropped until Pilgrim had beaten Middletown in a shootout after two-and-a-half hours of hockey.
It was awesome.
You can debate all you want about whether or not ending a high-school playoff hockey game in a shootout is right or wrong, but you can’t debate the excitement that comes with it – especially on the heels of an already exciting game.
Quick recap: After battling through three periods and two overtimes of scoreless hockey – which including a waved-off Middletown goal late in the third period – in the second game of their Division II quarterfinal series, Pilgrim and Middletown went into a shootout. The Pats scored on three of their four shots, the Mariners only on one, and Pilgrim walked away with a 1-0 victory to eliminate Middletown and advance to the semifinals.
But it was how nervous the players clearly were on the big stage, how loud the Pilgrim students section was and how fired up the Pats were each time they either made a save or scored in the shootout that captures the essence of what I mean.
After Pilgrim goalie Ian Giuttari saved the first Middletown attempt – causing the Pats’ bench to nearly explode – Cody Weaver was Pilgrim’s first shooter, and he beat Middletown goalie William Coogan to give the Pats a 1-0 lead.
From there, he promptly skated halfway across the ice and leapt into the boards in front of the student section, then returned to the bench where he was mobbed by his teammates.
After two more Giuttari saves kept Middletown off the board, creating an indescribable buzz in the arena, Pilgrim’s Nick McGuirl scored and jumped into the air before sliding on one knee all the way from the right circle next to the goal back to his bench.
Once again, Pilgrim’s entire team celebrated the moment, mobbing McGuirl. The team was so excited that head coach Dave Tober had to tell them to get back off the ice because it was delaying the next shooter.
That next shooter was Middletown’s Kevin Sullivan, and he scored to keep his team alive.
That brought the Pats’ Ryan Oatley to center ice.
Only a sophomore, Oatley took one deep breath and skated at the net. If he scored, it was over.
He did basically the same thing that Weaver and McGuirl had done before him – fake left, move right and slip the puck in on the right post – to win the game.
“I was paying attention to the guys before me, what they did, what seemed to work for them,” Oatley said. “I just looked at the goalie, and as I was going down I saw what I had. I made the most of it.
“You can’t explain the feeling. You’re just overjoyed. You did it for your team, you did it for your fans and you did it for yourself.”
Needless to say, the celebration was on again.
Oatley skated to his teammates, who nearly suffocated him. He then went to the student section, where he and Weaver simultaneously jumped into the boards. Giuttari joined the picture, and his teammates piled on him.
Students took pictures with their cell phone cameras and held up signs. The celebration went on and on.
On my way toward the locker room to do interviews, I came across a Middletown player who snapped his stick over his knee.
Bad sportsmanship? Sure. But it was another example of what I’m saying – that kid really, really cared what happened that day on the ice. He may not have done the best job showing it, but the sentiment was the same.
The whole night was a testament to what sports can be at any level – competitive, exciting, emotional. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t watching the Bruins and the Rangers, I was watching teams that cared about winning their Rhode Island Division II high school hockey quarterfinal series as much as the pro teams care about winning the games they play in. Maybe more.
That makes it worth it. I’ll never complain about sitting in a cold hockey rink until 11:30 p.m. to watch a game with that sort of drama and emotion as a backdrop.
It didn’t even feel like it was close to midnight when I left. Time flies when people really care.
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.