The Guy Called Mike cools down between shifts in the Stanley Stick opener on Sunday.


Emotional rescue?

Incidents mar championship opener

by Jay Suburb

A series of ugly incidents marred Sunday's Stanley Stick opener, and have cast a dark pall over the future of the championship series.

At the center of the storm was volatile veteran Philderama, but the Living Legend also let his emotions get the better of him late in the game. The confrontations left both teams feeling deflated at the end of an otherwise hard-fought game, the victors hardly in a mood to celebrate, and the vanquished vowing vengeance.

"Usually at the Stanley Stick, there's still camaraderie at the end of the game," says the Hired Gun, who managed to play one of his most intense, hard-checking games of his career without inciting anyone's wrath. "Right now, as far as I'm concerned, the Stanley Stick is tainted."

"It cheapens the victory," says Lobsterboy, who overcame a shaky start to backstop his side to a 20-11 win. "It goes from a game of emotion and hard-fought play to thuggery."

"It could be road hockey's darkest day on what is supposed to be its hilight game," says Paul One, who was nursing a cut to his forearm after the game, suffered in an unrelated incident.

Always a time for intense, emotional road hockey, this season's Stanley Stick curtainraiser got out of control early when Philderama escalated a series of run ins with notorious gameshow host gone bad, Wink, by driving him hard from behind into the fence and then throwing him down to the ground, where he cracked his head on the concrete.

The fellow founding father, who had vowed to redeem himself after walking away from his team halfway through last season's championship, got up smiling and played the rest of the game. But Philderama's rage only escalated. Even his own teammates couldn't get him off the court to cool down.

The tension of the game wound even tighter after Philderama was involved in further incidents with Paul One and the Colonel. And it snapped completely in the waning moments after a series of clashes between the Living Legend and the Colonel culminated in a retaliatory spear by the game's original founding father.

The shocking violence left some roadsters fearing for their well-being.

"The first danger is getting physically hurt," says the Hired Gun. "No one's gonna wanna play knowing that they may wind up with a stick to their head, just because somebody lost their cool."

"It's not that one guy is bad and one guy is good; we're not kids anymore and you've gotta keep your temper in check," says Lobsterboy.

Some fear for the future of the game.

"I don't know if it's salvageable at this point," says the Hired Gun. "The intensity is gone. I think some of the players are gonna need reassurances that the game is not gonna get out of hand."

"There has to be some type of recompense for things of that magnitude," says Paul One. "People are sorta sitting back and saying to themselves, it's a game, we play for fun and people gotta put things in perspective."

As RHI was being posted, notorious gameshow host gone bad Wink was heading to the hospital to be checked over for a possible concussion. And while his status for next week's finale is uncertain, there's no doubt his mugging by Philderama had an impact on his game, and changed the fortunes of his teammates; up by four goals at the time of the incident, neither was the same after it.
"We were feeling pretty good about our game up until that point," said Paul One. "It just seemed to suck the emotion right out of us."
"After those incidents, nobody really wanted to check Philderama," said the Hired Gun. "One time you can bump him and he's fine, he'll smile and joke with you, but the next time, he's gonna throw an elbow at you or worse."
"It seemed the wind went out of the their sails," said Lobsterboy, of the opposition's slip southward. "When you win, you wanna win fair. There's nothing worse than a hollow victory. This victory is tainted."

Noone was more aware of the game's unfortunate turning point than Wink, who refused to comment on the incident that sent him crashing to the concrete.
Always an emotional team leader, he had come into Sunday's game with extra incentive to show his team the way after walking out on his mates halfway through last season's championship finale, absorbed in his own despair at a season gone bad.
"I really wanted to have a big game after last season's Stanley Stick," said the belligerent backchecker.
But after getting his head cracked on the concrete, he seemed to lose his fire, often getting outworked along the boards or coughing up the ball to persistent forechecking.
"I'm supposed to be a leader out there and I didn't do that," said Wink.

As for the Living Legend's skewering of the Colonel, it's not the first time the aging veteran has retaliated with his stick to persistent physical checking. But usually his target is the Hired Gun, who's made a career of shadowing and obstructing the fellow founding father.
"The difference is, I'm gonna slough it off," said the Hired Gun. "Road hockey is a physical game, everyone can have a temper. But the difference is those are moments and five minutes later you shake hands and you play on."
The Legend apologized to the Colonel after his shift ended but was rebuffed, and again at the end of the game.
He reiterated his remorse to the road hockey media, but refused to comment any further.

Were it not for the violence, Sunday's Stanley Stick opener could have been a classic. The ceremonial pull of playing cards to determine the teams that would carry over to next week's game, equally distributed explosive scoring talent to each side of the court, as Wink, the Colonel, Kid, Paul One and the Hired Gun lined up against Lak Attack, Guy Called Mike, Bird, Living Legend and Philderama.
"Both sides were evenly matched," said the Hired Gun.
As the teams prepared to take the opening faceoff, expectations were high.
"As the culmination of our year, you want the Stanley Stick to be a thing of beauty, up and down play, some emotion," said Lobsterboy.
"You hope for a close game, and a hard-fought game, and you don't want anybody walking away with injuries," said Paul One. "The Stanley Stick is something you look forward to."
"This is what you play the whole season for," said the Hired Gun. "You've played all season, through the cold, it's been raining, it's been snowing, and it really comes down to the last two weeks of the season. Nobody wants to spend their time in the off-season knowing they lost the Stanley Stick."

As expected, two longtime Stanley Stick stalwarts, the Whirling Dervish and Hollywood, were no-shows for Sunday's showdown. Rookie roadster, Gong Show, was a surprise scratch after indicating earlier in the week that he would be available.
And versatile sophomore, Wendel, was unable to attend after his elaborate international travel plans, carefully constructed to ensure his availability for both games, went horribly wrong. But as a proven player who regularly showed up in inclement weather and strapped on the goal pads to relieve unexpected goalie crises, the rest of the roadsters agreed he would be placed on a team next week.