April 25, 2010

Underdogs hope to ride Cowboy's return

Like John Wayne riding to the rescue, Gump and his mates will be looking to the addition next week of Cowboy Bill to their lineup to propel them to the two straight victories they'll need after they lost Sunday's Stanley Stick opener 20-11.

Cowboy was a scratch for Sunday's game but was placed on a team in anticipation of his return next week. It will be his final appearance at the road hockey courts as he retires to move to a faraway country. And he'll be counted on to bring his physical presence and knack for timely goals to help dig his mates out from the hole they made for themselves.

"He brings calmness to our team," said Gump of his future teammate. "He shuts people down in the defensive zone. He has a lot of strength on the blue line, and I think we were lacking a bit of that today."

"He's really going to mix things up," said Unabomber. "He's strong, he's got a good work ethic and he's just someone they didn't have on their forward lines this week."

"Cowboy is going to be huge addition to that team," said Beetle Boy.

They're going to need it.

The underdogs took advantage of some opportune bounces to jump to a 3-0 lead, including a goal that Velma knocked in off a big bounce over the net off the end board, and another that deflected off the Living Legend's shin pad as he guarded Unabomber's breakout pass.

But as quickly as they built it, Scooby singlehandedly destroyed it, spinning out of the corner to score three straight goals and get his side even.

"He's getting older, he's getting stronger, he's a man now," said Gump of the young centerman who rejoined the league in the second half of the season after a year away in a distant country.

"Scooby was just a rock star today," said Beetle Boy. "He was playing smart and getting the shots when he could."

"We had control, but then I thought we had some mental breakdowns," said Gump of his side's squandered advantage.

His side toughened up enough to rebuild their advantage to 6-4, but that's the last time they'd taste the lead as Twizzler put his finally put his debauched week in Las Vegas behind him and shut the door on his overmatched opponents.

"Twizzler found his rhythm, so we knew we could allow them the first shot and then he would take care of it," said Unabomber.

"He kept us in the game early when they were peppering us with shots," said Beetle Boy. "When you know you have the goalie back there and he can save it, then you're able to take some chances and push a little bit in the offensive zone."

That's exactly what they did. Scooby and Kid cycled out of the corners and through the crease, creating seams for the likes of Scrappy, Unabomber and Goober to get scoring opportunities. Beetle Boy, meanwhile, was solid in the defensive zone.

"Everybody worked hard and played smart," said Beetle Boy. "We always had somebody back, we didn't give up many odd man rushes or breakaways."

For Gump and his mates to win the Stanley Stick, they'll have to first win game two and then a decisive mini-game to ten. That's exactly what happened two years ago, when the game one losers stormed back to win the mini-game 10-4 after tying the series with a dramatic 21-19 overtime win in game two.
The possibility of history repeating itself isn't lost on Gump, who backstopped his team to that stunning comeback.
"I'm pretty positive about next week," said the veteran goaltender. "I feel like I've got a good handle on the shooters now and if we can shut down the cross court passes, then I think we can be successful."

Although both Nibs and Goober missed the 10:30 card draw, they were placed on teams because the game hadn't yet started.

While Sunday's game lacked some of the end-to-end intensity of previous Stanley Stick openers, things got feisty towards the end when Colonel jammed into Twizzler as he drove hard to the net. Beetle Boy and Scrappy were also on the receiving end of flying elbows.
"We just have to turn a blind eye to that stuff," said Unabomber. "At that point the game was in our control, so we're not going to take the bait."
"We've got to channel that energy into making smart plays," said Gump.

Posted by jaysuburb at 05:28 PM | Comments (23)

April 18, 2010

Stanley Stick preview: Goaltender consistency is key

The Sunday Morning Road Hockey season is finally underway. Too bad the two-game Stanley Stick finale begins next week.

In a year of unexpected retirements, lackluster attendance and goalie challenges that scuttled more games than ever before, Sunday's intense, hard-fought regular season finale served as a bit of an appetizer for the feisty feast to come. It also gave the roadsters a glimpse at the keys to Stanley Stick success.

Making his first start between the pipes in three weeks, Twizzler's got stronger and more impenetrable as the game wore on. But some defensive lapses and wavering concentration at key moments cost his side, as they squandered a mid-game comeback to lose a 20-17 heartbreaker.

At the other end, Nibs atoned for his unexplained absences the past month by playing a steady stand-up game in his first goaltending start since November. Time and again he stifled scoring opportunities by renowned snipers like Lak Attack and the Colonel to give his team the chance to win.

In this season of unrest and disinterest, it's going to be the goalies who could be the difference-makers as players pay for the sins of their sloth with waning fitness and suspect timing.

"A hot goalie can make all the difference," said Unabomber, whose tardy appearance at the court was just enough to earn him eligibility for the championship showdown series. "Some of the guys aren't in the shape they're used to being in at this time of the season, the timing is off a little bit, so it brings some wild card factors."

"Goaltending is usually the deciding factor," said Doo.

"It's all about goaltending," said Scooby. "It that goalie isn't saving shots at the end of the game, it just kills you."

Of course, just who those goaltenders will be is as mysterious as the reasons behind this season's struggles. Sophomore shotstopper Twizzler has been a stalwart, but he missed the past two weeks nursing an ankle injury. Sunday, he struggled early but once he regained his feel for the crease, he came up with some huge saves that allowed his team to climb back into the game and take their first lead at 10-9.

"Twizzler was playing like an all-star today," said Unabomber. "Our team had a decided advantage in scoring opportunities and he kept them in it. Sometimes that's all it can take."

At the other end, Nibs made some key saves but he's unlikely to play next week, as regular rearguard Gump is expected to take his position between the pipes. But Gump's attendance has been inconsistent, and coming off another off week, he could have trouble early as he regains his goaltending legs.

In fact, a number of players could find themselves lagging in the intense atmosphere of the Stick when competitive desire can pay dividends on the scoresheet.

"I think it will be obvious who's been here all season preparing and who hasn't," said Doo.

"I think even today the fitness level of some of the players was showing towards the end of the game," said Scooby. "A couple of guys who haven't been around may end up hurting their teams a bit."

Lak Attack announced at the end of Sunday's regular season finale that he will be unavailable for the Stanley Stick championship series. Another player not expected to start is Cowboy Bill, whose Sunday Morning Road Hockey career came to an ignominious conclusion last week as he left in disgust rather than play a modified half-court game; he's retiring to move to a far-away country.

Paul One was an unexpected starter in Sunday's game. The veteran forward made only his second start of the season and is ineligible for the Stanley Stick. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in February.

Another veteran who is ineligible for post-season play, Elvis, will see his career-long streak of Stanley Stick championships ended at eight, the most ever for a roadster. He played one exhibition game, and the special Hall of Fame Game in February, as he elected to sit out most of the season because of the difficult conditions presented by the new, rougher surface at the hockey courts.

As always, the Stanley Stick teams will be decided by a card draw that is scheduled to take place at 10:30 a.m. Any player who isn't present for the card draw will not be put on a team.

Posted by jaysuburb at 09:30 PM | Comments (12)

April 11, 2010

Late season lull puts Stick in peril

With two games to go until the cards are drawn for the beginning of the Stanley Stick championship series, Sunday Morning Road Hockey's regular season should be reaching a crescendo.

Instead, the league is on the ropes as key players continue to miss games or, as was the case Sunday, the lack of a second set of goalie equipment prevented the playing of a proper game despite perfect weather and a court of full of eager roadsters.

That has many of them wondering whether the players will be up to the challenge of an intense, hard-fought finale, which is set to begin in two weeks.

"It makes you wonder about the Stick, if it's going to be the high calibre we're used to," said Gump, who declined to strap on the one set of goalie pads to save himself for an ice hockey game later Sunday.

And that may be part of the problem, said the Colonel; players don't seem to be making the commitment.

"You do need a commitment," said the veteran forward who's known for his intense play during the Stanley Stick. "It's going to be frustrating for those of us who are right on our games and ready to go."

A lingering injury to regular rearguard Twizzler, and the ongoing absence of Nibs, who's now missed three consecutive games for no apparent reason, has been a double-barreled blow to the league, depriving it of a stalwart shotstopper and a capable backup with the second set of equipment.

"It's really disappointing," said Cowboy Bill of the late season lull. Especially as Sunday's game was to be his last regular season tilt before he retires to move to a faraway country with his new bride. "To us stalwarts (the Stick) has meant something for a long time and it seems like the league is less committed to it. As the Stick rolls around you're less excited for it because you're not even sure who's going to be here."

The lack of intensity as the season gears up for its championship showdown is vexxing, said Beetle Boy, who was so discouraged by Sunday's sham he left before a scrimmage to salvage the day could be properly organized.

"This is bad," said the self-confessed fair-weather forward. "I'm befuddled by this whole thing."

Posted by jaysuburb at 09:13 PM | Comments (17)

April 04, 2010

Game goes ghetto as countdown to Stick begins

With the Stanley Stick set to begin in less than three weeks, the roadsters should be at the top of their game, rounding into form, honing their playmaking skills, sharpening their shots. Instead, a motley crew of five were taking potshots at gloves hanging forlornly from the crossbars.

It's hardly the way to stoke the competitive fires in the run up to Sunday Morning Road Hockey's ultimate showdown, said Lak Attack, who proposed the improvised game/skills competition when the majority of the roadsters opted out of Sunday's game for familial commitments, feigning injury, or just chowing down on a tasty burger.

"They've forgotten the fact they need to turn up their game so they're at their best during the Stick," said the speedy veteran who was joined at the courts by Kid, Living Legend, Scooby and rookie forward Goober. "It going to show. They won't be able to produce the same way."

"it's more than just getting a handle on the game, more so than even just fitness," said Scooby. "How can you do that if you're not here for four or five weeks at a time."

The lack of turnout on Sunday was especially disappointing as it came on the heels of another poor showing last week, when the roadsters were forced to play a modified game of half-court because only one goaltender, Twizzler, bothered to show up. But even he was absent this week.

And that's disconcerting to some of the players who will look to their creaseminder to keep their team competitive at Stanley Stick time.

"Arguably goalie is probably the position where you want to hone your skills as you go towards the Stick," said Scooby.

Lak Attack said some of the roadsters seem to have become complacent; they're putting in a minimal effort during the regular season then expect to reap the rewards and glory come the Stanley Stick.

"Guys have taken the game for granted and you can't do that with anything," said the aging veteran.

Scooby said the difficulties of the regular season cast a pall of the championship finale.

"My main concern is why have the Stick every year if that's the only game people are showing up for," said the young speedster, who returned to the courts only a few weeks ago after missing most of the season when he traveled to a faraway country. "Why bother having a season?"

The ongoing absence of key veterans like Elvis and Billy Idol, and the inconsistent commitment of the goalies has been an issue all season, leading to at least a half dozen games in which the roadsters were forced to play some sort of lesser, modified version of a full match.

"It makes you wonder what we need to do to get the game back up to the level we used to have it," said Lak Attack.

Posted by jaysuburb at 04:12 PM | Comments (10)