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As both teams approach Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, a number of cliches can be used to describe the importance of this game, including, "There's no tomorrow; It's Do or Die; This game is for all the marbles..." The real heart of the matter, in my opinion, is the team that hoists the Cup tonight will ultimately be the group that collectively demonstrates the most heart (in addition to the odd break, lucky bounce or even a power play here or there.)
The events of this series have been more bizarre than any that I have witnessed during my 30 years as an NHL referee. I can't ever remember this kind of drama since I watched every Stanley Cup series as a fan from the time I was allowed to stay up past my normal bedtime either (Prior to that, I snuck my transistor radio with ear piece into bed to catch the end of the game).
Both teams are banged up and their rosters depleted through serious injuries and suspensions; perhaps the Canucks more than the Bruins. All things not being equal, this is when drastic times call for drastic measures. It will take heroic efforts from one or all to have their names etched forever on this Challis.
The kind of heroic feet (no pun intended) I'm talking about is the “heart” exhibited by Bobby Baun in the 1964 Stanley Cup Final. Baun blocked a Gordie Howe shot with 10 minutes remaining in game 6 and was carried off the ice on a stretcher. Refusing medical treatment he had the ankle frozen, taped and returned to score the game winner on a broken ankle in overtime to force Game 7. Bob Baun's heroism didn't just end with that victory. His job wasn't done and he refused to have the ankle x-rayed until after helping the Leafs win Game 7 and the Stanley Cup by a score of 4-0. Bob Baun didn't miss a shift in that final game. That's the kind of heart I'm talking about that will be required tonight. Whoever can dig the deepest and overcome this reservoir of pain will taste from the Cup. It's the Stanley Cup stuff heroes and legends are made of.
There will be a third team on the ice as well. Their deep desire is to avoid becoming (or perceived as) a negative factor in the outcome of this game. Added pressure will certainly be on them to achieve this objective given the events to this point in the series. How they prepare themselves (& are prepared by Officiating/Hockey Ops) will go a long way to achieving a successful result in their performance. I say with the utmost confidence that all of us hope the officials will be a non factor in this final game. Let me share some thoughts on my preparation and occasional obstacles to overcome in memorable game 7's that I worked.
Dealing with pressure is unique to every player and official; individual coping skills are developed along the way. Experience is often the best teacher when dealing with the internal combustion associated with the pressure of a Game 7. Sometimes you even have to incubate yourself from everything just so you don't crawl out of your skin prior to the game.
The first time that I was thrust into a Game 7 pressure cooker was in the Battle of Quebec in 1985. This was only the third time I had been assigned to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the first time I had been chosen to work Game Seven of a divisional final series. Needless to say I was pretty raw in terms of experience. I arrived in Montreal in the morning the day before the game and well in advance of my 10:00 P.M. curfew. There was nothing that matched the intense rivalry between these two franchises and their fans. I wanted to be well prepared!
As soon as I landed in Montreal and collected luggage, I noticed how intently I was being stared at by arriving passengers and airport workers. As I passed a skycap, I was greeted with a nod of the head along with “Bonne chance.” Once I hit the line for the taxis, it seemed that everyone I met, from the man who loaded my bags, to the cab driver, to the doorman at the hotel, to the front desk staff wanted to talk to me about the “big game”; even asking who I thought would win!
By the time that linesmen, John D'Amico and Ray Scapinello arrived that evening I had locked myself in my room and ordered room service. I couldn't even turn the television on without something popping up about the game. I told Scampy I'd see him for breakfast - I was in for the night.
I woke early with the sensation that something was crawling all over my body. Upon inspection, I discovered I was covered head to toe in big, red, itchy welts. At least they weren't on my face. I thought, What the hell is this? I was too embarrassed to mention it to anybody - let alone Referee in Chief, John McCauley. He might have thought he made the wrong choice in assigning this young referee to such a huge game. Instead I stayed covered up neck to toe and privately consulted the advice of a pharmacist after my lunch with the officiating crew. Eliminating a series of diagnostic questions he finally asked if I was nervous or anxious about anything. My Hell Yes I'm nervous, caused him to recommend an antihistamine for the serious case of hives that I had. I met up with the other guys and told them I would meet them at the Forum that night using the excuse that I had to get there early for some equipment repair. The truth is I didn't want to have to change in front of them. By the time Scamp and D'Amico arrived in the room, the red welts were totally concealed by my long underwear.
I attempted to calm my mind and focus in the room on what I had ahead of me in the game. As soon as I stepped on the ice, all was forgotten, other than the energy inside the Forum. It was an unbelievable, end-to-end game. Both teams came to play, and there was none of the rough stuff that we might have anticipated. At the end of regulation time, it was all tied up.
Once I dropped the puck it didn't take long for Peter Stastny to score on Steve Penney to give the Nordiques the series win in OT. Back in the dressing room I cautiously removed my long underwear, this time in front of my colleagues. To my pleasant surprise, the only thing I saw was my lily white skin. The pressure was off.
The experience I gained in this Game 7 assignment helped me through countless pivotal games and other Game 7s throughout the balance of my career.
I worked game seven in the 2001 Final between the New Jersey Devils and the Colorado Avalanche and I must tell you the city of Denver was electrified from the moment the sun came up that morning. The only minute of calm I found that day was at 8 a.m., when I went down to the Pepsi Center for a skate before the teams arrived. Most of the energy was created in anticipation of Raymond Bourque winning his first and only Stanley Cup.
My final Game 7 was the 2004 Tampa victory over Calgary that I wrote about the other day and touched on the bizarre circumstances that occurred behind the scenes in that one.
In spite of the pressure and energy that was created in Denver and Tampa, quite similar to that which I experienced in Montreal, my coping skills and approach to dealing with it had vastly improved. There were no red welts on my body beyond that May night in 1985. Instead of hiding in my room I went to morning mass before getting to the rink early for a skate; whether alone or with any of the officiating crew that wanted to join me. I looked for peaceful environments on the day of the game. I also drew on my internal engine to control my energy level, emotions and positive thoughts. The distractions must be blocked out for the players and the officials to embrace this moment in hockey history with excitement, all the while retaining a calm resolve and focus to achieve their maximum potential on the ice in this final game.
And in Vancouver, whether any of the officiating crew has red welts on their body or not, it is my hope that when the puck drops, any nervousness is forgotten and they simply react to what the players dictate by applying a consistent and acceptable standard from start to finish.
One way or the other, history will be made...