Nauseousness. Increased heart rate. Nervousness. The urge to drink. Closing your eyes and hiding under a blanket. Screaming at inanimate objects. Performing complex rituals because you know for sure they bring your team more luck.
These are the symptoms of overtime games in the NHL playoffs. Symptoms that only grow in strength the further your team advances. It’s like Frodo in Lord of the Rings. The burden of the Cup gets worse and worse until you find yourself exhausted, trapped by a spider, and just wishing you had one more piece of Elven bread, wondering if you’ll ever get to do an out of place pillow fight with your friends. It’s a pretty universal sports feeling.
Here’s the thing, though. When your team has never won a championship in your lifetime? The pain is far far worse.
Which, yes, I know, isn’t a big leap to make. “You mean fans that have seen a Cup win can handle losses better? No shit Wyatt. You stupid idiot. Moron. God I hate you. WHY DO YOU EVEN EXIST.”
First off, relax. I know it’s on par with CBC telling us the next goal in a game 7 with under a minute to play “feels like it will be a big one”.
I just want to dive into the specifics of why it’s so much worse, because honestly, there are some people that were born into winning teams. There are some fans who simply don’t know, or don’t quite remember, how awful a gut punch it can be to lose deep in the playoffs in a close series. Some fans who have seen their teams win championships get confused by losses in the playoffs, and maybe even hurt a little bit, but they don’t get mentally crippled like fans that have never see a championship win.
Let’s use an example. The Pittsburgh Penguins. If they had lost tonight, a lot of their fans would have been mad. Some of them still would have been convinced the NHL photo-shopped Kessel’s shot to appear like it was on top of the net. They would have felt pretty shitty for the rest of the night and probably gone to bed angry. Possibly skipped their ice cream dessert.
But the next day, they’d go to work or school. They’d start feeling sad. Then they’d put on clips of one of their last couple of Cup wins. They’d watch the joy of their team winning in the past, and they’d suckle on that teat so hard until they regained some balance to their emotions. Sure, the overtime loss would still sting for the summer, but they could always return to the well of happiness to help get them through the pain.
Take it back a step further, and let’s look at Penguins fans before they ever won a Cup with Crosby, but weren’t alive/mentally aware of the team when they won the Cup with Mario. They could at least look at highlights of their team winning the Cup and at least know it was possible to win it all. That the Hockey Gods/Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell were not in fact singling out their franchise for misery. They could look at the fact they had their second generational hockey talent and go “You know what, I think everything is going to be all right. The guy is in like 27 Tim Horton’s ads, there’s no way he’ll go Cupless.”
Now, let’s compare that to a team that loses that has never won a Cup. The minute they lose that big game, fans are already cataloging everything that happened during the series to try and figure out what went wrong. You start going over every play in every game trying to figure out ground zero for the butterfly effect that led to this loss. You need to make sense of it all because you NEED it to make sense. You cannot live with the fact that this just sort of happened, because then how can you prevent it from happening again??
In 2011 for Vancouver, Malholtra’s injury has been scientifically proven to be the ground zero for the series of events that led to the 2011 loss.
Malholtra gets injured, the team loses center depth, Kesler gets played more, the team goes up 3-0 on their arch rival Chicago Blackhawks, then out of nowhere Toews is accusing the Canucks of being frauds, so you laugh it off, but wait, now the series is 3-3 so you start thinking “How the fuck did Toews know we were frauds???” but then Burrows and Kesler play the best damn game of their lives in game seven and then out of no where Burrows slays a god damn dragon and this shit is on, this Cup run is serious now baby, and then you take out Nasvhille, watching as Kesler singlehandedly destroys Smashville in a series that elevates Kesler to god status in Canucks Nation, then you get to the Sharks, and the gods themselves plunk a puck off a stanchion and now the team is in the finals and a local blogger gets some traction on a twitter account named after it, but Kesler got injured that game, and then soon half the team is injured including Dan Hamhuis who just wanted to land a dope hip check on Lucic but somehow exploded all of his organs, suddenly you’re finding out the NHL apparently uses frames per god damn second to decide upon a suspension of four games of Aaron Rome, who before this it was “fuck Aaron Rome, why does AV loves him so much” but at this point your team is so decimated it becomes “WHAT THE FUCK, AARON ROME IS ONE OF OUR ROCKS BACK THERE” and he’s gone for the rest of the Finals, so now you’re hearing stories of the team calling up Nolan god damn Baumgartner on the beach to come play for them rather than put in Keith Ballard who by this point has been mind fucked so hard by Vigneault that he literally thinks the puck is a grenade and he plays like shit with Bieksa, then Luongo can’t buy a win in Boston to save his life, back before he laughed off the misery and became loveable, and you wonder if Schneider should have gotten a start but then Lappy wins game 5 for you, but before you know it, there’s Luongo blowing another game in Boston, and now you want to physically hurt people who said “I hope the Canucks lose a game so we can win it at home!” when the team was up 2-0, then game seven arrives and there’s Adele, singing a song that you will never not associate with the horrifying game 7 loss and before you know it, yup, there’s Gary Bettman, smirking as if to say “You actually thought I’d let you have this trophy, Vancouver?” before handing it off to that Sasquatch motherfucker Chara, who proceeds to air guitar dry hump the Stanley Cup on YOUR ice, so you head outside and say to yourself “Well at least we didn’t riot this time-” only to see A GOD DAMN CAR FLIPPED OVER, LIT ON FIRE, WHILE PEOPLE RIOT.
All of this while the entire media outside Vancouver was shitting all over the team and you’ve been told it was the worst team ever put together, full of awful human beings.
And that’s just in a series that ended with a game seven that wasn’t close.
This shit scars you.
Now, in a series that’s close, it’s easier to pick a villain or a reason your team lost. You can point to one event and go “yup, that’s it, that’s what fucked us.” With 2011, there were so many things you could point to that went wrong that it became hard to focus your anger. In a way, that helped not get past the loss, but kind of forget about it a bit. “I’ll get back to being mad and sad later, it’s just a lot of effort right now to try and figure out what specifically to be mad and sad about.”
In 1994? Nathan Lafayette hit the post.
Now instead of kind of diluting your anger over a series of events, you focus it all on one player. And even thought you know it’s not his fault, you can’t help but hate him and in a sick way, come to believe he meant to do it just to make you feel like shit. Just the mere thought of the ’94 Finals and you could zero in on two things, Mark Messier pumping the Cup, and Nathan Lafayette’s post. Both induce rage at alarming rates.
Losing a close game seven in the Finals might be one of the worst things you can experience as a sporting fan. Especially now in our HD era. Soon we will have horrifying losses in 4k resolution. This thought haunts me at night. Like the Simpsons foretold us, we will actually be able to see when a player’s heart breaks after an NHL series loss.
Now, Ottawa’s loss wasn’t in the Finals, but it was a deep run, and it involved a lot of overtime wins. Which also hurts because after your team wins multiple close games, you start feeling like it’s destiny. Like, there is no way anybody would be this cruel to you by having so many close wins for your team if they weren’t meant to win it all. Now add in an out of this world run by Karlsson, some epic games by Craig Anderson, an iconic career defining moment from MacArthur, a dick trick from Pageau, the crazy overtime wins, and you know what, the math adds up. Ottawa was meant to win the Cup.
Except the Hockey Gods hate you, and yes of course they are laughing about you being so gullible. So of course they want to hurt you by making your team lose.
You know what the worst part is, though? Years removed from the loss, you’ll find yourself on one of your YouTube rabbit holes. You know, you start watching a music video and it reminds you of another video and then you end up on your teams goal song and then BOOM, you’re knee deep in failed Cup run highlights.
You’ll start watching the rounds and games your team won. Remembering the good times. Remembering when it felt happy to watch hockey. Then as you get closer to the last game of the losing series, you’ll actually starting thinking to yourself “Wait, what if I’m crazy and not remembering this correctly? What if my team actually won and I’ve had it wrong all these years?? What if THIS is the time I watch this clip from game seven and my team actually wins? Lafayette went bar in, right?” Like, you’re so sick that you’ll actually ponder if somehow you can warp time and create an alternate reality right there. “Boy, me and my friends will laugh about this!” you’ll say to yourself before you watch the Bruins win yet again and you start sobbing and eating fried chicken out of a bucket.
Alternatively, you’ll actually start memorizing plays that went wrong, plays you feel were vital in the loss, just in case they invent time travel so you can go back in time and give a heads up to the players.
“You Dan, don’t go for that hip check bro. Just poke check Lucic. Trust me.” then watch as your team wins the Cup.
And that’s how it will go. Forever. Until your team wins a Cup. You’ll pocket that horrifying loss in your heart and mind. And you’ll do your best to forget about it. But until your team wins a Championship, you will find yourself on YouTube. Drinking gin and crying. Wondering why Adele is legally allowed to make music.
So to Senators fans, I salute the shit out of your run. I didn’t have a horse in the race (aside from wanting Burrows to win) and even I felt the impact of that loss. I know it’s way worse for you guys. I wish you good luck in trying to forget this sports loss. Don’t go near YouTube for at least six months.
For the Penguins fan who tries to sympathize to their Senators friend?
“I remember in 2008 when I was SO sad…”