You forget, sometimes, in this new reality. You forget there are champions in this room, too.
And so here was Mathieu Curadeau late Wednesday, sitting in his cubicle and grinning and saying, hey, no panic in this room, buddy, not even with two periods gone, not even with the scoreboard tilted three goals against them. And here was P.C. Drouin thinking it over and saying, look, there’s no secret here, no spells or incantations, only a home truth.
“We just don’t want to lose,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to.”
Walk out of the room, turn to the right, and here is Colin Chaulk, leaning against the wall, getting more exasperated by the second, because he’s explaining again what shouldn’t need to be explained ever again.
Which is: Who do you think you’re dealing with here? And if you’re stuck for an answer, where the (bleep) have you been the last three years?
“You know, I’m sure people in the Central league have talked down the IHL,” he says. “‘Eh, there’s only two rounds (of playoffs),’ and ‘Eh, they’ve only got six teams.’ Well, if we only have six teams, how come nobody else won in three years? How come nobody else won six straight playoff rounds?
“If it was so easy, why didn’t anyone else do it?”
You can, of course, make that seven straight playoff rounds, some of which dangled by a thread every bit as frayed as the one they’re dangling by now. And yet … how many straight elimination games have they won now? Seven? And how do you think that happens, exactly, if there aren’t champions walking around in that room?
“I just think we’ve got a core group of guys who are, you know, unselfish,” Chaulk says. “They understand that when a team does well, individuals do well.
“I think this time of year, guys really just buy in.”
And if they buy in even when it looks like bad money after good … well, those are the ones who likely wind up with the hardware in the end. They’re the ones who look up at the scoreboard with 10 minutes to play against those other champions from Rapid City, see the score is 4-1 against them and think: “Hey, cool. We’ve still got 10 minutes left.”
After which they score once and then twice and then three times, and suddenly they’re in overtime. And now the red light blazes again, and everyone dogpiles Curadeau, and they’ve bought themselves a reprieve on a night when everything – pucks chiming posts, guys taking dumb penalties, even sticks breaking at the wrong time – seemed to go against them.
“We definitely didn’t play tonight the way we played before when we’ve been in this situation,” Chaulk admitted. “The games against Rockford, and two times against Port Huron. … Even last year when we were down to Port Huron, I didn’t feel we deserved to be down. I really felt like we deserved to win every single game; we weren’t lucky in any game. We outworked them, we outchanced them, we outplayed them.
“Whereas, tonight, we probably didn’t deserve to win that game.”
But they did. And they breathe on. And suddenly you’re remembering what you forgot, short-term memory being the apparently dodgy thing it is.
Champions. Champions in this room, too.