One of the things you learn in life is that some people are with you for the long haul while others are just in it for a short time. The hard part is trying to figure out which group any one person falls into. The older you get, the more misses you've made; embraced people who meant the world to you in the moment, but are gone just as quickly. If you're lucky, you'll also have encountered a few people who you hold dear, who have both the tested mettle and malleability to carry friendship through the years.
Hockey is like that.
It is hard, in the middle of things, to know, to feel, the true direction of a team. How many Sens fans, upset, angry, desolate as game five of the 2007 Finals wrapped truly realized it was the end of Ottawa's contending window? That Ottawa's time as an elite team in the NHL wasn't beginning that spring but actually started years before? That everything that had become commonplace would change and change so quickly.
Hockey is like that.
It is hard, in the middle of a streak like the Senators have been on since mid-February, to know the mettle of team. So many factors, including luck, have come into play during the run. There have been tests, devastating losses to the Bruins, the Rangers, Leafs, and Panthers, but each time the players proved malleable, responding to adversity.
Sometimes these things collide.
Andrew Hammond's first NHL start was a memorable one. A third string, AHL goalie, getting his first start in the dead of February, during the middle of a lost season, against a divisional rival on a Wednesday night. It felt like a scheduled loss.
And yet from the most unlikely of goalies, a brilliant performance.
I watched that game sitting at the bar at the local Kelsey's with my good friend Luke Peristy.
It had been a difficult few weeks for me and what I needed most was to hang out with a friend who could lighten the load, at least for a few hours. What I needed was to see, in person, that he had my back. Our expectations for the game, other than that the beer be cold, were admittedly low. We all got something special that night, the start of the streak, but I got something more.
Luke has the mettle.
We have the malleability. We try and get together on a monthly basis and for two Sens fans these hangouts revolve around watching an Ottawa game. We planned to watch the March 19th game against the Bruins together, assuming it would be a pivotal game in the run to the playoffs, it was. We adhered to the ritual tenets of the streak; we went for burgers before the game. We adhered to our own Sens game rituals.
Even if he's your guest, even if he's one of your best buddies, you make sure you give him the Sergei Gonchar cup and take the Alfie one for yourself. Those are the rules. These are the things that become part of friendships.
The second March game against the Bruins was a wild one, not Andrew Hammond's best performance, and yet the Sens came out on top.
Another month, another game.
I'll be watching game 2 with Luke tomorrow night, hoping that our Sens success rate holds. The Senators are in a hole, down 1-0 to the Canadiens. It's been a difficult few days for the team, the loss of coach, mentor, and friend Mark Reeds superseding all others. But we've been in tough spots before. We'll do all the things we need to do, go for burgers, make Luke use the Gonchar cup - not just because of tradition or superstition, but also because we love eating burgers and drinking out of collector cups.
This run has grown beyond a hot streak. It's the result of more than one player. It's the true beginning of a new era of Sens hockey. I don't know what this period in Sens hockey will bring. I can't predict the highs that will come or the lows that might follow. The team's mettle is being tested, it's malleability in question.
But if they're anything like my friend, their quality will shine through.