(University of Ottawa, scoring one goal. Okay, fine, he did make the team this season and so he doesn’t qualify as a scrap-a-thon, eh?)
I didn’t see the game, and if I had, I would not have been surprised. I felt like I was in the control room when this kids’ broadcast of the World Cup was being made. “No, no, no, they can’t play? Oh man, poor them!” Our kids must be human, or they would not be so scared to miss something that happened 70 years ago, to my unwavering knowledge, the afternoon of September 10, 1972, in the town of Tuscany-Iddo, Italy.
I used to listen to this game with a slightly pathetic expression in my voice, with a bit of concern in my jaw, wondering whether the Canadian boys who had come for the Cup that day ever realized they were hailing the last World Cup hosted by a country other than Canada. The game lasted 90 minutes, and I remained with a grim, sort of English boyishness the rest of the way, wondering how deep into that game the Canadian coaches had ran down the path to pain. They had, in fact, lost, and they had beaten nobody and not very much.
And maybe that is why I never had a clue what to make of Tuesday’s Maple Leafs game. Hockey games have always seemed to me to last forever, don’t they? The ones where I got to wear a coat and sweater for part of the time, and then the game would come on and it would be a long time before a puck would be fired into the net. I feel like I’m witnessing a crucial fourth and fifth quarter of a college basketball game or something. The time after that, however, has always been eaten up with the need to zip back in a hurry, without realizing when you’ve stopped moving, and going somewhere else.
A high-paced game like this has always interested me. A team that could play keeps me thinking. There’s a cool elegance to watch a puck slowly race down the ice while players keep getting knocked around, hoping for a goal, and then jumping back on the bench. And then there’s a team that plays a matter-of-fact game, like this, and does it well enough so that the next time the puck does come, everything feels like it is ticking along just right, but there is also good contact to be made.
Back to that long-ago game in Italy. It was a boring game, the way many World Cup soccer games are, usually a slow crawl to some outcome the referees were not about to let them get. Maybe the Canadians had just been terrible that day. Was that also why I had that pitiful expression in my voice? Was that what I had in my mind before that game finally came on? These games are never our fault. We’d been beating ourselves, and now we’d be beaten again, right?
And then there were the Canadians, making like blueprints of refs, almost past frantic in the last minutes. Who was shooting for the triple overtime that brought both teams into a state of limbo? What would happen if that group made it all the way through and still couldn’t score in the past tense? And how they did it was beyond me, if not the rest of the world.
And then, for once, their luck ran out. The next ball came at just the right speed and right place, and it hit the iron and bounced into the goal and the crowd erupted, just like this one, and the boys from Tuscany-Iddo were on to another tournament.
The Leafs kids showed faith in another rookie, Joe Woll, who made an instant mark on a career that was destined to be brief, and just like that, another win was secured by a veteran of 60 games, when the defencemen there tended to rush in late in the season.
These are all things that describe Joe Woll’s likeliest NHL career in Toronto.
Unlike a line like Phil Kessel’s, this one goes deep.
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