It hasn't really sunk in yet that our Wings will participate in a 7th Game in the Stanley Cup Finals tomorrow. We've seen Game 7's in rounds 1, 2 and 3 in our lifetimes, but this is a whole new stratosphere of anxiety. One fan base is going to feel happier than they seemingly ever have, and one is going to be utterly crushed beyond recognition.
To help paint a picture of what we can expect, a couple of guests were kind enough to share their perspectives of a Game 7 in a particular Cup Final: The Ducks/Devils series of 2003. First, the Ookies from Interchangeable Parts are here to share what it's like to reach the pinnacle of Eutopia.
Ahh, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final -- it's what separates us from the animals. As Devils fans we've had the distinct, um, pleasure (?) of suffering through TWO of these things (in a span of three years!), so we're happy to share our experiences and lessons learned.
First, there was 2001. We don't remember much of anything about 2001. That was the only game in our entire shared history as Devils fans that we didn't agree on -- Pookie took the deluded, tortured tack and watched the whole game while Schnookie took the bitter quitter approach and stormed out of the room about halfway through. What we could agree on was that life is too short to watch Ray effin' Bourque successfully turn a trick as a ring whore at your team's expense (and at the expense of your team's one-time 3-2 series lead), so as soon as the game ended we turned off the TV and headed out in search of pizza and Fat Tire beer. We were living in Arizona at the time, and there is no better way to avoid NHL news than rattling around a New York-style pizza place in North Scottsdale in early June. What we learned that day is that the best way to suffer through that kind of loss is in the desert. Our advice if you're going to lose Game 7 is to do it in solitude: just you, your misery, the saguaros, and the huge, empty sky.
We moved back East in time for the 2003 playoff run, and scooped up some seats with a couple of our friends in the second-to-last row of Continental Airlines Arena for however many games the Devils were going to be willing to play for us. We were both unemployed at the time, so the long postseason was literally the only commitment we had. It should be noted that even though the Devils lost only one home game that entire Spring, we were still our usual founts of pessimism. Hey, we were still smarting from 2001, and the first-round flameout against the Canes in 2002 -- what can we say? Anyway, our approach to Game 7 against the Ducks not a happy one. We'd driven an hour up the Garden State Parkway to watch Game 6 from Anaheim with friends, utterly confident of the Devils victory, and when they ended up losing that game (the final score was, we think, 570-1), the group of us spent several hours wallowing in our shared disgust before we finally made the long drive back home at some ungodly hour of the morning. It still stands as one of the worst nights of our lives. The fact that we were going to have to watch in person as our team blew another 3-2 SCF series lead was nauseating; we jumped straight past nervousness into despair for the inevitable. The only reason we were willing to go to Game 7 at all was because, well, how many times in your life do you get the opportunity to actually attend that kind of game?
When game day rolled around, though, we left super-early for our 90-minute drive up the Turnpike to Exit 16W, and along the way spotted something neither of us had ever seen before: a roadkill duck. An actual dead duck. In the middle of the New Jersey Turnkpike. Literally dead. Literally a duck. We might be ardent pessimists, but we also believe in signs. Could it possibly be? Dare we think it? We tried hard to maintain our steely facades of detached negativity, but deep down we were wavering. Hope, that bastard, was chipping away at our resolve.
The weird thing about attending a Stanley Cup Final Game 7 is that despite the enormity of it, despite the fact that people were showing up to tailgate in the Meadowlands parking lot at 8 in the morning, despite the proliferation of media trucks, despite the fact that WFAN's Mike and the Mad Dog actually deigned to broadcast from the arena, it's still just a hockey game. It's the same routine, the same seats, the same season-ticket buddies, the same team on the ice. It was surreal how foreign it all was, while also being so familiar. When the hockey itself finally started, we settled into a sense of normalcy, right up until Mike Rupp -- Mike Rupp!!! -- scored the first goal.
Then we KNEW.
And for all our negativity, pessimism, and complaining about having to go to that game, one thing had never crossed our minds: that we could see THE DEVILS skating with the Cup that night. As soon as the game was 1-0, though, it was clear that dead duck had been right. Commence freaking out.
Here are the things we learned that night:
1. The Stanley Cup is impossibly shiny. Oh, sure, everyone's seen it on a pedestal, either in the Hall of Fame or during a Fanfest-type publicity appearance, but when the Stanley Cup is actually in use, on the ice? Damn. It gleams so brightly that you can see the engraving from the second-to-last row of a building as cavernous as the old CAA.
2. The TV broadcast of that game made it sound like the crowd noise was drowned out by the Bon Jovi blaring over the PA system after the final buzzer. Don't be fooled. We were shocked to discover they had even been playing music at the arena, because you couldn't hear a lick of it over the thunderous frenzy of that amazing crowd. The floor was literally shaking. It was bedlam. The Devils timed the final five or so minutes of the game perfectly, first getting the 3-0 goal to ice the game, then taking a penalty with about three minutes left so Devils fans could do what they do best -- cheer a bad-ass penalty kill -- and then led us straight into that final exultant minute. There is nothing like a Game 7 home crowd on the winning side of the equation.
3. We honestly couldn't imagine there was anyone in the world who wasn't as happy as we were that night... except for the family sitting behind us, who'd come all the way from Anaheim to watch their team lose. It was the parents and their pre-adolescent son, whose heart was completely broken that night. Hey kid, lessons learned. It's the cycle of life. We hope he grew up to be Earl Sleek. Heh.
4. When we see our team win the Stanley Cup in person, our knees get wobbly and we sob with joy. We're not ashamed to admit it.
After all the cheering was over, after the Devils and their Cup left the ice, after literally every single other fan had left the arena, we were forced out by an usher. We'd wanted to soak up every last drop of the Game 7 victory, to keep in reserve for all the bad games that lie ahead in our future. No matter how awful it gets, no matter how crappy the Devils are, or how vile their losses, nothing can ever take that game away from us. We then drove into the City with our friends to celebrate in our low-key style, with burgers at Pookie's favorite haunt from her NYU days. There is no better way to avoid NHL news than rattling around a diner in the East Village at 2 a.m. in early June. Our advice if you're going to win a Game 7 is to do it with friends: just you, your euphoria, your best buddies, and whatever sky you've got over your head.
Ultimately, by the time the stakes are as high as Stanley Cup Finals: Game 7, the notion of sports fandom being "fun" has long since been abandoned. It's about the very highest highs or the very lowest lows. We've been to both extremes, and, our rooting interests in the 2009 SCF aside (we think we're officially ambivalent), we want to say on a basic human level -- sports fan to sports fan -- good luck, Wings fans. And remember, if you see any roadkill penguins on your way to wherever you're watching the game, take it as a VERY good sign.
Tune in later for Part II