“There’s no crying in baseball.”
That iconic quote from A League of Their Own has been used by many to remind ourselves to suck it up. And most of the times it works. We shake off whatever threatened the water works and continue on. Hockey players kick that up a notch. And a recent t-shirt quote I saw on Facebook reminded me of how high that level is for hockey players:
Sweat dries, blood clots, bones heal. Suck it up and play hockey.
Watch a hockey player, especially during the Playoffs and this sentiment sums up the attitude as they leave it all on the ice at this time of the year.
Having followed the Boston Bruins for many years, and reported on them the last couple, there have been some astounding examples of their perseverance through pain and injury. Though he doesn’t want to be remembered for it, many can call up the image of Gregory Campbell finishing his shift on a broken leg in Game 3 of the Conference Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013. His tenacity and commitment to the team will be missed this next year by the Black and Gold—intangibles that often go unrewarded in a sport about goals.
And who can forget the laundry list of injuries to Patrice Bergeron that emerged after the Bruins lost the Stanley Cup Finals that same season in Game 6 on home ice against the Chicago Blackhawks: torn cartilage, broken rib, separated shoulder and, oh yeah, a punctured lung.
Through it all, you see them grimace occasionally, but you never see them cry. You see them clamoring to get back on the ice. You see them doing their best to go off the ice under their own power. Puck to the face? Undoubtedly a lot of cursing, a towel to their face as they head off the ice to get repairs, their assumption they will return to action before the end of the game, but you don’t see them cry.
So why did I say there is crying in hockey? I have witnessed it. Some years too many times, after a band of brothers have left everything out on the ice and come up short.
I watched the University of North Dakota’s coach come out ahead of his players who were trying to get their emotions in check after falling to the Boston University Terriers in the Frozen Four semifinals this season, only to see the red rims of their eyes when they joined their coach. I then watched those same BU Terriers go through it when they fell to the Providence College Friars in the Frozen Four Final—tears still in the eyes and on the cheeks of those players who had to come out and face the media while trying to make sense of their season ending on such a sour note.
I remember when the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 in Game 7 at Vancouver and there was a close-up on television of Ryan Kesler, then with the Vancouver Canucks, down on one knee, tears in his eyes. The posts on social media that night belittled him for his tears.
However, despite the hours of training, the years of determination and denial, the myriad of injuries a hockey player will suffer, there is only one time you will see him publicly cry—when his team loses in a playoff situation—especially one close to the finals.
It is hard for those of us who have not been in such a situation to understand the overwhelming emotions the players experience. From grappling with their loss to watching the victorious team celebrating right in front of them, they must process so much after having already given every ounce of effort they had in their muscles and brain. Few of us will put that much on the line in any aspect of our lives. The longer into the playoffs they play, the closer they come to that trophy.
It doesn’t matter if it is the NCAA’s Frozen Four, the USHL Clark Cup, the CHL Memorial Cup, the ECHL Kelly Cup, the AHL Calder Cup or the NHL Stanley Cup. At every level there are players pushing their bodies and minds beyond their capacities in an effort to help the rest of his brothers achieve one of the hardest victory’s imaginable—the ultimate prize.
So while the winning team’s members are catapulting themselves on each other, throwing their helmets and gloves in the air, take a moment and look at the team who will not be lifting a trophy. It is the only time in a season of hockey that you will see tears. But considering what they have sacrificed, they deserve to be respected for the tears they shed.