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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Closing The Book On 2004-05 Hockey

Hockey season ended yesterday. Not the NHL's; that the NHL won't play this season has been a foregone conclusion for months now, and besides, the NHL's season never started. Of course I'm talking about hockey season ending for UCLA and the Pac 8.

Although it was, by nearly all measures, a successful season for the Bruins, we stumbled against a surging Washington team in the semifinals and never even had a chance to play for the championship. It wasn't a fun game, so I'm not going to write much about it. We went down 1-0, then tied it 1-1 on a slap shot by Marty Galstyan that the Huskies goalie should have saved. After that goal, I thought we were going to cruise - we were starting to swing the momentum and their goalie wasn't looking great.

I was completely wrong. I got my only shift of the game in the first period, and it was going really well until a miscommunication between my linemates led to an odd man rush and a goal the other way to put Washington up 2-1. Even though they led 3-1 at the first break, I still was confident we could pull it out, just as we had against USC in the decisive game of the Crosstown Cup. Washington continued to build their lead, though, and they were up 5-2 at the second intermission, and went up 6-2 early in the third period. We started a valiant comeback with about six minutes left, scoring twice and keeping a ton of pressure on their goalie, but we ran out of time and saw our hopes of a Pac 8 championship ruined.

Despite the 6-4 loss, we outshot the Huskies 37-20, and we probably had more scoring chances than they did, too. It just seemed that 75 percent of their shots came from the low slot at point blank range, and they made the most of those opportunities. None of their goals was soft; Matt Miller, our goalie, played a solid game. We just kept leaving black jerseys unchecked on the back post, and they cashed in. Meanwhile, their goalie played a much better game than I thought he would play, and in a nutshell, that's why we lost.

We came out the next afternoon against Cal (who was upset by Oregon in the other semi) looking for some motivation to play a solid game in the consolation. The goals were to send the seniors off with a win, to end the season with a win, and to win the season series with Cal, which we dubbed the "UC Cup." UCLA and Cal had each won two of the four meetings this season. Plus, we hadn't lost a season series to any team, and we didn't want to drop one on the last day of the season.

We won the consolation 2-1 in a game that wasn't what anyone would call pretty. However, we were able to send the seniors off with a win, and our coach also started the game with a line of five of our seven seniors, which was a nice touch. I got three shifts, and I picked up a penalty, my first of the season (the one that I had before wasn't really mine, the scorer screwed up and charged me with a penalty that I was serving for Eric Allen). It was a good penalty, though, a coincidental roughing call for shoving some d-bag on Cal after he two-handed my linemate in the head after the whistle.

And so ends the season. The failure to reach the championship game aside, there are plenty of positives to take away. The shining moment of the year has to be winning the Crosstown Cup, but there are other things we can look at with pride as well: our 16-6 record a year after going 7-17, finishing the regular season in first place, and having five players earn postseason honors. (Those players: Honorable Mention - Matt Miller, G; Stu Szuch, D; Paul Medina, F; Second Team - Niki Kollar, D; First Team - Marty Galstyan, F.) That's pretty good, considering that each team can only nominate six players. (And by the way, Stu and Paul deserved more, and there were a couple of other forwards on the team who also could have been considered for an honor.)

Then there are the intangibles. I wasn't here last season, so I only know what it was like secondhand, but everything I've heard about this year's team from my teammates makes last year's team pale in comparison. It's been more fun, the team's been more dedicated, the team believes in itself more, and so on.

Now comes a long offseason, during which I have no idea what will happen. There's talk about getting a summer league team together, but, like the NHL returning, I'll believe that when I see it. Personally, I've worked very hard this season to get into the best shape of my life, and I hope I can continue to motivate myself to stay in that shape, or get in even better shape.

2005-06 is a long seven-plus months away, but I'm already looking forward to next season. Replacing the seniors won't be easy, but we also have a strong returning group of players and an improved attitude. We have a Crosstown Cup to keep and a Pac 8 championship to win, and who knows, perhaps we could even work our way up the rankings and earn a spot at Nationals. The opportunities and possibilities are exciting, and I can't wait for the return of UCLA hockey.


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