I feel compelled to write something about what happened last night because I hardly know how to talk about it. It’s rare that such truly important circumstances factor into something as inconsequential as sport. Most of what we experience as a collective of fans is emotional. Last night’s game really highlighted that. All we can do is sit there, watch and hope. I decided to tune in for the late game last night, in an odd way to “be there” for Craig Anderson. It’s of course a bit of a silly sentiment as I was just passively watching a hockey game on a screen over 3000 kilometers away. But as a fan of his I, for lack of a better way of explaining it, wanted to see if he was okay. Of course we all know, deep down, he’s not okay. We can only hope for a couple of hours, within the focus that his job requires of him, Craig Anderson found some respite from the difficulty of the situation that he, his wife Nicholle and their children are experiencing.
Part of what had me anxiously bouncing my legs and wincing at every Edmonton shot like it was a game 7 of a playoff series was this: Sports is not a movie. The drama is not scripted. As Sens fans we unfortunately know this all too well. So many times we’ve wanted things to come together for those who are hurting. For the success of our team to in some small way honour the legacy of those our community has lost. Those like Pat Redden, Roger Neilson, Daron Richardson and Mark Reeds. Since he revealed the severity of his illness, I assume we’ve all at some point imagined the glory of Bryan Murray raising a well deserved Cup over his head. These are only small honors but they carry big meaning for our community. A complete stranger donated a piece of his body to the team’s owner Eugene Melnyk and saved his life. He withheld his identity but left only the message that Melnyk help bring home a championship with his new lease on life. As much as I try to brush it off at times I must admit, this stuff is in its own way important. If a Senators win puts some wind in kids like Jonathan Pitre’s sails, that is important. If what her husband did under immense pressure put a smile on Nicholle Anderson’s face during the hardest time of her life, that is important. That importance is why you had Edmonton fans on their feet applauding the goaltender whom they just spent time and money watching shut their home team out.
Again, this is a sport, a game. We as fans play the role of customer much of the time. We all in our own way believe the customer is always right and feel it our duty to criticize when we are dissatisfied. I am definitely no stranger the world of calculating salaries, referring to players as “assets” or “pieces” arguing who should not play or be demoted to the minor leagues or bought out of their contract completely. The game we watch together is so often referred to as a product and when facing the most challenging times in their careers, the players who play, echo the reality that, “It’s a business.”
What made last night so special is that the business stuff all went away for a few fleeting moments. What we saw was a truly human display. In a game that is more reliant than ever on intricate strategy, mathematic analysis, speed and skill I believe we did witness the power of the often admonished element of will. Craig Anderson and his teammates “wanted it more” in a way that I don’t think you can get away with every night. The Senators won’t pull out every game on that extra incentive to win and Andy will not pitch a shutout every night to seek temporary relief from the hard time he’s going through. But last night they did and they did it as a team. If you follow the Sens closely you saw, especially as the game wore on, that battles for lose pucks were fought more tenaciously than usual, shots were blocked with no hesitation, sticks deflected incoming pucks away from danger with noticeable precision, the puck was repeatedly carried out of the defensive zone with fierce speed. Hell, this team that often struggles defsensively managed to contain the best offensive team in the league featuring a kid who looks like a first ballot hall of famer at age 19 for a full 60 minutes. Chris Kelly looked 10 years younger killing penalties, Karlsson looked 20 pounds heavier and 2 inches taller muscling larger opponents off pucks, Borowiecki looked nothing like the guy we regularly put on the seat of the proverbial dunk tank week after week and Andy, well, he was perfect. Maybe it’s just me and they were the same guys they always are and played a great road game as the did in Vancouver last week. Looking at the clip of the players hugging Anderson at the end of the game with Chris Neil fighting back tears in the background tells me otherwise.
The truth is many people get out of bed and go to work while facing similar challenges at home every single day. There’s no spectacle for them. No fanfare. But Craig Anderson has a pressure filled job that is broadcast on national television. An off day at the office, a few false moves can mean failure for he and all of his coworkers. Last night under the bright lights of the arena there was nowhere for him to hide. To see a fellow human being who is dealing with such a tough time literally win, literally be cheered for his efforts for one night was truly rare, truly special.
Thank you to Nicholle for her bravery and unfathomable generosity in urging Craig to rejoin his team. We do not deserve it. We are with you and we wish you all the best.