Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Moment To Savor

Just one look at that photo, brings it all back.
It might very well be the only picture I've seen of the Portland Pirates locker room after their Calder Cup championship win. The image of Kevin Kaminski tipping the Calder Cup has become an iconic one for that night.
If you stumble across the photo that hasn't been cropped. That's me to the right of Killer, wearing a white shirt and black vest. I bet that vest still smells of champagne and Gatorade.
That celebration was May 30, 1994 - almost 20 years ago.
I still remember much of that night like it was yesterday. There's Byron Dafoe streaking through the hallway. A grinning Olie Kolzig standing on the base of the lockers, dancing and extending his hand to me for a high-five. There was Sergei Gonchar hovering around the keg. There was the river of Gatorade being dumped upon me. There was champagne squirted in my eyes. There was a story to get, actually a couple since I was doing a second day follow-up as well. There was my sip out of the Calder Cup. There was my interview with Brian Curran, of which I could take no notes because my notebook was soaked.  And there was my drive home, smelling of champagne and Gatorade and the thought that if a cop stopped me and wondered why I smelled boozy, he'd never believe my story.
Much of the experience that night is chronicled in my book Sidelined.
"I still don't know who did it, but some player saw the opportunity to get coach and media with the Gatorade bucket all in one shot. We were all soaked, and there was much rejoicing."
It is one of those events that I'm sure the players still talk about fondly and an experience that truly matches nothing else in my professional career.
One of my goals when I entered sports journalism was to cover pro hockey at some level. Being a somewhat regular beat writer for the Portland Pirates was the kind of thing I had hoped for. Afterall, they replaced the Maine Mariners in Portland.
I grew up following the Mariners as a kid. All those Mariner games I attended helped nurture my love of hockey. I took shots at goalie Pete Peeters at the Mariners annual charity carnival. I got Drew Callander to speak to my junior high school English class.  I met Mel Hewitt at the Hannaford in Gorham when I worked there and he lived in town. It was a thrill to meet and interview Dave Brown years later for an award-winning story I did on hockey tough guys. I still remember the Mike Emrick call of the Mariners winning goal the night they won the Calder Cup in their first year.  "Dunlop, Gorence, Hill, Barnes and Bathe ... Let's the shot go ... Score !!!" I can walk around the Cumberland County Civic and tell people I was at the Bud Stefanski game, and they know exactly what I'm talking about. I was also there when Steve Tsujiura flipped an opponent judo style - not just once but twice, while wearing those infamous Cooperalls.
One of my first stories I did for the Sun Journal was on the Maine Mariners. The first game of theirs I covered was a thrill, especially since I got to me legendary coach Herb Brooks that day - following him to his team's bus and interviewing him there.
 That Pirates Calder Cup championship win came in the team's first season also. I remember thinking that there would likely be more celebrations like it. I had been to a couple of Maine Mariner championship parades as a kid. The Pirates appeared to be a strong organization with a commitment to winning and a roster full or promising talent.
But for the Pirates, that Calder Cup win would be the only one - at least so far. They had other chances. The following year, they were one of the best teams in the league and lost in the first round. I still remember that locker room too. A stark difference as I had a very sullen conversation with the Nelson brothers (in photo above) after that loss.
A few years later, the Pirates reached the Calder Cup finals again but lost in the final game in Rochester. In fact, all of my other playoff seasons with the Pirates ended in defeat. It had me looking for the Andrew Brunette's, or Kent Hulst's or Mike Peluso's, the guys that are willing to talk and say something good despite the hurt of a loss.
It has been a few years since I was on the American Hockey League beat on a regular basis. I don't miss the extra travel or added workload - much of which had to come on my own time. But during the hockey playoffs, I do tend to miss all that goes with the playoff hockey atmosphere.
So all those eerily silent locker rooms reminds me of that joyous night in Portland in which celebration was in order. The champagne was flowing. The Gatorade was being dumped. There was a keg in the locker room. There was a reporter with a champagne bottle stuffed down his pants (thankfully, not me) And a good time was had by all. It was an amazing and wonderful night to experience and be part of it in my own way. It wasn't my celebration. I didn't win anything. But it was a joy to see a bunch of great guys that I had gotten to know enjoy the rewards of their success. I remember and cherish that experience like the guys that actually won the title do. It was just one of those special times for that team, and I had the pleasure and responsibility to follow it and write about it.
And it reminds me to enjoy every wonderful moment because you never know when or if they'll happen again.

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