Saturday, 13 February 2010

Coupe de France Champions!!!!

Hello everyone, I know it has been over a week since we won the Coupe de France in Paris. And yes, most of you already know all about it, but for the small percentage who are unaware and just stumbling on my blog by mistake, I will give a little recap.

So since qualifying for the Final in early January after beating Strasbourg, we had a date with Rouen in Paris for January 31st at 3pm. To tell you how big this game is, my dad even flew in just for the game from Windsor, Ontario. As he sat among the 13,359 fans, he was able to see a battle between 2 of the best teams in France. Also if you would like to read his version of the events check out his article in the Windsor Star Newspaper from a few days ago.

Now, for my story of the encounter. So on the Friday night in Briancon, only 2 days before the big final, we just so happened to have a league game against this very same Rouen team. With a 3-1 lead in the third period, somehow we let them climb back into the game to tie it. With Overtime solving nothing, we entered the shootout. We shot first and after the first 3 shooters, we were tied 1-1. Then the order reversed after the first 3, with Rouen shooting first. Carl Malette ripped a shot over the glove of our goaltender Ramon Sopko giving Rouen the edge and needing only a save from International French star goalie Fabrice L'Henry to seel the victory. So who shot for us.....I did. So trying not to think about the fact that if I missed the game was over, everybody would be starring at me and we would lose that much needed confidence heading into Sunday's Final, also marking the 4th straight time we would have lost to them this season. So I somehow cleared those thoughts, skated pretty fast in my approach in ripped a shot 5 hole. I would say a low risk/high reward shot, ranking pretty low for style points. So now it was 2-2, then they score again to make it 3-2. Our Finnish sniper Joni Lindlof is facing the same situation I was in, and he delivers under the pressure to tie it 3-3. After a Rouen miss, F.P. Guenette sniped top corner and the victory was ours.

I strongly believe that this victory gave us a huge edge heading into the final. We knew now that we could beat them, we outplayed them in that game and found a way to win in the shootout. Now, we grabbed a meal in the dressing room and already had our bags prepared for Paris as the bus would take us directly to Paris Bercy after our game. We drove all through the night and arrived around 10am the next morning. We unpacked our equipment and hung it up at the rink, got our player passes, allowing us entry in and out of the Paris Omnisport rink and proceeded to the hotel. We had a meal, then some free time to check out Paris a little bit, the Champs Elysées, L'Arc de Triomphe and La Tour Eiffel before our practice later that afternoon.

The next day most of the guys were up around 8am for breakfast, followed by a team dynamic warm up in the hotel. We had brunch then it was off to the rink. I am not sure how the other guys were feeling but I was loving this. I tried to stay in the moment the whole time and not to get too caught up in wondering who was going to win and being afraid of failure. I just wanted to cherish every second of this experience and enjoy it. Who knows when you will ever get another chance to play in front of 14,000 people again?

The game was strong from start to finish, they scored midway through the first period but we equalized later on in the second. We took the play to them a bit more, put 39 shots on their goalie to their 28, had more legs and more scoring chances. Don't get me wrong, they played well too and were very dangerous on the attack but in that game, on that day, I believe the better team won. Hats off to Rouen, the first 3 games of the season we played against them, they pretty much dominated us and had us on our heals with their offensive rushes and counter attacks, but with these back to back games, we could see they were trying to do a bit too much, sometimes taking close to 2 minute shifts in an attempt capitalize offensively. Whereas we were rolling with 25-30 second shifts and felt relatively fresh from start to finish.

So we enter a shootout for the second straight game. Rouen shoots first. The first two shooters for each team miss. Rouen's 3rd shooter Carl Malette, who scored on a wrist shot in the top right corner on 2 days earlier, attempts the same move and is robbed by his former teammate Ramon Sopko. Now for our 3rd shooter, we turn to Edo Terglav. Our Captain and heart and soul, who's knee was injured a week earlier in Morzine. But this was the Final of the Coupe de France and Edo was going to do whatever he could to play! In this game he attempted to play and only lasted the first 10 minutes of the game before taking a low hit to that same knee. Ironically, the low hit, which was 100% a deliberate attempt to take out Edo's injured knee, was delivered by the same Rouen player who hit me from behind back in December. Is this a coincidence, or is the character and intentions of this player starting to show its true colours??????

Getting back to our 3rd shooter....So if Edo scores Briancon will win its first title in the team's 70 something year history. He approaches slowly, and everyone is wondering, if he can even skate? As he hits the top of the circles, he picks up speed, which throws the goalie off a bit with the timing and his failed poke check, leaves Edo on his backhand with an open net. He deposits the puck and goes running down the ice. He can't even feel his legs as the ice is littered with equipment, gloves and helmets are tossed into the air as our celebration begins!!!!!

This blog is getting long here..... To sum things up, this was the greatest game I have ever been a part of. Not since winning the Wayne Gretzky Pee Wee Travel "A" Tournament in Brantford, Ontario have I ever had a chance to call myself a Champion. More importantly, be part of a Championship team! I was very happy to have been able to share this experience with my dad, as he was also there in Brantford 15 years ago when I was last part of a winning team.

We had a parade in the town a few days after and raised the banner last Saturday but the hype is starting to calm down a bit now. We have already played 2 league game since (winning 6-0 and 6-1) and have 5 more games left before the playoffs. So we have a few more events with sponsors and stuff but after that, this Coupe de France Championship will be just a fond memory, as we prepare for our next objective: Ligue Magnus Playoff Championship!!!!