Games don't get much bigger than a Game 7 in hockey. We speculate about how people are feeling, who might be nervous, which team has the edge in motivation or comfort. At the end of today, there will be a team going home facing a summer of "what ifs" and "coulda, woulda, shouldas" and there will be a team that advances on to face either the San Jose Sharks or the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference final.
I reached out to several hockey players to get some insights into what goes through a hockey player's mind leading into a game like this. The following are six different player's and their insights, war stories, and experiences. Some are from juniors, some from college of varying levels, both past and present players.
Enjoy the storytelling and get your mind right for Game 7 tonight.
John Melendez (Juniors/Helena Bighorns ; College/University of Montana - Captain)
I will tell you from experience in playing in a finals game 7 twice (one we loss, one we won). You are nervous but more excited than you have ever been in your life. You want to compete and the adrenaline pumps you up. The clock is the slowest clock in the world. If you are winning, it's so true. Time moves so slow. It's amazing. Because the Stars won yesterday, they will have a totally different mindset, with more confidence. As opposed to the Blues who lost and now heads to Dallas with the loss (and their season) on their mind.
Jonathan Hires (College/North Carolina State University)
We were playing in the ACC playoffs against Maryland in 2011. We finished the regular season in 1st and Maryland 2nd, but Maryland had dominated us in the regular season (i think they outscored us something like 16-3). They were a D1 team the year prior, so the odds didn't feel like they were in our favor. Pregame jitters were present, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one. It felt like we had no chance. But the one thing about hockey, and it's the reason I still love to play, is that once you're on the ice instinct trumps thought. The second the puck drops, all the other things in your life don't matter and you just play hockey. So even though we were all nervous wrecks the day of/night before, when it came down to it we just played our game (and won).
Photo used with permission of Jonathon Hires.
John Smith (College/UNT)
They are extremely nervous. Every player before a huge game can't help but get nervous. Saying that, both coaches will say what's necessary to keep them calm. Blues should be the calmer of the two teams after the way the past two games have gone and the fact that the Blues have been in plenty of game 7s over the years, finally winning one last series. The Stars rookies are going to be nervous...the environment tomorrow is going to be intense. Everyone dreams of scoring that game 7 winning goal, but at this level it's all about doing your job and letting the rest of it take care of itself.
Arman Azimi (College/TCU)
I played for TCU their first year playing ACHA Division II. We were a rag tag group of frat guys who played in high school and a few of us in juniors. We developed a rivalry against SMU pretty quickly into that season. By the time we played our third series against them, tensions were extremely high. We were down by one, and our coach needed a big play. I was the next guy over the boards. I will never be mistaken for a skilled guy, but my hands aren't entirely made of stone. That being said, I did what I do best; throw around my 6' 210 pound frame. SMU had the puck deep in their zone, so I was able to get a pretty good head of steam going in on the forecheck. BAM! I hit the kid so hard along the side boards he landed on his head. The puck slid into the corner, where another SMU player was dumb enough to touch it. I took two strides and laid into him. Turnover. I quickly wheeled around the circle, and with a defender on my hip, I sniped it from just inside the blue line right over the goalies glove. We cellied so hard my liney gave me a concussion. The best part about all of this? Having my parents in the stands to witness that goal.
Photo used with permission of Arman Azimi.
I would characterize the feeling as nervous, but extremely focused. You attempt to keep any distractions out of your mind as you mentally prepare. You try to visualize shifts in your mind where you're executing on the ice. This is a lot more than scoring an OT winner. It's about visualizing the #intangibles needed to win the game - playing with a high compete level and hockey sense. This can be finishing a check, blocking a shot, or making a great outlet pass that leads to an odd man rush. These are the things that allow you to shake the nerves and concentrate on playing "your" game.
Anonymous (College/Texas Tech University)
There was a year in high school when we just barely squeezed into the playoffs but ended up finding another gear in the playoffs (PDO is amazing). We went undefeated and won the division and a chance to go to the state playoffs. I remember the final game before winning the division, I was pretty nervous just because of the gravity of the game. Even though we'd played in similar situations throughout the playoffs, you don't really shake the nervousness before a game like that. The coaches wouldn't say much before the game, and you would go through the normal routine during warm-ups, but you wouldn't really feel completely comfortable until after the first shift. Then you were locked in and it's just another game that you've done thousands of times before.