Well, that was an incredible series.
The Castlegar Rebels went to seven games with the Beaver Valley Nitehawks in Round 1 of the KIJHL playoffs and came away with the series win.
As you’d imagine, the series was a see-saw affair with momentum pushing back and forth too often to count. These teams were so evenly matched you truly did not know who to favour at the start of any game in the series.
If you watched all seven games, you would have marvelled at the strategy shifts and adjustments made by each team. Beaver Valley came out flying with aggressive forechecking; Castlegar figured out a way to counter that and pressed back. Castlegar would ride superhuman goaltending efforts to steal games, and Beaver Valley would return the favour. Nerves got to both teams at times, with uncharacteristic mistakes happening on both ends of the ice.
There were moments of lost composure, ill-timed penalties and misconducts. The emotional toll that the pressure of the series took on the players was clear.
One constant was the mutual respect between the two teams. You could tell that Nitehawks head coach Terry Jones has been around the hockey block, as his charges played clean and with respect in the third period even when it became obvious they were running out of time. There were no runs, no slashes, no cheap shots. They played hard to the end, but nothing that crossed the line.
My favourite element of covering sports is witnessing inter-team camaraderie and sportsmanship. Yes, the teams played to the edge between the whistles, but when everything wrapped up and the adrenaline rushes subsided, the players respected the effort that each other put in to get there and they legitimately appreciated those bonds.
This display of sportsmanship culminated in the traditional end-of-series handshakes.
I got a large lump in my throat when I watched Nitehawks captain and energy-leader Sam Swanson go through the line giving props to the Rebels players. He was so classy despite it being his last game in the league. The part that hurt even more was that he sustained an injury earlier in the series and did not really play in Game 7. So not only did he know it was his last game by the end of the third period, he wasn’t able to actually take to the ice and contribute physically.
How classy is this guy you ask? An excited young fan, likely too young to realize how terrible Sam would feel at that moment, asked him for an autograph or something through the glass. Without batting an eye, Sam handed the boy his game-used stick through the opening in the glass.
Now, YOU’RE bawling.
It was after this incredibly gracious gesture that the weight of the moment hit Swanson. He slumped on the bench and the emotion overcame him. His teammates did their best to console them, but what could they say?
It’s the most painful part of competing in — and as it turns out — covering sports. Hats off to you, Mr. Swanson.