Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Larionov's Goal Played Out In Surreal Theater For Me -- Literally & Figuratively

Igor Larionov had just scored the biggest goal of his career, and maybe of the Red Wings' season, and I was forced to cheer silently.

The next few sentences are nothing you don't already know, but they should be repeated anyway for the purposes of context. Game 3, 2002 Stanley Cup Finals. Red Wings in a somewhat unexpected dogfight with the Carolina Hurricanes, who stole Game 1 in Detroit in overtime and who led Game 3 until the final minute, when Brett Hull deflected a shot past Arturs Irbe to tie things up. Now this 1-1 series would drone on into what would be multiple overtimes in Carolina.

And I watched it in the most surreal environment that I've ever watched a playoff hockey game.

Sometimes being daddy and hubby means taking one for the team come playoff time, and I had promised my wife and 9-year-old girl that I'd take them to the drive-in movies on that Saturday night, regardless if there was a hockey game to be played that night or not. Oh in case you're one of those who don't recall, drive-in movies were these neat things where you'd go to see a movie from your car, with a tinny speaker hooked on to your rolled-down window. Good stuff, actually.

Anyhow, I figured out a way to be daddy, hubby, AND hockey fan at the same time -- without sacrificing too much of any of those things. I toted along a portable, six-inch TV, with the all-important plug for the cigarette lighter. And some headphones. I think you know where I'm going with this.

We depart for the theater in the first period. So I listen in the car -- nothing unusual there. The 'Canes take a 1-0 lead, but by the time we arrive at the Ford-Wyoming (it's still there and open for business with its 10 screens), the Wings have tied it.

Then it's an evening of headphone listening, TV glancing, and movie watching. The tiny screen glowed in the car while wifey and daughter enjoyed the movie, forgiving hubby and daddy his little Cup Finals fetish.

My only concession was that I not cheer audibly -- so as not to: a) attract attention to our car, and b) disturb others' listening to the film. Reasonable, right?

And it was fairly easy to do that. But eventually I got caught in a pickle.

The movie ended, but not the game. Usually we'd stay to at least see the start of the second feature before passing out and waking up in a half-empty theater parking lot. But there was no passing out on my part this time. The game was going into overtime, and though my family was now sound asleep, I was presented with a dilemma: drive home, thus possibly missing the end, or stick with the portable TV/headphone set-up?

Before you say it, I'll address it: no, listening to the radio on the way home wasn't an attractive option. The only thing more nerve-wracking than watching an overtime hockey game is listening to an overtime hockey game. It's absolutely tortuous, when you can't SEE what's going on, and you have to rely on the voice inflections of Ken Kal to tell you if something good -- or, worse, BAD -- is about to happen. It gives me the creeps.

So I wasn't relishing a 20-minute drive home right smack in the middle of an overtime period. I thought about skating out during the first OT intermission, but that was risky; by the time I herded the sleepy women into the house and packed them into their beds, several minutes of the second OT would have been played.

I opted for staying at the drive-in, no matter how long it took. Fortunately, drive-ins play the first feature a second time, meaning they're open for business until 3 or 4 in the morning at times.

I settled in and watched the thrilling match play out, on my tiny TV and listening to my little headphones, scrunched in the driver's seat of my Mustang. And still I was condemned to silence; didn't want to startle everyone with my oohs and aahs.

Dominik Hasek repelled a 'Canes power play; in fact, Hasek made one great save after another. The mighty Red Wings were being outplayed, at times, by the pesky Hurricanes. And Hasek was saving his teammates' bacon.

Finally, the third overtime arrived and there are only a handful of cars with me. I wondered how many of them were now moviegoers or hockey game listeners/watchers. The women were sound asleep, peacefully in slumber, not giving a hoot about who won the damn hockey game. Sometimes I envy such blissful ignorance.

Then, it happened. I can see it now, the play happening in slow motion.

It really was in slow motion. The players were dog tired when Larionov got loose in the Carolina zone. Nearly 15 minutes of the third overtime had been played. He took control of the puck near the right circle and held onto it for what seemed like forever, moving it to his backhand and keeping it there until Irbe committed himself and flopped. Teammate Mathieu Dandenault even had to jump out of Igor's way. Then Larionov finally flipped the biscuit into the basket, and the Red Wings had themselves a 3-2 win and a 2-1 series lead.

And I couldn't cheer. That whole condemned to silence thing.

Others did, though. I heard howls coming from other cars. Apparently there were hockey fans with me, after all.

I did some silent fist pumps and that thing where you open your mouth and "scream" but nothing comes out, purposely. I rocked the car so hard with my gyrations that an onlooker with his mind in the gutter might have thought something else was going on in my vehicle.

Then, and only then, was it time to unplug the TV, start the engine, and drive home -- safely and unrecklessly. It was a very sweet ride.

Larionov is a Hall of Famer now -- it's official, as of yesterday. So it's impossible not to think of that goal in '02.

Funny, I can't remember what movie we saw. Honest to God.

Here's the goal:


Brian said...

Oh my God - we were almost in the same boat. A really good friend of mine (my daughter's Godfather) moved to Clio, MI. His daughter got married that night and we absolutely had to go. So we went to the ceremony and the beginning of the reception but bailed at the beginning of the game to go back to the motel (he absolutely understood).

Fast forward to the OTs and I was doing the same thing you were on each save, almost-goal, etc. With my entire family asleep in this little motel room I watched everything in silence.

And when Igor scored, I literally jumped off the bed and "yelled" the same silent way you did.

Thanks for the video, too. Very cool.

Greg Eno said...

I'm telling you, Brian -- we're almost like twin sons from different mothers. It's spooky. :-)

Thanks so much for your memories!

Brian said...

Greg - I was going to say the same thing but I didn't want to sound like a stalker.

Don't worry; if you ever need my help, I won't tie you to a bed and bust up your ankles.

Greg Eno said...

Well THAT'S a relief!

Baroque said...

Great story.

I had to watch in silence for a different reason - I was crashing at my parents house for the summer during a stab at grad school, and was watching with the sound turned low in the living room when they went to sleep. My mom would have stayed up to watch, but she had to sing at church in the morning and needed to get some sleep. I was planning on only seeing one overtime and then going to bed, but each intermission I decided to watch a little longer - with the sound muted so I wouldn't wake up my parents or disturb the dogs and start them barking to wake the neighbors.

After the game was over I left a scrawled "Wings WON!!! 3 OT!!!" note on the kitchen table and crashed.

My parents said you could tell by the yawning which half of the congregation stayed up to see Larionov's winner, and the priest (a hockey fan) asked jokingly if the people who went to bed had no faith in the Red Wings. He looked exhausted. :)

Greg Eno said...

Thanks for sharing the memory, Baroque! Very cool.