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River Hockey

Sharks @ Flyers, Dec 8, 2010

Chris Pronger pointed out that the Flyers really did have that game under control, until they didn’t.  Then, he says they “started playing a little river hockey,” and the Sharks have “players that can put the puck in the net.”  -From Working the Corners

In the comments section at WTC, Daveo explained the term “River hockey. –refers to a stretch of very one-sided play, such as when playing on a river, and one team is skating upstream (a slight upslope) or against the wind.”  Quick wiki and Google searches did not verify this for me but it sounds good.

Beautiful.  I had assumed it was the same as pond hockey, but I can see the difference.  What a marvelous metaphor, one I feel like I’ve been looking for.

Yes, that is what the Sharks-Flyers game was like.  It was not like pond hockey, like the TB game, where each team took turns scoring, like 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, etc.  The Sharks and the Flyers scored 1, 3, 1, 3.   Very one sided, but taking turns “downstream.”

When NHL on the Fly covered the game, they spent a good deal of time talking about the Flyers  break down and how they lost the lead.  Well, yes, that was pretty disappointing for them, but unbiased commentators might have also said something like this:

“You just have to take the first 50 minutes of that game.  I think San Jose is one of the best teams in the NHL.  For the first 50 minutes, I thought we played better than they did.  We left our foot off the pedal at the end, and gave them a chance to come back and tie it up.” -Danny Briere, ibid

See?  There are breakdowns and breakdowns.  Give up a 3 goal lead to the Islanders and it’s time to panic.  Give it up to the Sharks and maybe you can be forgiven.  Maybe.

The Sharks game was almost a mirror image of the Flyers game.  I know, a lot of players say the same things after a game, but  these guys seemed to really be on the same page.

“We made some stupid mistakes, took some stupid penalties, we just have to bear down.  Guess we’re not ready yet…” -Ville Leino, ibid

Compare to:

“We still didn’t play sixty minutes, once again, which is frustrating. We thought we would bounce back a little bit … and continue to play well, but we didn’t.” -Logan Couture, ibid

So no one was really happy with their whole game.  And no matter how things bounced, one of them was going to say this:

“…It’s one of those games that the puck was bouncing around, that goal and another goal, I’m pretty happy we won the game.” -Antero Niittymaki, ibid

… and this:

“Like I said, we’re going to look back at this and it is going to sting…  We gave them an opportunity.  We opened the door and they barged through it.” -Peter Laviolette, ibid

Much the way the Flyers have done in the past, when things were going sideways, the Sharks settled down to a “baby steps” mentality.  One thing, just one thing at a time:

“We said we[‘d get] one for the next TV time out, and we did, then we said we’d get one for the next TV time out, and we did. We got that power play there, and [Pavelski] scored that goal and we were all even again.” -Logan Couture, ibid

Sure, you can always say “Hey!  Why don’t we just score a goal?  Would that help?”  Obviously everyone plans to score, or wants to.  But there is a special state of mind that really buys into the plan when you set viable targets for yourself.  Instead of “win the game,” you plan to “score in the next 4 minutes,” or “before Bob takes another swallow from his water bottle…” Whatever seems doable.  Some little, tangible, otherwise inconspicuous target can be enough to refocus the brain, even a whole team of brains.


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