What we can learn from history can usually be condensed into a sound byte. Wars: mean people suck. Disasters: plan for the worst. Hot- burn: don’t touch that again. What history tells us is important but it shouldn’t take a lot of mental energy to store. Post the relevant warning labels and move on.
I won’t complain that such rear-gazing is 20/20 hindsight. That is self-evident. What I do wonder is what we are doing here, observing the trials and tribulations of a bunch of hockey players, if we already knew how it would end?
I have often stated that I would be a lousy hockey player, putting aside the physical aspect. I do not have the temperament. The challenge of maintaining the requisite optimism to be effective- that would undo me. I didn’t realize how common this crippling condition is.
Players may not be able to maintain the optimism, focus and energy necessary to win all the time. Probably most slip, and often. But they at least have the excuse that they actually have to perform the task. As the audience, we don’t do anything but watch. We might pay to watch, but we don’t have to pay despite the best efforts of ICE.
We cheer, because… we need the exercise? We need to participate in group ritual? We want to be right about picking a winner? We want to be identified with winners?
Maybe we cheer because we are swept up in the drama of the struggle and rejoicing in success is involuntary. To be swept up in the drama you need to make an emotional connection with the players in the drama.
Until they lose. Then you are unhappy, then you feel that you made a poor emotional investment. You feel ripped off.
Maybe you say you saw it coming, maybe you say there was no way it could have been any different. Maybe you say you have learned from this bad investment and will keep your emotions in the mattress from now on. Maybe you say all that, but you’re a gambling addict and go back again next year anyway.
As a fan, your career can be a lot longer than any hockey player’s. You may come to know more about how things have gone and, statistically, are likely to go than most active players. Yet you are at their mercy, doomed to be emotionally abused by these overpaid ingrates.
Why? Why can’t you get more from them? You can make friends with other addicts, collect autographs, buy the skates they advertise and learn to use them. Or, for no cost at all, you can learn something: therapeutic amnesia.
A competitor does not start the game thinking “we let that last series get out of hand, we’re too tired. Even if we win this we probably won’t win the next one.
“Our goalie is drained, he played too many games at the end of the season, the backup didn’t play enough.
“Even if we win this one and the next one and the next, our captain’s injured, the hero of the month is hurt, a critical blue-liner is out, our strategy took three games to get going, the other team dives better than we do.
“Why didn’t we practice that more in the regular season?
“We should have home ice advantage, what’s with losing to the Oilers? How can we win another series?”
A real competitor isn’t even supposed to think “that was not icing. This faceoff should be… wtf, they scored?”
No. None of that. A competitor strives to think only “here and now, we can win this.” Call him delusional, stubborn, simple minded. He’s more likely to succeed.
A post-mortem isn’t about hope. It’s about looking back. Unless you’re a doctor or a GM or a coach, it is not relevant. That season died, bury it.
Even if you don’t play professional sports or any sports at all, willful amnesia is a good exercise. No matter what has gone before, it is gone. I’m really bad at it, being a depressive and a worry-wort. Still, reading so many shouldas and couldas makes me think that this, after all, is what I should do when I watch a hockey game: adjust my attitude.
The Sharks lost the series against the Canucks on Tuesday, May 24, about 10 minutes into the 2nd OT. Not one moment before.
Now is the starting point, go forward from here. To borrow a phrase from Puck Huffers: the Sharks will never lose again.