By JON DUVAL
For the Express
Friday, Feb. 16
6:00—Just checked out the roster for this weekend's opponents, the vaunted New York St. Nicks. Despite having only a baker's dozen worth of players, they will possibly be our hardest test of the season, having swept the Suns last year and won Nationals a number of times recently. They even have a Latvian of their own, Martins Lans, a strong defenseman whom I played against in high school and college. He's responsible for giving my brother his first concussion back in 1996.
7:02—With about 80 percent of their team having played Division 1 hockey at Yale, these guys appear big, strong, and ready to go. I only hope their overindulgent city life has left them languid, whereas the hard mountain life has made us strong like bulls.
7:20—One of the NY boys attempts to use his blade as a toothpick on Ryan Enrico, only his aim is off and Rico ends up with a split lip. The ref apparently hasn't run a game since Terry O'Reilly graced the Garden and doesn't qualify blood as evidence of injury.
7:26—The line of Charles "C-Note" Friedman, Billy "The Kid" Tryder and Paul "Hybrid" Cox is flying tonight, with the last fully recovered from his sledding injury (snicker, snicker).
7:39—Even 1-1 after one. This is shaping up to be a game.
8:10—The Beer Gardeners get overzealous. One of the rowdies tosses a beer can on the ice. The outside interference earns the home team a two-minute penalty. Um, thanks guys.
8:11—That didn't work out as planned. Forgetting there aren't any scouts in the stands, I drop in front of a St. Nick's point winding up for a slap shot. Only, instead of taking the blast on shinguard, it naturally finds its way to my minimally protected forearm. Not good times.
8:11:30—Skating around angry and in pain, I see one of their forwards reaching for a puck along the boards with his head down. Not waiting for a written invitation, I lower my shoulder and wait for the satisfying impact. For the second time in as many games I end up being called for elbowing on what I consider a clean hit. Either I'm the victim of a conspiracy or just one cheap bastard.
8:27—On an offensive face off, Billy "The Kid" slips past their center and calmly shelves the puck over the goalie's shoulder. This play takes all of three seconds to transpire, which is unfortunate for any spectator in the process of taking a drink or hitting on the cute girl in the next seat, as they will probably never get the chance to see another one like it.
8:58—Barnburner heading into the third period tied 2-2. Denzel Washington said in "Training Day:" "This ain't (bleeping) checkers. It's chess." I'm pretty sure that applies here.
9:08—Rico is leaking once again, this time from the nose. His face is starting to resemble a well-tenderized steak.
9:30—Usually I only have a vague notion of the stands when I'm on the ice, like a TV left on in an adjacent room. But this time, as I collect a pass from Barnzy and head up ice one-on-one, the volume reverberating throughout the arena is deafening. I'm amazed as their lone defenseman continues to back in towards his cage and I slow, cocking my stick, looking for the open shot. Ready to go high or go home, I take a glance back and, sure enough, the puck has slid off my blade. And yes, as you loyal readers may recall, this same thing happened about a month ago.
9:34—Hold my breath as New York heads across our blueline, two-on-one. Fortunately for us, the rest of their team stops skating in order to await the outcome. Thus, when our defensemen break up the play, they have an easy outlet to Jamie "Shorty" Ellison, standing on the red line for a fast break.
9:35—Despite all the blood he's lost, Rico hasn't stopped moving in his typical hyperkinetic fashion, catching up with the play to give us the odd-man rush. With less than a minute on the clock, Shorty shows amazing patience, forcing their defenseman to make the first move. He deftly shifts around the sprawling player and dishes the puck to Rico, who makes no mistake with his one-timer. The capacity crowd goes berserk. You can always tell it's a big goal when guys on the bench are jumping up and down and hugging each other.
9:35:45—New York time out with 40 ticks remaining. I've got enough adrenaline flowing through me to kill a small horse. Or at least a Shetland pony. Despite their quick dump in, Chugga collects the puck and feathers a pass through a number of forecheckers. All of a sudden I find myself on a two-on-one with Scottie "Two Lashes" Winkler, approaching an empty net. I have a split-second flashback to high school when I took a shot at an empty net—greedily going for a hat trick—only to have one of my teammates intercept it and take care of the honors. Luckily, everyone thought I was passing and praised me for my unselfish play and sportsmanship. Lesson learned, I move the puck to Winkie, who promptly fires the puck off the pipe and is so stunned he misses the rebound. Is that a diamondback bite mark? Cottonmouth? Let us know so we can work on an antidote.
9:36—What a finish to our best game of the year so far! From the decibel level in the rink right now, I can only guess that our ever-supportive fans enjoyed it as well. I have to admit, I'm pretty happy we're headed to the locker room instead of overtime.
Saturday, Feb. 17
2:00—According to a number of witnesses, the New York boys appear to be angry and all business today. None of them went skiing and, more importantly, none of them got drunk at lunch. We might have our work cut out for us tonight.
5:30—Stopping in one of the local coffee houses—I won't say which for fear of reprisal—we're congratulated for last night's effort and told not to worry about the bill. I've always wondered what it feels like to be Shaq.
6:45—That was gross. Just an awful warm-up, despite Chugga skating around with a spiked Mohawk. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous right now. Complacency has toppled many an empire.
7:27—Doing my damnedest to backcheck after letting a NY forward free, I lay out in a futile effort to block the shot. Talk about your all-time backfires; instead of stopping the puck, I merely manage to deflect it past a perfectly positioned Zulie. "Maybe let that one go next time," he advises. Oops.
8:18—After yet another pretty power play goal, I joke with Villi that he was so wide open because he used his stature to hide behind the post.
9:06—Hey, Chugga and I finally connect for a goal! Over the past month we've been consistently feeding each other perfect opportunities and should have scored more than Tara Reid on spring break.
9:15—My turn to mess up a gimme. Winkler feeds me a perfect pass to send me in alone on net, but instead I ignore the flopping goalie and attempt to feed it right back, hitting the stick of the fallen defenseman. Winkie laughs on the bench, "Didn't you learn anything last night?"
9:26—A speeding Adam "Dwayne" Swain catches a St. Nicks forward spinning with the puck and accidentally puts him headfirst into the boards. Not a hit that anyone likes to see, but knowing Dwayne's playing style, it's definitely not a cheap shot. This does nothing to stop the ensuing fracas in which one of their players, standing about two feet from me, skates over and pops him with an overhand right. Sorry about that Dwayne, I should've anticipated that.
9:39—After our salute to the Beer Garden, Shorty asks that we do the same for the balcony, as word on the street is they're getting jealous. However, by the time we skate over there, the bleachers are all but empty. You guys stick around and we'll show our thanks. Deal?
9:43—The Man who started it all, George Gund, father of Suns hockey, receives a big round of applause in our locker room. He's here to present his namesake, the George Jacket. Despite a number of candidates, it's no surprise when he says, "The kid from Hoboken." Gets very dusty in here all of a sudden when Rico gives him a hug.
10:30—After a superb team meal, compliments of The Man himself, George's wife asks me the origins of the many nicknames I've garnered over the past few months. Hearing this question, I'm struck by how long ago those first games up in McCall already seem and how all the different characters and personalities have come together to make this one of the best teams on which I've ever played.
Editors Note: The Suns defeated the St. Nicks 3-2 on Friday and 9-4 on Saturday.