The Hawks’ Nest


Wrapping Up 2009-10
April 14, 2010, 11:44 am
Filed under: Winterhawks

In my decade in sports, I’ve never been in a locker room as emotional as the Winterhawks’ room last night after the loss to Vancouver ended their season. With tears in their eyes, the guys tried fruitlessly to console each other.

It wasn’t just one or two players quietly choking back tears, the whole team was overcome with emotion. Guys made their way across the room, hugging everyone they could. They stayed in full gear for a long time, knowing that peeling their jerseys off meant that would be it, not just for this season, but for this incarnation of the team.

The 2009-10 Winterhawks were as tightly knit as a team can be. These guys loved each other, and they didn’t want this season to end.

While you’d expect the overagers to get nostalgic after their final game, and they certainly were, even the younger guys with 3-4 years left in the league were caught up in the moment. If you walked into the room, you would have never been able to tell which guys were saying goodbye for good, and which have several seasons of eligibility left.

And though I don’t want to single anyone out, there was one player whose emotion last night underscores what kind of chemistry the team had this season. Luca Sbisa joined the team at the trade deadline, played a handful of games then left for the Olympics. Ostensibly, he had only two months in a Winterhawks uniform. But after the game, you would have thought he was one of the guys who had stuck out the tough years to get to this point. Here’s a guy with 50 games of NHL experience, a player who made the conference finals with Lethbridge a few years ago and has played in the Olympics and World Juniors, but with less than half a season with the team he was as distraught as anyone else in that room.

In only two months, he came to realize how special this group was, and like everyone else he wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

Sbisa likely won’t be here next year, and of course overagers Eric Doyle, Chris Francis and Stefan Schneider were in their final season of eligibility. Including Sbisa, there are five 19-year-olds who have to pared down to a maximum of three next season. So there will be changes in store.

But there is a young core that will carry this team forward for years to come, which brings me to my final point: leadership. The word leadership is tossed around liberally in sports, as people wonder who will be the leader, what kind of leadership they’ll bring, etc.

So consider this: the young players who will be counted on to carry the team going forward have gained immeasurable experience they’ll carry with them. The ones who were here last year have been through a losing season, and certainly don’t want to do it again after this experience. The players who were in their first season know nothing but winning.

In both cases, they were part of a special team that bonded from the first day of camp and became brothers. When new players were brought in via trade, there were no cliques they had to navigate, it was one big group. That unity helped them overcome a two-game deficit in the Spokane series and a three-goal deficit in the unforgettable Game 7. The bond only grew on the bus ride back from Spokane after Ty Rattie’s overtime goal advanced them to the next round. They fought tooth and nail against a rested Vancouver team.

There was nothing but positivity around the team this year. No egos, no locker room fissures, no drama. And the players who will be back will have that experience, and will do everything they can to make future teams run as smoothly as this one did.

There’s a new standard that’s been set, and the returning players will be the keepers of that standard for years to come. That’s leadership.

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