There's a scene in the movie A Few Good Men when the attorney, played by Tom Cruise, is trying to get one of his clients to accept a plea bargain that will result in the client spending six months in jail. "Come on, it's six months," he says to the client. "It's a hockey season."
Which, chronologically speaking, is true. Mid-October to mid-April is six months, but when you're up to your neck in a hockey season, it seems much longer. As most of you know, I do some work for the Minnesota Wild, and am at almost every home game. I've managed to make a few road trips with them as well, and it's pretty rare that I don't see a road game on TV.
Six months. That's 82 games, preceded by about three weeks of training camp and exhibition games. And the goal of it all is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That's the reward for six months of attending, watching, reading and talking about your hockey team: To be one of the 16 teams that gets to play for the Stanley Cup.
Playoff hockey is amazing. It's intense, it's exciting and there's nothing like it in sports. Every best-of-seven series becomes like a novel, with protagonists, antagonists, plot twists and ultimately a memorable resolution.
And so we spend those six months watching the standings. We see winning streaks, losing streaks and those frustrating overtime and shootout losses. Injuries, hot goalies and bad calls all make up the tapestry of a hockey season, and it's all worthwhile for the chance to be in the building when it's playoff time.
Today the Wild lost 5-2 to Calgary, and the playoffs now look all but impossible. That makes two straight years without the playoffs, and it has now been seven years since we won a playoff series.
There were lowered expectations this year with a new coach, new GM and our first post-Gaborik season, but this team showed some signs. After a rough 3-9 start they played pretty good hockey, bolstered by the November acquisition of Guillaume Latendresse, who appears to be a star in the making, and strong seasons from Mikko Koivu and Martin Havlat. Even four days ago they appeared ready to make a big push for the playoffs.
But an inexplicable shootout loss Friday in Edmonton, and today's flop against Calgary, make it a really steep hill. The Wild have 18 games left, and would need something like a 14-4 record to have a shot, which isn't going to happen.
Which I should be able to handle better, except that next October seems such a long ways away, and the past five months now start to feel like a waste of time. It wasn't, and I'll get over it, but tonight it hurts.