“Better luck next year.”
There aren’t four words that sting harder after you watch the final seconds tick away from their final game. The bar you’re in gets dimmer, the drink your sipping gets chugged, the potential excitement dies and it seems like there’s nothing more to look forward to.
Everything starts to bother you. The person in the screen printed T-shirt going ballistic when his team beats yours makes you want to whip a full glass toward them. How big of a fan can you be when you only have a damn T-shirt to watch game 7?
Everyone turns into an expert, yourself included. It was the coach, it was goaltending, it was the power play, it was the refs, it was a lack of execution, they weren’t focused, they didn’t play with emotion, the superstars didn’t show up, they took too many penalties, the rink wasn’t cold enough, their plane arrived late… It had to be something.
Every year feels like it’s supposed to be the year.
29 fan bases will feel the same way, but that never makes it any easier. You followed the team since the preseason and you know the ins and outs of the roster. Nothing can go wrong.
Every conversation over the next few days is about who should be fired, who should be resigned, who should be released, etc. But the thought that there are fans who are looking forward to the next series makes your teeth grind. Why can’t that be us? We deserved it, not them.
It took me a few days to calm down so I could write this. Had I written this on the night the Penguins were eliminated I don’t think there would have been too many words spelled correctly. You put yourself in an emotional coma and when you wake up you hope it was all just a nightmare. But it never is, it actually happened.
In the end, it’s the beauty of the game and it separates the real fans from the fake ones. Real fans struggle to go on with their every day lives when they know they have to keep their jersey stashed until the Fall. They’ve imagined the night when their captain hoists the Stanley Cup, but that night will have to wait at least one more year.
Reality will eventually sink in and people will tell you it’s just a game. It’s only hockey. There’s no reason to get upset over the things you can’t control. They were going to lose in the next series. You’re not personally affected.
But for most of us, hockey is all we are and all we will ever be. We eat, sleep, breathe and dream the game. It’s one of the worst days of the year for most of us, but it’s also what makes the game so great.
Better luck next year.
Shane Darrow is a graduate student at Ohio University studying journalism. You can follow him on Twitter @ShaneDarrow. Also, please check out Just Dangle Hockey for the best apparel in the business.