It was a cruel sort of experiment, really.
It’s kind of a given that after tough losses for hockey teams, it’s those with the C’s and ‘A’s who are called on to appear before reporters and at least do their best to explain, and comment on, just what had happened. You know it’s not pleasant duty, but there’s an understanding that immediate post-game participation in these accident investigations, these autopsies, is part of the job of being a designated leader.
But on Monday night, after the St. John’s IceCaps suffered a collapse of epic proportions — think a block of Vegas hotels being demolished all at once — I put in a request for IceCaps winger Carl Klingberg.
You see, Klingberg’s a real positive type. Not that the others on the team aren’t and not that they wouldn’t have trotted themselves out if called upon to do so.
But in his three years in St. John’s, I had found Klingberg, as much as anyone, to be a seeker of silver linings and breaks in the cloud. And I wondered, how in world he might be able to maintain that disposition given the disaster that had been Game 4 of the Calder Cup final at Mile One Centre Monday night.
Up 3-0 late in the second period, outshooting the Texas Stars by a four-to-one ratio, with a boisterous crowd behind them, the IceCaps, looking to tie the best-of-seven series at 2-2, were having a dream game.
They were in heaven. Then, just like that, they found themselves in some sort of purgatory, giving up two goals in the last six minutes of the middle frame.
It was not year a downright disastrous situation — they still were leading heading into the third — but it was certainly some sort of a limbo, with everyone wondering how they got there and where it would eventually all lead.
Well, straight into the hell that was the third period and overtime, where the Stars’ Travis Morin ended — or added to, perhaps — the misery with a game-winning goal on the only shot taken by either side in the extra session.
Making things worse, if that’s possible, for the IceCaps, was that what had transpired was almost entirely of their own doing, or more accurately, what they didn’t do over the last half of the game. They had stopped skating, stopped pressing, stopped carrying the play. The only thing they did was tighten up … and we’re not talking defensively.
A lot of the time, you have to credit the opposition in comebacks like this, and some allowance must be made of what the Stars did with the opportunity presented them on Monday, but make no mistake, this was case of St. John’s being blown up by its own bomb.
And there, in the aftermath of the explosion, stood Klingberg.
In the media scrum, he was what I expected. Not fake positive, but saying the right things, in the right tone. He even spoke about the sun coming up tomorrow, and you couldn’t help but smile at the thought of the little red-headed star of Annie being replaced by a blonde-headed young man from Sweden.
Later, he admitted that it was a struggle to say those right things, to even believe in them. But he was at least convinced he and his teammates had to come around to believe, and had to do it quickly, what with a last-stand Game 5 to be played at Mile One tonight.
“Right now, of course, there’s not a lot of happiness, not any right now,” he said. “At the same time, there’s something that’s telling me that we still have opportunities, that it’s not over yet. If we believe we have another chance, we have another chance.
“We have to believe. But right now, so soon after (the game) … that’s hard to do.”
Perhaps making things tougher for Klingberg was the fact that he had just played his best game of the four so far in the final, with five shots, one of them going in on a nice drive-to-the net play in the opening minute of the second period, giving St. John’s with a 2-0 lead. He also came close to providing St. John’s with what might have been an improbable winning tally with about two minutes left in regulation time, just after Texas had tied the score at 3-3, only to be denied by an inch or two and some ferrous metal.
“I’m probably going to have nightmares about it,” he answered about his shot that rang off the crossbar.
“But when I wake up, I’m probably going to stop thinking about it.”
And as for the overall collapse Monday, he was planning for amnesia.
“No, no, no, no, no, no,” he insisted when asked if there was any point in analyzing of how the game had flipped so dramatically. “I’ll think about the first half and how we played and how we will do that for the whole game tomorrow.”
Klingberg did find himself thinking about past disappointments and how he dealt with them, most notably the 2011 world junior championships in Saskatoon, where Sweden led late in a semifinal game, only to have Russia tie it and eventually win in a shootout. The Swedes played once more — the bronze-medal game against the United States — and lost.
It adds to the determination that he’s mustered in an effort to find out what redemption on a higher stage might be like. And he’s happy — he actually said the word — that it comes immediately, what with Game 5 tonight.
“Oh yeah, that’s so important. And I know people can say ‘It’s only hockey,’ right? But it’s something I’ve been thinking about the whole season, for three seasons, winning the Calder Cup and we’re still here. We still have a chance to do it and it’s been done before.
“And it starts with that next game.”
But, oh, that one before the next one.
After a 2-1 overtime loss in Game 3, IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge was asked if a deciding game in the series had been played and he quickly answered that it hadn’t.
He couldn’t be as definitive in denying Monday’s contest fit the ‘definitive’ description.
“Time will tell. That is the obvious statement as to whether that was a defining game in this series,” said McCambridge.
The other real danger is that it may become the defining game in what has been an otherwise fine season for the IceCaps.
So, whatever becomes of the series as a whole, Klingberg — delivering the trusted hockey psalm about one period, one game at a time — knows tonight, at the very least, provides a chance for the IceCaps to show off the character that’s been trumpeted so much this year, to reinforce self-belief that must certainly have been badly shaken, if not cracked.
“Tomorrow morning, I will wake up and I will feel good, better than I do right now. I hope I do. Like I said, right now, I can’t find happiness, but I can fine some hope. And that’s a start.”