Only the puck knows what it might do next: Philadelphia goalie Bernie Parent waits to see in a 1969 game against the Black Hawks at Chicago’s Stadium.
“It’s just one of them things,” Calgary winger Curtis Glencross was saying between periods the other night. Was it really just a few weeks back that the Flames were striding so confidently towards a playoff spot, looking good? Yes, it was, but then they’d lost five games in a row. By last Saturday, their hopes for post-season playing were all but over.
Hockey Night in Canada’s Scott Oake wondered why. What happened? So Glencross told him:
It’s just one of them things where we weren’t getting the bounces, or the puck wasn’t going our way and, ah, all them games, we had a lot of shots and a lot of quality scoring opportunities and, and things just weren’t going in for us.
Right. Of course. It’s tough when the puck decides against you. A hockey problem, to be sure. Anyone who’s played the game knows that sometimes, for some reason, pucks turn fickle. Does anyone know why? Is it just caprice or is there some kind of bias involved — in Calgary’s case, a preference among pucks for the likes of San Jose and Colorado?
We just don’t much about it. There’s just no good solid research on why pucks might (a) have an interest in influencing the outcomes of hockey games and/or (b) have come by the power to exert their will.
All we really know is that puck animism is nothing new. “We’ve had enough chances to win the last two games, but the puck hasn’t rolled for us,” Jacques Lemaire shrugged in 1984, when he was coaching Montreal. Whether you’re a player or a coach, you can’t really get angry about it, because, really, what can you do? If anyone knows how to win the favour of pucks, they haven’t revealed it. Here’s Flyers’ coach Fred Shero in the 1975 playoffs, after the New York Islanders came back from three games down to tie the series:
We had enough opportunities to be three up. But there is nothing we can do if the puck won’t go in. If we weren’t getting chances I would be worried.
It happened to Montreal in 1964. “We’ve only scored five in our last four games,” coach Toe Blake said. “We’re getting the chances but the puck won’t go in.”
That’s the lesson, I guess: all you can do as a hockey player is get your chance, put the puck on the net. Once it’s there, hovering by the goal-line, there’s nothing more you can do: the puck has to decide whether it’s going in or not.
Chicago GM Bill Tobin was someone who thought there was more to it, maybe, on the puck’s side than mere whim. In 1949, when the New York Rangers scored four third-period goals in two minutes and 57 seconds to beat his Black Hawks, Tobin was the one who looked at it this way: “The puck,” he said, “has not been kind to us.”