Advertisement

It was a dream matchup for even the casual hockey fan.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, winners of three Stanley Cups and led by all-star Sydney Crosby, against the Washington Capitals — probably the best team they've had in years, led by their mega-superstar Alexander Ovechkin.

Advertisement

The Capitals opened the series with a win but fell quickly in to a 3-1 hole before battling back in Game 5 to set up a showdown in Pittsburgh to even the series. The Penguins started with a "cheap" goal but the game remained relatively close and both teams battled back and forth to get the edge.

Then came "The Penalty."

The Capitals' Brooks Orpik was flagged with a four-minute penalty for high sticking the Penguins' Patric Hornqvist and drawing blood, and with it the grip on the game's outcome slipped away from the visitors. The Penguins scored two power-play goals to put the Caps in a 3-0 hole before the penalty was complete.

The Caps tied the game in the third period, themselves recipients of some power-play opportunities, before falling in overtime and ending their season.

This wasn't the first time the Caps had suffered at the hands of Orpik's emotional play. Orpik had just come off a three-game suspension for a high hit interference call on the Penguins' Olli Maatta. The Capitals lost two of the three games to the Penguins in a vital best-of-seven series when Orpik served his suspension.

Many people called for his head. The coach pointed to that penalty as the moment when the game changed, and the Capitals to their credit fought for their lives only to fall just short of their goal of bringing the series home for Game 7.

What could have happened if Orpik didn't get that penalty and the Caps had been full strength?

I, for one, expected Orpik to at least walk home from the Consol Energy Center.

I also remember a young college player, an emotional player who mostly kept his emotions in check, but, frustrated from his lack of involvement in the flow of play with his teammates, kicking the first opposing player to walk by him on the field. The opponent did nothing to him, but he was so mad at his teammates that he took it out on the poor kid that happened to be running by.

In the current game that's a straight red card, but at the time I received the warranted yellow, was removed from the field and never returned to the game.

And this was a game we were winning!

Emotions are a huge part of any competition and the sport world seems to magnify those emotions with their connections to a fan base, a school or town, parents and families, and the rivalry that comes with certain opponents. It's easy to get lost in the heat of the moment and allow your emotions to get away from you. Add the pressure of a national or international competition and the presence of the media scrutiny and things can explode.

Literally.

Emotions are not just bad, but can carry you to accomplishments that you never thought were possible. For every David Beckham kicking the Argentine in his backside and getting ejected from his first World Cup there's a Brandi Chastain ripping her jersey off and celebrating a World Cup victory. For every Bill Buckner making an error that costs his team the game, there's a Joe Carter drilling a series winning, walk-off home run to seal the victory for the Blue Jays.

Advertisement

It's often the coach's responsibility to determine when those emotions are bubbling over and creating a problem or ride them out in hopes they'll push your player or guide your team to the Promised Land. The euphoria you and the team will feel when those emotions help you meet your goal is hard to explain unless you've been there yourself.

As an emotional player and coach myself, I relate to the emotional player and appreciate the ones that keep it in check. If you miss it and your player gets ejected you need to be there to support him, not to make him an outcast. Players are human too, and they are prone to make mistakes that sometimes can be very costly.

This is the time they need their coach the most.

My coach was able to assess the situation and although was mad at and disappointed in me was smart enough to keep me off the field yet supported me in the things that caused my frustration in the first place. That sticks with me to this day.

American psychologist William James wrote, "The emotions aren't always immediately subject to reason, but they are always immediately subject to action."

Sometimes that action needs to come from someone else to keep you in check.

410-857-7896

Advertisement
Advertisement