It’s difficult to express the emotion, heartbreak and utter disappointment of a losing effort. As athletes, we don’t want to give an inch; whether it’s on the scoreboard or during a 45-second, give-it-your-all shift, the practices, pain and season-long exhaustion is nothing but an afterthought.
In the heat of battle, it’s about gaining that extra step. As so often is the case, that extra inch can result in the goal we so badly needed that night.
We knew our opponent well, too. Just four months earlier, we met the Prince Albert Mintos in the bronze medal game at the Mac’s Midget Tournament in Calgary. That was easily the biggest moment in my career to that point, which was made even more incredible by scoring a pair to help propel our team to the win.
It wasn’t quite the gold that we were after from the outset of the Mac’s, but the experience was mind-blowing, and earning a medal of any colour on such a grand stage was a huge accomplishment. Doing it on home ice, representing Calgary and the prestigious Buffaloes organization, and toppling pre-tournament expectations made it even better.
Maybe it was then that people really started to take note of what we were putting together. Throughout the entire season, we were getting better, night in and night out. And we knew it, bringing unstoppable poise into each battle as we dominated our class. I scored 14 goals, 34 points and felt as though my season was a microcosm of the team’s.
I was improving, every single night.
On and off the ice, we were brothers that were willing to do it all for one another. To this day, it was the closest I’ve ever gotten to my teammates and wouldn’t trade the experience, or relationship with them, for anything.
When the dust settled after our torrid finish, the post-season was a continuation of what we saw throughout the year. Our leading goal scorer, Mike Connolly, didn’t slow one bit, potting pucks at will while I was close behind, helping us ease through the playoffs, sweeping the final three series and winning our region en route to the TELUS Cup in Charlottetown.
We knew coming in that it wouldn’t be easy. These were elite teams, pitted against one another for a national title. As a 15-year-old who hadn’t quite experienced it before, I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. Figuratively speaking, I was at home on the ice, but in reality I was thousands of miles from it and the calming security of my mom’s home-cooked meals.
Fortunately, I didn’t have much time to think. As soon as we arrived, we were thrust into the hotel lobby to be accredited. Our photos were snapped, laminated and sent across the volunteers’ desk space, where a TELUS lanyard properly affixed our week-long identification.
“2006 TELUS Cup, Jordan Eberle, Player - Calgary Buffaloes,” it read. Suddenly the moment felt very real, and those dripping beads of sweat I wouldn’t normally notice came to mind as I began to visualize the week ahead.
As if that moment didn’t prepare me well enough, our early welcome sure did, losing our first and putting ourselves in a do-or-die situation; but we won out and earned a berth in the gold medal game, anyway, as we knew we could.
Right off the bat, we were down 3-0 against those very same Mintos. After Mark Lines scored shorthanded late in the second period to pull us back in it, it was my time to step up. I’ll never forget that moment, early in the third, when I raced down my off-wing and snapped the most perfect shot of my career. I can still remember the “ping!” as it bounced in off the far post.
Connolly, who was as clutch as can be, scored late to tie it up. With another goal each, overtime was necessary. One period passed. Then another, as more time was required to decide the outcome.
Words weren’t even spoken in the overtime’s section intermission. There was a sense that we were going to pull it off, but the exhaustion overwhelmed the group as the locker room stayed silent until we were needed back on the ice.
I don’t even remember the goal that lost it. That’s a blur, a forgotten memory.
One moment you’re going as hard as can be, legs burning and lungs crying for mercy and the next, it’s all over. In an instant. I must have played 60 minutes that night, which turned out to be the longest game in tournament history. It seems like yesterday, still.
As disappointing as the end result was, it was an irreplaceable, defining moment. And it’s helped to properly outline who I am and what I’ve become.