A symbolic description of Coach Dan’s Game 7

By Pierre Filion

There it was; that was going to be it. Game 7. Make or break; win or lose; just one game left. Coach Dan had been in numerous Games 7 though he always said that each game was a Game 7; each game was an opportunity to give your all, to go out of yourself, to play it with pride as if it was really… the final game.

The stands were packed with Green and White fans supporting Coach Dan’s team as they always had for every home game. But everyone in the arena knew that the Downunder Devils were a tough opposition. They were a good team, all dressed in their Black jerseys, black shorts and long black socks; they were dressed for the kill; they sensed that they were generating fear and wanted to capitalize on it. When you are an unwanted and unfriendly visitor you have to create fear and disorganization within the other team. They knew their strengths; they thought they knew Coach Dan’s fears…You could sense their disdain; they had no respect; they smelled blood.

Pregame warmups: Everything was fluid on both sides of the court; loud music, swift passes, accurate shots; everyone was moving expect Coach Dan looking at all this from behind the bench. He had lived his life ‘’behind the bench’’ and had been contemplating this game to be his last game. Retirement was on his mind; he had given so much to the game, to his team and to his players. ‘’We win this one and I will retire’’; but that was for him and for him alone as he had never shared these thoughts with anyone. Coach Dan was a loner; all alone on his bright planet, controlling everything from game plans to motivation, from strategies to ethics…He knew it all; he knew everything. He was in total control, as always.

After the warmup the Green and White retreated to their locker room for the final preparation. And then thunder struck. Rollie the Goalie, the league All Star goalie for the last two years, stepped on some liquid garbage and pulled and cracked something in his knee while running to the dressing room. It was not just the pain; it was the shock to realize that Rollie would be out of Game 7. Coach Dan was going to be deprived of his all star goalie but felt more empathy for Rollie than he did for himself. Quickly Coach Dan faced the issue; Nerdie the Nerd was going to be his man in Game 7.

Nerdie was the team backup goalie; he was just 16, very small and had not played a single minute in the quarter finals, in the semifinals and in the first six games of this series. Nerdie was a bright kid; he loved science, match, algebra and geometry. And he loved lacrosse but played very little of it. He had ‘’his book’’ on every opposing player. That was Coach Dan’s idea; ‘’Keep your book Nerdie, fill it up with relevant information, you’ll need it next year’’…Next year was going to be his year because he would grow in size and would be a bigger factor in each game. He would be the starting goalie because Rollie was going to be overaged next year. But the fact remained that Nerdie was small; very small. Very bright but very small. He was great on long shots but, at this time in his career, quite vulnerable on close in shots.

There was no time to be sorry for anything, the game was starting. ‘’Face the music and dance accordingly’’ was a motto Coach Dan had kept in his mind and was reminding himself of in tough situations. This was a tough one, but worse was going to happen.

Within 5 minutes the visiting Devils has taken a 3-0 lead. Three goals on close in shots. Everyone in Green and White seemed vulnerable, out of touch. The fans were dazed. Where is Rollie? Why is Nerdie in nets? We haven’t touched the ball so far and we already trail by 3…Silence, disbelief, worries. ‘’Are we going to lose Game 7 at home?’’… ’’We have been outscored but we’ll never be outcoached’’ said the fan next to me.. ‘’Coach Dan will make the needed moves; it will be his call; just watch.’’

Down 3-0 Coach Dan allowed everyone to lineup at center after the third goal and just before the faceoff called a time out.  Thirty seconds to change the course of the game; to change the mood of the game; to generate trust and hope. ‘’I know we have been hit hard guys but is there anyone of you who would rather be elsewhere than right here, right now?’’ Coach Dan looked at his players, made eye to eye contact with each one of them and, all of a sudden, Captain Joe Power screamed out ‘’We’re all with you Coach; we’re all in’’. That did not take 30 seconds; it took wisdom and foresight. And Coach Dan had plenty of that.’’

‘’Guys here is what we’re going to do. Captain Joe you’ll be playing defense on a floating box and you’ll position yourself in the middle of the four men defense and no one, you hear me, no one is going to take a shot from close in. Allow the long shots, Nerdie will stop them all and Nerdie has a great stick; look for quick breakouts, quick passes and quick goals. Give them an opening and when they’ll shoot from far out one of you breaks out for a long outlet pass. Nerdie will deliver, trust me. We’ll be back in this game before this period ends’’. They trusted Coach Dan. Everyone always trusted Coach Dan. Not only was he bright, he was also trustworthy.

Bang, bang, bang; 3-3. Green and White had tied the game. Power, who was a power forward was playing ‘’tower of strength defense’’. He was not a defensive player; he had lead the team in scoring that year but had bought in on Coach Dan’s strategy and started to love using his size and his weight to push players away from Nerdie, to push them to the side from where they could not score. He was even starting to love playing defense. Coach Dan told him ‘’When the time comes to play defense, Joe, put all your heart in it, give your best and you’ll love it and you’ll be proud of yourself’’. Joe Power was not scoring but he was creating loose balls like crazy and he remembered Coach Dan’s wise words ‘’One loose ball is one goal they won’t score and one that we’ll score. A loose ball means two goals guys, always remember that’’. That was forefront in Joe Power’s mind that day.

During the intermission Coach Dan said very little. Everyone was resting when Coach Dan came out with his way of using figures and numbers….’’You all know guys that we dominated these last 15 minutes; we shut them out; we outscored them; we outplayed them; we all played for one another and we’ll do that, just that, for the next fourty minutes’’. Coach Dan had a way with words and with numbers…And he was outcoaching the other coach shift by shift, play after play, face off after faceoff, goal after goal.

The second period was tied at 5 and it was 7-7- in the dying minute of the third period. The Devils had the ball. Nerdie was on his toes moving left to right with the ball. He was praying that they would shoot. Don’t we all pray when we want to be at our best. Captain Joe was rock solid; he was on a mission. Coach Dan has selected him to be his top defensive player; he would not want to disappoint his legendary coach. ‘’I’m on a mission, I’m on a mission’’. Are we not all ‘’on a mission’’ when people show trust in us?

And then it happened. Nerdie did what Coach Dan had often told him. ‘’If you drop a shoulder a little bit they’ll shoot. They’ll see this huge opening and they’ll shoot. Just be smart Nerdie and only do it when we need it’’. So Nerdie dropped his left shoulder and the Devil ball carrier thought he saw a huge opening and figured he had the winning goal in his stick. He blasted one from far out. No, he did not blast it, he zinged it. A hell of a shot from the Devil himself; a shot from hell. Coach Dan knew those shots; he had seen a few!

And Nerdie made the save, recovered the ball and lobbed a lifelong pass to Bill Green who, as Coach Dan had said, ‘’cheated’’ when the Devil player shot and was running down court…The ball took an eternity to reach Green’s stick. Coach Dan knew Greenie was going to catch the ball; he also knew Greenie was going to score the winning goal.

He knew that because he was Greenie’s coach. Coaching was his life; that is what he knew he could do best. Teach, explain, prepare, plan strategies, motivate and lead. And repeat, and repeat and repeat. Every day. Positively every day.

Yes, Green did score. 8-7. Everyone was screaming; the fans were wild. ‘’Great pass Nerdie’’. ‘’Great goal Greenie’’.  But there were 27 seconds left on the clock. The Devils took a time-out. ‘’Great call, great call, that will help us’’…and Coach Dan gathered his players and just repeated…’’Is there anyone of you who would rather be anywhere else then right here right now’’.

And then a little bit of strategy. ‘’Magic is going to take the faceoff; Magic is going to win the faceoff and he’ll bury the game. We don’t need a goal, we need the ball. We win the faceoff and we win the game. That will be the last faceoff in this game. Don’t shoot, just keep the ball. That ball is your life. Your life to live fully’’.

Coach Dan positioned his players on the court and demanded that the others, on the bench, sit and appreciate the moment. The Devils were taking a long time out which allowed Coach Dan to look at all his players sitting on the bench. They would all be back next year; they still had years left in their Junior careers.

27 seconds left in the game. Magic won the faceoff and buried the game.

Coach Dan won another Game 7; he also decided he was going to coach again next year.

Coaching was his life and he loved life. And still does….

Dan Mattinson