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Shea-ved Ice: Sunday’s Mixed Bag Of Topics

By: Casey Shea
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Forgive me for not having a post up in the last few days. My wife and I are currently involved in a house hunt that is turning serious, but at least it happened during a pretty down week for the Pens.

I was very impressed with the effort and compete level in Tuesday’s 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. However, as well as they played on Tuesday was as poorly as they played during Saturday afternoon’s 3-0 shutout loss to the Habs.

I don’t know what it is about afternoon games, but the Penguins always seem to struggle when the puck drops around lunchtime.

There’s really not much to say about that game. The entire team was flat and their best chance came 16 seconds into the first period when Dustin Jeffrey rang iron.

Of course, Montreal stormed up ice after Jeffrey’s near-miss and scored seconds later.

Anyone wanting to blame Marc-Andre Fleury for those three goals he allowed yesterday needs to brush up on hockey knowledge.

There are two reasons Dan Bylsma yanked his star netminder.

First, he was saving Fleury from being continually hung out to dry by his teammates. Second, he was trying to light a fire under his team that wasn’t there yesterday.

When the team is turning the puck over and handing the opposition prime scoring chances, you cannot point the finger at your goaltender.

Speaking of Bylsma, congratulations are in order because he signed a three-year contract extension on Wednesday. Hard to argue with that move by General Manager Ray Shero.

Fair warning, I’m about to go off-topic here because it’s a subject near and dear to my heart.

As shocked as I was to see such a lackluster effort by the Penguins, I was equally as shocked to see my high school alma mater claim the Maine state championship last night.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that Thornton Academy would have won the state title. The school had never made a state final before, let alone won one.

That’s not to say the teams of the past and ones I played on didn’t have the talent to compete. The talent was there to even against some of the prep schools who brought in kids with longer name plates on their jerseys than the current Stanley Cup drought for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Really, is high school hockey that big of a deal to be bringing in Russian ringers? Apparently a couple schools up there thought so, but I’m not bitter or anything.

Thornton Academy knocked off bitter rival Biddeford in the regional final to advance to the state title game last night. Beating Biddeford alone would have left me feeling pretty good about the season. It’s like New Englanders say about the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry, “if we only win 18 games a year and they’re all against the Yankees, it’s a good year.”

The rivalry between Thornton and Biddeford breeds its own culture. The amount of old-timers that show up for the annual Battle of the Bridge football game is impressive. The two towns practically shut down for the game.

Anyway, the hockey title games were played on the same ice as the Lewiston Maineiacs of the QMJHL.

In the state final, Thornton Academy scored the game-winner in the second overtime period. You couldn’t write a better script if you tried.

I never thought I would see this day. I remember the days of leaving the rink at midnight or later after practice, getting a couple hours of sleep and then having to go to school in the morning.

The teams would always get out of the gate well, but by midseason the rigors of practicing that late started to take its toll.

It didn’t help that the coaching staff was sub-par. They thought they were equals with coaching legends like Scotty Bowman because they played some junior hockey. I wish I were kidding.

Figure in how most of their decisions were influenced by the parents on the booster club and it made for a dysfunctional group all around.

The politics and poor coaching are what led me to not play my senior year and instead join up on a men’s league to play with my father. I can honestly say, I had more fun playing hockey that year than I did in the previous three years of high school hockey.

When I presented the idea to my parents about not playing my senior year, they were nothing but supportive as they always were. They even allowed me to volunteer to play as a goalie and a forward for both the JV and Varsity team my junior year due to a player shortage. That meant lugging two sets of equipment to the rink every night for practice and traveling all over the state to dress for two teams. Not once did they ever complain.

This isn’t meant to be a bashing of the school or its program. It’s just the way it was not all that long ago.

The coaching regime has changed a couple of times, as has the practice schedule. I’m very happy and excited to see the program rise from where it was to where it is today.

It gives me an immense sense of pride to see them on the top of the high school hockey world in Maine.

So, congrats to the players and coaches and hopefully it’s the first of many to come.

If you’ve lasted this far, I thank you. Let’s get back to the issue at hand here.

I suspect the Penguins will have a much better effort this afternoon against the Edmonton Oilers.

I don’t want to make excuses, but perhaps having not played a game since Tuesday allowed the team to relax a little bit.

With the worst team in the NHL in town today, the Penguins should come out with more jump and will hopefully skate away with two big points in the standings.

Jordan Staal will be in the lineup after getting hit in the face with a stick while sitting on the bench on Saturday. However, Matt Niskanen will not play due to an illness. Bylsma said the team will go with five defensemen in today’s game.

Time will tell how it will all play out.

You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CaseySheaPens.

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