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How will it end?

By Bill Berg, WiPH Staff, 02/15/23, 1:00PM CST


My annual message for seniors

This was originally published several years ago, but we bring it back every couple years as a reminder to do the right thing.

With the regular season over and playoffs underway, it’s time to take stock. Eight teams will advance to Madison for the State Tournament, which means 84 teams will be disappointed. For most of the Seniors on those 84 teams, the end of this season will also be the end of your competitive hockey career.  

Some of you may go on to play juniors, and some may even play college hockey, but most of you will be done. It has been a long journey, with long car and bus rides, and hours upon hours of practice. This is what winter has been for 12-14 years, practice hockey, play hockey, watch hockey. And it is about to end. It will most likely end at an away rink, far from home. The home team is seeded higher for a reason. 
The question you should think about is “how” it will end. What will the final act be. That will be easy for close games or overtime games. You will be trying frantically to score right up till the final horn sounds. Giving it all you've got right up to the bitter end. 
But what about the not-so-close games? The blow-outs? Your team is down by 4 goals and it's your last shift. I would like you to think about that now, before the game. Because in the heat of the moment, people don't always think things through. They sometimes let their emotions dictate their actions. How you handle these last moments will say a lot about your character and how you will be remembered.
Let's face it, when you know the game, the season, and your career are over, there are no hockey-related consequences for your actions. Penalty box? Been there. Game misconduct? There is no next game to miss. Discipline from your coach? Once that final horn sounds, he's not your coach any more. So hey, no worries.
But actions always have consequences. There are still your teammates, your school, and your parents to think about. What you do on the ice reflects on all of them, and can sully their reputations as well as yours. No matter how your high school hockey career has been to this point, if you take out an opponent with a cheap shot in your final game, that is what will come to define you.  That is what you will be remembered for.
A few years back, we had a playoff game in Antigo against a team that we had some history with. It was a hard-fought, but relatively clean game. Antigo was clinging to a one-goal lead, and the other team pulled their goalie with about a minute left. Antigo scored on the empty net with thirty-some seconds to go to pretty much clinch the game. We had future Badger Joe Piskula on defense and All-State goalie Derek Waldvogel in the net, so we weren't going to give up two goals in the time left. The game was essentially over but we still had to finish out the time on the clock.
The other team put out their five seniors to finish the game. Now maybe their coach told them “This is your last shift seniors, make it one to remember”. Or maybe he didn't say anything to them, I wasn't within ear-shot of their bench, so I don't know. All I do know is that when the puck was dropped, they won the draw and dumped the puck into the Antigo end, and five guys took off at full speed to meet Piskula in the corner. I do not believe their intentions were honorable. Fortunately, one of them was in too big a hurry and was off-side, drawing a whistle and stopping play.
Antigo coach Bill Thoreson saw what was about to happen and replaced Piskula with Pete Wetzel on defense. Pete had two things going for him in that situation. First, he was about as tough as they come, he used to hang from the rafters at the rink and make his way across the ice. His goal for after high school was to become a Navy Seal, which he did. And second, he really wasn't much of a hockey player, so he was expendable.  We still needed Piskula for the next game.
That game ended with the puck in the corner, five-on-Wetzel, and Pete still standing at the final horn. No harm, no foul. But what if they hadn't gone off-side? What if they had all five jumped Piskula in the corner. What if they had managed to do some serious harm? Would it have been worth it? Putting a premature end to the career of the only person on the ice who had the skills to continue playing hockey after high school? And for what? Revenge? How do you live with that?
Most teams play the way they have been taught, and live up to the expectations of their parents, coaches, and schools. But every year we hear about an incident or two where things got ugly because somebody thought "what have I got to lose?" Don't let that be you this year. 
I am going to leave the comments open for anybody to post. I'd like to hear from any seniors who are about to or just finished their final game.