“There’s always next year.”
Seemingly every May, those four words get brought up in a sort of last-ditch attempt to salvage a season. Usually they appear at the end of a conversation with a friend, after you have rehashed what went wrong and how oh-so-close it was to going the other way. Eventually the reflection comes to an end and with nothing left to deliberate, you grab on to what you have left; those four lonely words.
“There’s always next year.”
No one is happy when their team loses. There is no fun in going from Cup dreams to analyzing what player best fits the system at the 23rd pick in a matter of days. It takes time to grieve the loss of a season, even knowing that winning the Cup is incredibly hard and only one team gets that honor. It will always sting when that the final horn comes calling for you, sending its droning death knell into the cold, arena air. In that moment can be shock, sadness, frustration or any combination of them. However, those four words we tell ourselves also bring hope.
Being a Sharks fan, at this point, “There’s always next year” is like a warm, loving Christmas hug from grandma. It’s like a part of our family now, always there at the end of our journey to embrace us and let us know to look forward and to keep our head up. Grandma is there after a snowy four hour drive with cookies and love, there’s always next year is there with eternal optimism for next season and beyond.
After 2002, being up 3-2 in the series over Colorado and losing in Game Six in overtime, followed by a 1-0 affair in Game Seven, Sharks fans had “There’s always next year.” After winning the President’s Trophy in 2009 and then losing in a swift six games to eight-seeded Anaheim, we had “There’s always next year.” In 2010 and 2011 after making it to the Western Conference Finals, we had “There’s always next year.” In 2014, we could see it in our eyes, that there would always be next year. After finally breaking through in 2016, but coming so close yet so far, we circled back to remind ourselves that revenge could be enacted in 365 days. Like the famous late 1940’s “Wait ‘Till Next Year!” Dodgers, San Jose has become the forever “Next season is our season” team.
But, what about when it’s not? What about the time that we don’t need next season? What about when the time comes that San Jose becomes the champion of the National Hockey League? What about the time when we can finally complete the California Cup Trifecta? What about the time we can erase 2014 forever, and take smug L.A. Kings fans down a few pegs?
What if that time is this year?
It’s the morning of Round One, Game One and I have spent the last five days going over every angle possible. Will Ryan or Martin be in? How’s Thornton’s knee? Can Jones be a playoff performer again? The list of questions I internally debate can fill volumes, but I keep coming back to one main idea: This year is different. I want it to be different. I need it to be different. This belief is what makes sports fun, the belief that my team is going to do it and become Champions. I see no point in being sad and picking against San Jose, because then you’re cheering for your team to lose, and who the hell does that?
Cheering against the Sharks means you think there is no chance. Yet over and over again, hockey has proven that no task is impossible. Coming back from a 3-0 playoff hole? That’s happened three times. Winning from the eight seed? L.A. did it. An expansion team winning a division? Viva Las Vegas! Winning ten overtime playoff games in one postseason? The ’93 Habs say hello. Nothing is out of reach when it comes to playoff hockey, which means the 2018 Stanley Cup Champion San Jose Sharks is a real possibility.
So I don’t know about you, but I am all in on San Jose. I know that later this afternoon my Dad is going to call me and ask what I think is going to happen. I am going to say the Sharks are going all the way and I know he is going to laugh and tell me I’ve sounded like a broken record for the last 20 years. We will go back and forth and I will fire off some stats and some numbers, but we both know what I really am doing. I am avoiding the obvious reason I am penciling in San Jose for a parade in June – this is my boyhood team.
I want to know what it feels like to watch them win the Cup, irrational choice or not. I can’t bring myself to cheer against something that has been there for almost my entire life and has given me such joy for 27 years. I want to see the black gloves flung high into the air. I want to see Pete DeBoer hug his assistant coaches. I want to see a rush of Teal pour over the boards like a cresting wave. I want the classic goalie picture, with arms raised high, waiting for his teammates to mob him.
I want to see Couture skate with the Cup.
I want to see Vlasic take a sweaty lap with the Stanley Cup.
I want to see Burns let out a toothless roar when it’s his turn.
I want to see Hertl, with his childlike exuberance, hold the Cup aloft.
I want to see Meier lift the Cup in his second season.
I want to see Donskoi give the Cup a kiss.
I want to see Pavelski greeting Bettman and then passing the Cup to Joe.
I want to see the weight and demons of an entire career become exorcised when Joe Thornton takes all 34.5 pounds of Lord Stanley’s Cup and hoists them high above his head as he finally has his Cup.
So tonight, make the irrational choice, make the heart pick, and make San Jose your pick. This is the year, my friends, that you and I won’t need those four chilling words, because we will get to watch our favorite team become etched in history.