Sunday, November 14, 2010

Redemption Song

Sports are funny things sometimes. As a sportswriter -- either real or wannabe, depending on how you look at it -- I know one of the key things you're always looking for is a common theme or the best story, which typically means trying to determine what player has shamed himself and must do what he can to pull him from the depths. Rarely does it happen quite so quickly though. This week, however, Ilya Kovalchuk managed to do just that. Of course, it's a bit far out for us to readily assume this will change what has been a bitterly disappointing season for the New Jersey Devils, but their high-priced winger may have finally tallied the big goal fans and ownership alike have been waiting for.

And it may have come at just the right time for everyone.

For those who watch hockey, it was hard to escape notice of Kovalchuk's flubbed shootout goal, which capped a loss against Buffalo earlier this week. The video played all over major hockey news stations like TSN and CBC, was a fixture on Sportscenter for the proceeding 48 hours and inspired me to go through every painful loss I've endured as a sports fan.

But Kovalchuk is too good to stay down for long. Now his track record is yet to prove that he's the type of player who can shine in those big moments or carry his team to the playoffs, but his goal-scoring talent is too obvious to deny to any hockey viewer worth their salt. But in a season like this one for New Jersey, that flubbed shot seemed less a one-time error than a symbol all this season has been.

For me personally, I've started to react to the Devils in a way I had only reserved for Mets teams of the late 2000s, and so when I checked my phone Friday to see New Jersey was down 2-0 early against equally as mediocre Edmonton -- I was occupied most of the early evening -- I simply had the feeling of bemused resignation.

But as I watched the last period while furiously transcribing quotes, something funny happened on the way to the League basement. New Jersey rallied from 3-1 down to force overtime against the Oilers and then in the late stages of the extra period, Kovalchuk grabbed that moment of sweet relief.

Let's be straight here. This goal did not immediately transform the Devils' season from disappointment to success. But maybe it's the spark the team needs to finally get the wheels moving, and to get Kovalchuk producing like a $102 million man should. For fans and players alike the overtime-winner was both relieving and exulting because these are the games this team is used to win, and so far this season the road has been long, hard, and frought with New Jersey winding up on the short side of the ledger.

The hope for the organization and it's fans, clearly, is that this win serves as the turning point for a player, a season, a team and a contract that were quickly starting to run sour.

And if nothing else, it's a pretty good story.

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