Cotton: The Game I’ll Never Forget

By David Cotton

This article was originally featured in the January, 2016 Hawk Tawk Mag-E-Zine, the exclusive online newsletter for Waterloo Black Hawks season ticket holders.

Growing up, I’ve always, kind of, been on the winning end of things.  Wins are great, but the significance to this game – that I haven’t been able to shake – is the sickening feeling that I had after the game, and I didn’t want to ever feel that ever again.  I just felt so…hopeless, in a way.

In 2013/14, my first year at prep school at Cushing Academy in Massachusetts, it was the first round of playoffs.  They call the tournament “New Englands,” because it’s all up in that area.

Before that season, I hadn’t gotten any looks anywhere, but I led our team in points.  That’s the year I committed to Boston College, so it just opened a bunch of doors.  It was the first year I thought that I could make something out of hockey.

I had already lived away from home, but going to prep school makes you, kind of, more independent, because you had to do everything on your own, instead of having a billet mom make dinner for you or do your laundry at 15.  So that was the biggest adjustment.

A lot of New England kids came to the USHL later.  My linemate, Bailey Conger – he just tore his labrum, so he’s out for the year –was on Bloomington.  Michael Turner, he’s in the OHL.  Joey Daccord, he’s on Muskegon, drafted by Ottawa.  He was our goalie.  During that time, we had J.D. Dudak who was with Dubuque, and Adam Gaudette that was in Cedar Rapids last year.

Our team only had two losses or three losses on the year playing in the New England Prep School Athletic Conference.  The top line, or top two lines on some teams, would be able to compete in this league.  The difference is the bottom two.

The season is from the beginning of November to March.  It’s a 32-game schedule. There’s like 70 teams in the league.  The top eight go to the main tournament, and we got in because of the strength of schedule.  We had the hardest schedule.

We were the eighth seed and played Salisbury in the first round.  They won it the year before in 2013.  The higher seed hosts, and Salisbury, Connecticut, was like a three-hour drive from where we were.  They’re an all-boys school, and they’re an athletics school, so they had everyone there.

Their rink had benches on one side of the ice, and all the bleachers on the other side facing us.  It was too far of a drive for us to get a fan bus, so it was like all of their fans there, and then on the upper deck, it was just packed with scouts, so it was a pressure environment.  Really crazy actually.  The rink couldn’t hold a lot of people, because it’s just one side, but it was standing-room-only for the people that did come, because they had the whole upper section reserved for scouts.  Really loud.

I don’t really remember specific plays from the game, but I actually had both of our goals that night.  In the first period, they had it in our zone, and it kind of just popped out into the middle.  I think they had a corner-to-the-middle pass and it just popped over the defenseman’s stick.  The two D just had a miscommunication.  They both went, then they both backed off, and I just had an open lane.  I went down on a breakaway and just did a quick move to my backhand. That’s the way the first period ended.

They scored two quick ones at the beginning of the second.  I ended up scoring with about 15 seconds left in the period.  Actually it was just a change on our part.  I was taking it, and one of our guys jumped on and one jumped off, so it kind of set a pick for me.  I had an open lane down the boards and tucked it shortside, high.

Then it was just kind of back-and-forth deadlocked for the third period. Overtime and double overtime, every shot, you had to hold your breath.

Their winning goal was an innocent shot.  They threw it at the net, and our guy went down to block it.  It redirected off of him and shot towards the left.  It hit off their guy sitting backdoor and just popped in off his pants.  I’d just come off the ice, and I looked at the rush that they were coming down on, and I saw it had gone in.  I just dropped and sat on the wall, head up looking toward the ceiling, like “how did that happen.”  I was so exhausted too, I could barely stand up.

The handshake was hard, because I was typically on the other end of that…on the winning side, so going through the handshake line, it was hard to see all the Salisbury players being all happy and seeing how we felt.  It was just simple “Good game…good luck with the next round.”  That’s kind of the way hockey is; everyone’s a class act once the game’s over.

You can say “one should beat eight” or whatever, but whenever playoffs come around, it’s not going to be about the pretty play, it’s going to be the person that’s more willing to win…who’s going to be willing to make that blocked shot.  It’s just more of a desire to win for playoff time.

It was so disappointing, after everything we’d worked for.  It was just one of those games where we should have won, and we just didn’t.  I just had, like, a hole in my stomach.

We were a really close group; we worked really hard, and coming up short was just something I never wanted to go through again.  That’s the biggest thing I took away from the game.  It was more of a learning experience than a happy ending.

Waterloo Black Hawks season ticket holders receive exclusive content like this each month during the season in the Hawk Tawk Mag-E-Zine.  To find out about other benefits – including how season ticket holders save 14-33% compared to game day prices – call the Black Hawks at (319) 232-3444.

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