“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;/For he to-day that sheds his blood with me,/Shall be my brother…”–King Henry before the battle of Agincourt, Henry V by William Shakespeare.
While many hockey fans might not be familiar with this quote from one of William Shakespeare’s plays, it marks a great speech made by a young English king to an army that had all the odds going against it, in a word–adversity.
They were tested.
Landing in France with 12,000 men, by the time they reached the day at Agincourt, a field barely the size of a modern-day football field, they had dwindled to 5,900 mostly due to disease. On the day of battle, the English were outnumbered nearly 4:1 by the French army that stood between 20,000 and 30,000 strong. At the end of the day, the English were victorious, having lost only 112 men to France’s losses of between 7,000 and 10,000.
How did they do it? They played to their strengths and they kept it simple. To learn more, one need only go read the play or Google the battle, but fast-forward about 600 or so years to Wednesday night’s game against the Washington Capitals at Mellon Arena.
The opening minutes of the game did not look good for the Penguins as one of the most bizarre chain of events led to a stinging goal past the de-weaponed Marc-Andre Fleury by the dreaded Alex Ovechkin. The faces of the white-clad fans drained of enough blood to match their shirts and towels. It could have been the beginning of the end. The Penguins had been there before, last season, two weeks ago, all year…name the time.
But these were the Penguins, the Cardiac Kids who last year didn’t seem to know that they weren’t supposed to make it to the Stanley Cup finals, two games shy of the coveted cup of Lord Stanley, their grail. They sailed through the rounds until they hit adversity in the form of the Detroit Red Wings.
This year, they struggled through a lack-lustre season, but refused to give up, somehow found a way to keep themselves within reach though the odds were stacked against them (maybe 4:1). They entered the playoff standings better than bottom of the barrel and met adversity early in the form of the Philadelphia Flyers.
And they banded together under their newly-crowned Henry V. They kept it simple. They played to their strengths and tried to minimize and improve upon their weaknesses. The Caps came out swinging, and they hung with them in games that could have gone either way.
They were a little wounded with players like Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Ruslan Fedotenko, Tyler Kennedy, Pascal Depuis, and Chris Kunitz struggling to score, but they still fought to have an impact, to make a contribution, any contribution to help the team win. It paid off for Malkin spurred on by an inspired Maxime Talbot. The rest, encouraged, continue to persevere.
Their time will come.
If any team represents the spirit of sport, of the concept of team, of the sheer will to never quit no matter how bad it is or how dire it seems, it is the Pittsburgh Penguins. Time and again, unsung heroes have stepped up and made the difference. In this game, it was Ruslan Fedotenko and Kris Letang. Leaders have led and coaches have marshalled their troops to keep morale high and desire strong. They have carried themselves in a way that would make any parent of a young athlete proud to point to these players as role models, ambassadors of the game.
In listening to the interviews of the various Penguins players over the past several days, one thing is glaringly evident: there is a calm (not cocky) confidence. There is a belief in the words they are saying, something that is not usually the hallmark of the general interview where all the right catch-phrases are used in all the right places in a well-rehearsed tone.
But look on the bench. Their heads are up. They are alert, attentive, engaged, focused. Even when a player’s performance seems underwhelming to the average fan, it pays to look at the entire picture. From stars to 4th liners, they encourage each other and bolster each other. They back each other up, and they stand up for each other. They don’t shout at each other on the bench for not getting the puck enough. They don’t pull faces of taunting buffoonery, full of disrespect.
The entire picture shows what’s beyond the stats and what makes the stats possible–the players who struggle to score racing for pucks, trying again and again, getting physical, playing defense, working hard, fighting to win draws and clear pucks. The reward is that eventual goal or the helper that got them the win. Game 3 was as much a team win from a band of brothers who have grown together, struggled together and emerged all the stronger for it.
That’s what the Pittsburgh Penguins have.
That’s what gets Lord Stanley’s Cup.