The end of the regular season is always interesting as teams race to take their place in the standings before playoffs. At this point, lots of counting and predicting goes on throughout the league. Well if this team wins in overtime, and we score at least this many goals in the next game, then perhaps we will bump up to third and not have to travel so far for a first round game…for example. The truth is, however, that all we can really do is go out and do our best each game, allowing the pieces to fall as they may. At this point we know there will be a post season. In a league of eight teams, six of us will go to post-season play. The last two teams in the standings play to keep their place in Riksserien – which is always exciting as this means that a new team from the lower division has a chance to earn a spot in the highest league for women. The teams in first and second place get bys to go directly to the semi-finals in a few weeks, and the four in the middle will start the first round of playoffs in a weeks time.
But now I am getting ahead of myself. How did we come to be in this position in the first place? Well for anyone following along, we started the season with a few tough losses. Determined to find our stride, this group of talented women took it one game at a time. The middle of the season is a bit hazy now, though I am sure it consisted of many ups and many downs as we battled through the dark and cold winter of Sweden. This past weekend we had the opportunity to travel up north once again for two of the last three games of the season. I think I enjoy this league so much because truly anything can happen on any given game-day. I can’t quite determine if it’s inconsistency or equality of talent that makes each game’s outcome unknown but it certainly provides some excitement. Either way, we loaded the bus Friday at 6am and took off on a 16-hour bus trip to the far north of Sweden. Surprisingly, this trip went by rather quickly. There were plenty of options when choosing how to pass the time, and while most people opted to sleep, I went the social movie-watching route – always fun to see Swedes being social, as it can often be an elusive thing to find.
Saturday was game-day number one and after our morning walk and breakfast it was off to the rink to prepare. A hard fought battle ended in our favor and then of course it was back to the bus for another four hours to our next venue. Sunday morning started the exact same way with a walk and breakfast and then a test against the top team in the league. Playing Modo is always an uphill battle as they are very skilled, disciplined, and structured. However, a last minute goal gave us the 3-2 advantage and made for a much more pleasant ten-hour bus ride home to Linkoping.
Throughout my experience abroad, I have wracked my brain trying to put my finger on the differences between NCAA hockey and European hockey. Up until now, it has been a difficult difference to explain. However, this weekend provided a moment of clarity as I finally saw it. As a teammate pointed out in the locker room after our second win of the weekend, we had finally played together as one unit. There it is. It sounds so simple. Modo is such a strong hockey club because they play as one. Often times, you see one or two fantastic players lift a team to victory despite serious shortcomings in other areas of the game. My college experience taught me that there is no other way to win, and this weekend in Sweden proved it to be true. We nineteen players came together as one unit and were unstoppable. With one more game in the regular season, I find that I don’t care where we end up in the standings for the post season. Whatever team we are fated to play, I am certain we will face it the same way we faced this past weekend and come out victorious. The playoffs are a wonderful part of sports, and I am looking forward to seeing what this group can accomplish.