One On One: There Was Light at the End of the Tunnel

Most teams at any level in any sport would have packed their suitcases, boarded a bus and headed for home.

But when the Cape Cod Storm Tier II U14 girls’ ice hockey team fell Sunday to eventual National finalist Amherst, NY, the Cape girls did something that opened the eyes not only of their opponents, but also USA National Hockey officials, parents and hockey fans worldwide.

The Cape Cod Storm U14 girls' ice hockey team displayed a degree of sportsmanship often unseen in sports at any level. Photo courtesy of Jessica Miller Dwyer

The Cape Cod Storm U14 girls’ ice hockey team displayed a degree of sportsmanship often unseen in sports at any level.
Photo courtesy of Jessica Miller Dwyer

The Cape Cod Storm girls stuck around in East Lansing, Michigan Sunday, hours after suffering what would be to many a crushing loss, and headed to the Suburban Ice Arena to cheer on the team that had beaten them for the state title back in the fall.

You heard it right. The Cape Cod Storm girls decided not to wallow in their own demise or harp on about whose fault it was that they lost. They didn’t fight or bicker or throw a collective fit. No fingers were pointed at coaches. No emails and texts and complaints were filed. No one demanded a refund of the nearly $20,000 the girls had to raise just to travel to Michigan to vie for a National title.

The Storm girls suited up in matching jerseys and created a human tunnel for the Assabet Valley U14 Red team — the Cape’s in-state rivals — well, storm out of and onto the ice in a unified display of Massachusetts sisterhood and shocked not only the massive crowd on hand to cheer on Assabet’s opponent in the National title semifinals, but, more importantly, to give the Assabet team a symbolic nod of respect.

It was a priceless gesture deserving of high praise. There were no hands out or parents scrambling to ensure their superstars got their “trophies” or “awards” in spite of losing. The girls who would be champions did what any honorable competitor SHOULD do: they behaved with humility and courage in defeat.

In world where nearly everyone who loses in every competitive venture has something to whine about, there were no tears of self-pity shed by this brave crew of Cape Cod hockey all-stars. There was no back-stabbing of teammates or petitions filed against the coach who did not win. There were no back room machinations or pseudo-political dealings by some disgruntled parent whose child can do no wrong and should be held up for the world to adore.

It was a moment that should be forever reserved for the top shelf of Cape Cod sports memories and heralded as much as any victory. The gesture did not fail to garner recognition from the Assabet Valley U14 Red head coach Mike Houlihan. Here’s what Coach Houlihan had to say:

“In perhaps one of the greatest displays of sportsmanship in the history of Mass Hockey, Mike (O’Brien) and his team came to cheer on and support us in our semi-final game at Nationals against the number-two ranked team in the country from Michigan — a ferocious opponent. They had a raucous home crowd which we experienced in our round robin game against them and they were out in full force for the semi-final game.

Mike and the girls entered the rink en masse, fully decked out in matching Cape Cod team gear just as the game was starting and were loudly chanting for Assabet and Massachusetts the entire game.  It gave a HUGE lift to our team and is a tremendous testament to the spirit of hockey, what the National Championship is all about, and hockey in Massachusetts.  What made this especially poignant is that they went out of their way to do this after losing their semi-final game at a rink 25 minutes away.  They were loud the whole game and the boost it gave our girls was overwhelming the entire game.

When we came out of the locker room to start the 2nd overtime they formed a tunnel for us to run through onto the ice.  Every Assabet player, parent, and coach was deeply moved by this amazing show of support.  It worked!  We won and Mass Hockey is alive and well.

Please accept our sincere thanks and deep gratitude for this amazing, amazing gesture.  And please make sure Mike gets this message.

Kind regards,

Mike Houlihan, Assabet U14 Red Minor”

I’m not so sure I’ve ever been moved by a gesture of humility in sports, because I was taught to expect that’s the way it should be. I certainly never failed to not notice an opponent’s lack of humility or respect, but it truly is the little things in life and in competitive sports, to me at least, that make all the difference.

“That (gesture) gave us a life that we needed,” Coach Houlihan said.

To the Cape Cod Storm head coach Mike O’Brien for instilling in these young ladies a sense not of entitlement but of graciousness, we should all be thankful that people still exist in this world whom are willing to teach such lessons to our impressionable youth.

Sean Walsh’s column One On One appears on weekly. To email him send to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @coachwalshccbm.

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