I was in Copps Coliseum in Hamilton on June 7th of 2007. Nights like last night (as infrequent as they are) always take me back there. I watched the Bears throw everything they could at the Hamilton Bulldogs, but nothing they did was enough. I watched the minutes, then seconds tick down on the clock. I watched the red, white, and blue confetti fill the air. I watched Carey Price accept the Butterfield Trophy (the AHL playoffs MVP). I watched the Bulldogs skate around with the Cup in jubilant celebration. And perhaps, most importantly, I watched a recently defeated Bears' team, led by Captain Dean Arsene, skate to a large section of Bears faithful and salute them for their support, and thank them for making the 7 hour trek to Hamilton.
Losses are never easy to swallow. Defeat always comes with a bitter aftertaste that you can still taste on your tongue years later. But in every cloud, there is a silver lining. No, I'm not talking about the huge deposit credit I'll have towards next years' season tickets (although that is quite a bonus). I'm talking about the realization and clarity that comes from suffering a loss. After watching the Bears skate (almost effortlessly) through the playoffs in 2009 and then again in 2010 (until they hit some adversity against Texas in the finals), we were spoiled. It's true that Championships are expected in Chocolatetown, that we don't hang division or conference banners from our rafters. But it's also true that when you learn how to lose, you gain a greater appreciation for a win.
After watching the Bears get ousted in the first round last night, I did some reflecting (because what else are you going to do in post-game traffic heading out of the Giant Center?) [sidenote: - thanks guy in mint-green CRV from Ciocca Honda that felt the need to ignore the right of way law, gun your vehicle, and nearly take my husbands' bumper off trying to beat the traffic because you were so much more important than everyone else that had been waiting in line - also, thanks for the middle finger salute too, that was cute]. The past few years in Hershey, even by Hershey standards, have been nothing short of incredible: 3 Calder Cups in 4 finals appearances in 6 years; we've seen old records become just that as new names found their way into the books for everything from points (personal and team) totals, scoring streaks, winning streaks, and beyond.
We've had the pleasure of watching players such as Mike Green, Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Jeff Schultz, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Michal Neuvirth develop into the forces they are in Washington now. We've been privy to sneak previews of what is to come down the road in DC with guys like Cody Eakin and Dmitri Orlov. We've also been fortunate enough to see guys rehabbing from injury or attempting to get their careers back on track with players like Brent Johnson and most recently, Sheldon Souray. Together, we've rooted for the "never quit" attitude guys like Quintin Laing and Bryan Helmer - and never once has either of these players let us down. Bruce Boudreau's path to where he is now had a stop in Hershey, as did Bob Woods', and I'm suspecting Hershey will be a fond memory for Mark French when he's called to a bigger stage. Just think, we've taken all of this in, and all for roughly $20 a seat. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the spectacular play-by-play broadcast of John Walton, the voice of the Bears. Think of the nights he's filled the air in your car or home, calling the game from less than exotic locales in sometimes makeshift press "boxes" in such a way that if you close your eyes, you can almost see the game playing out in front of you. I wouldn't be the least surprised if John Walton is "called up" to the show in the future, sharing his talent with a larger audience in a larger market.
So today, instead of wallowing in the sadness of the season that wasn't, I'm allowing a new perspective in. I'm looking at what I've gained by investing in this AHL franchise, and I'm thankful for the losses and the early spring exits. They are, after all, what makes the June victories in the Sweetest Place on Earth that much sweeter in the future.