Despite a disappointing finish to their regular season (losing 14 of their last 20 games), Valpellice made it to the playoffs with a fifth place finish in the league. Once there, they were seeded against the fourth place team for a best-of-seven quarterfinal match-up. The odds were against them. Not only had they just completed a rocky stretch in their schedule, but they were also now paired against Renon. And, well, they hadn’t beaten Renon in any of their previous five meetings. So while there was only a one-place finish separating the two teams in the league standings, it felt like a lot more. Not to mention the fact that the Valpe squad had been plagued by injuries since the middle of the regular season. They were lucky if they had 12 healthy guys on the bench to battle against Renon’s overflowing roster. Sounds like the making of a Mighty Ducks film, doesn’t it? Where, miraculously, the underdogs arise triumphant against their nemesis. Which is exactly why I worried as Kevin headed out the door to catch the bus for game one. I knew that this wasn’t a Disney movie….
When Valpe lost 4-2, everyone was disappointed, but not necessarily surprised. The team hadn’t won at Renon’s rink in seventy-six years. Which made it all the more important that they win game two at home.
Which they did! And it was an overtime win to boot!! (This in itelf was an accomplishment seeing as it was their first OT win in the season.) The town went crazy! A series tying quarterfinals win had fans celebrating as if Valpe had won the Stanley Cup. While the players knew that the work was far from over, it was clear that the victory would give them some momentum for the next game on Renon’s turf. But would it be enough to bring them a long-overdue victory on Renon’s ice?
That question was answered with a resounding yes as yet another 4-3 overtime win was recorded in the books. Another game-winner for Valpe’s top-scoring defensemen, 70 saves for Kevin, an all-around incredible effort by the rest of the team, and a first-time-in-a-long-time win at the Renon arena!
At this point, two more wins seemed like a lot to be asking for. Especially when, for the sake of the exhausted players, we were asking for two wins in two games. But, game four at home ended in a 4-2 victory. Things were looking good….
For game five, over 200 fans boarded buses for the seven-hour trek to Renon. The team needed another win to follow up their unprecedented win there less than a week before. But they weren’t going to do it alone. Valpe supporters outnumbered the Renon ones in the stands. And when Valpe earned their third overtime win in the series, the crowds erupted! It didn’t matter that there were still 8 wins separating the team from a playoff championship. Afterall, Italians are about the here and now. And there and then, fans had something worth celebrating! After losing all five regular season OT games, they’d won all three in the playoffs. For the second time in over seventy-five years, they won at Renon (twice!). And for the first time in Valpellice’s Serie A history, the team was headed to the Semis!
So, no. These five games didn’t make up a story-line to a Disney movie. But it certainly had a Disney-worthy ending! Since last Saturday’s exciting win, the Valpe team has had a much-needed week of recovery. But let’s hope that they’ve replenished their energy and refueled their adrenaline for another winning series. Because, even though everyone will look back on the season as a success if it were to end tomorrow, it would be so much fun if it didn’t. And sure, they will be up against the league’s best team. And, sure, winning four games against Brunico will be a daunting task. But as I witnessed in Valpe’s wins over Renon, none of that really matters. This is playoff hockey.