Embrace the Invisible

Justin Goldman




I will never forget when Michael Leighton was pulled in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. Watching him skate to the bench and walk down the runway was a moment of pure emotional openness. His demeanor and the agony in his eyes screamed helplessness. Even though his tense, hesitant play led to some weak goals, Leighton was yanked on a shot he had no chance of stopping. That single fleeting moment, well, it tells a very important story.


It's no secret that a coach often acts on impulse. Some hasty decisions will work out more often than others, like line-shifting on the fly, making a late scratch and much more. But since goaltending is the main X-factor between winning and losing, it's safe to say that goalie decisions are the most important, or at least the most influential, of them all. That's why hasty goalie decisions, especially ones that are made in the playoffs, rarely work out the way you want.


Inside a frothing mad United Center, Game 1 was simply nuts. Nothing was going right for either goalie, coaches lacked control of the game's flow and both teams were shaking off the nerves and rust from a five-day layoff. In such a chaotic situation, even the veteran bench bosses will be prone to a blunder. Like being lost in a forest in the dead of night, Laviolette seemed to lack a solid point of reference when making his goalie change. Gauging how well a goalie is playing in such a schizophrenic game is not easy, for the true nature of the goals against him is often hidden.


But even Merlin, who was considered the greatest medieval coach of all time for King Arthur and his legions, was known to be quite wary of omens. He might be remembered as an old man in a pointy hat waving a wand and magically winning wars, but history teaches that he was an extremely skilled fighter that turned into a keen prophet, a counselor to many kings and a dedicated student in the fields of human psychology and earthly science.


In fact, most of history's prophets, kings and leaders watched for warnings of imminent evil before heading into battle. Perhaps drawing from even earlier ancestors, they all believed that greater forces in the world would signal special messages through symbols visible to anyone who could read their warnings before catastrophe struck.


Unfortunately for Laviolette, pulling Leighton may have caused his own catastrophe</