It’s over. The Vegas Golden Knights miraculous season has finally came to an end after the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday night, beating the Knights 4-3 and 4-1 in the series.
Losing any game is tough, but to lose the clinching game of a Stanley Cup Final on home ice is excruciatingly painful. Not only are you consumed by the loss, you also have to witness your opponent chuck their gloves and helmets into the air before jumping on each other in a euphoric celebration. It honestly has to be one the most emotionally draining experiences a player can endure.
Ironically enough, it’s a demoralizing feeling as a fan, too, although, in a twisted way, it kind of embodies what is to be a hockey fan.
Let’s face it; there is only one happy fan base at the end of each hockey season and it’s inevitably the team that hoists the Stanley Cup. As for the other 30 teams, you could be “satisfied” with your season, or feel as if you are “building in the right direction” or “insert sports cliche here to try and masquerade your disappointment.” No matter how you try to spin it, though, you’re likely upset.
I understand every fan feels this in some way, regardless of what sport it is. But hockey just has a different feel to it. Maybe it’s the long, treacherous path required to win the Stanley Cup that grinds your emotional state into submission. Or maybe it’s the 82 game commitment you pledge to your team each and every season. Or maybe it’s the fact that the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in professional sports and the opportunities to actually capture one are usually extremely rare.
It’s not like we’ve had the same teams in the Stanley Cup Final each year. Yes, fans of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins have been spoiled over the past decade, but outside of those four franchises it has been a revolving door of teams in the Stanley Cup Final.
However, despite parity ruling the NHL with an iron fist, some fan bases — like the Toronto Maple Leafs — have been tortured for over 50 years and have no idea what it’s like to experience a Stanley Cup Final, let alone win one.
Hell, look at the Winnipeg Jets. They entered the league in 1979, moved to Phoenix in 1996, then took over the Atlanta Thrashers in 2011 and have remained in Winnipeg ever since. Despite having roots in two cities, though, neither the former, which is now the Arizona Coyotes, or the current, which is the Winnipeg Jets, have ever reached a Stanley Cup Final.
Just think about the droughts those franchises have had to endure and are still going through. Imagine constantly having your heart broken for 50 years and then having to watch an expansion franchise trot into the league and not only find a way to accelerate their path to success, but somehow reach the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season and fall just three wins short of lifting Lord Stanley.
I’m not by any means saying feel sorry for these fan bases, but I’m more or less saying appreciate what we just witnessed this year. Truly cherish this remarkable run by the Golden Knights. Because although this team is built to last, things can change very quickly in the NHL, especially with the hard salary cap. And before you know it, what could be a one-year Stanley Cup drought could suddenly turn into a 20-plus year drought.
Fandom is a funny thing that really is inexplicable. More often than not when it comes to our teams or sports, the things we hate are also the things we love. It’s why moments like Alexander Ovechkin’s joyous celebration while hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head are so special to fans.
Unfortunately, we tend to inevitably experience heartbreak before these glorious moments occur. It’s why I say cherish this season, Knights fans. You truly never know when another year like this will come.