I sincerely thought about summing up tonight's game with one sentence from Amerks Head Coach, Chadd Cassidy: "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried."
"I was so happy, but joy in this life seldom lasts." (Nickel Creek, The Lighthouse's Tale)
I am not a member of the media, or a journalist, or even really a writer, by trade (although I do a lot of writing on a daily basis) but I do listen to people. I listen for what they don't want other people to hear, and I look for it - in their body language and their facial cues. It lends an interesting perspective to the post-game portion of my blog posts. I listen to what the players and the coach are saying, but I'm watching them. Not analyzing, but observing. Friday night, there was an overwhelming sense of relief in the locker room. "We did it," the whole room sighed. "Look what we can do!" You could feel it in the air; almost smell it, once you got past the nearly-overwhelming smell of well-worn hockey equipment. "We did it."
To say that the smiles had left the room on Saturday, following the 7-4 routing by the Chicago Wolves would be a vast understatement. Goaltender Nathan Lieuwen, pulled in the first period after allowing three goals on the Wolves first five shots, then put back in net in the third period, looked absolutely nothing short of exasperated. Even after a tough game in the Amerks extremely recent string of five straight losses, Lieuwen managed to remain chipper, relatively upbeat. Not tonight, and with good reason. He's a man whose confidence is clearly shaken. And why wouldn't he be?
Nathan Lieuwen is a curious case because Nathan Lieuwen hasn't ever really had a time when he's struggled quite like this. He made it more than clear last season, despite my opinions of his performances (I really do like the guy, I promise), that he is a capable goaltender. My heart genuinely hurt for him when I heard the exasperation in his voice Saturday night. "All I want is to go out and help my team," he said, following the loss to the Wolves. "To sit and watch that second period was torture." Whatever is going on for Lieuwen, his confidence has clearly been shaken. He said that playing the third period was a big boost for him, though, to know that he could have a successful period.
Coach Cassidy hasn't lost confidence in Lieuwen, and I don't think that his teammates have, either. They all sounded pretty confident that Nathan will get his game back. And I think that Lieuwen does, too, simply stating, "I'll do better." It wasn't a sound bite. They were the words of a man who really, nearly desperately, wants to do better for himself and for his team.
Last night was, quite simply, another loss - the Amerks' sixth in their last seven games. It was ugly for a long time, all of the first period, and some of the second. I have to give the Amerks some credit, though, and Cassidy did, too. They were out-played from the start, but they didn't allow the frustration of the situation to get them off of their game. Being behind 7-1, with Brayden Irwin having the lone Amerks goal for a long time (and a nasty little wrap-around move that I am in love with), can throw teams into desperation mode. Make them do things that they normally wouldn't do, make them do stupid things. But the Amerks, to their credit, don't do that. Or, at least, they haven't. They play their game, and they stick with it. Chad Ruhwedel, Dan Catenacci, and Johan Larsson all tried to help out, but they came up short in the end.
The Amerks boarded a bus bound for Hamilton late Saturday night, and will play a matinee against the Bulldogs Sunday afternoon at 3pm. Cassidy said they hadn't decided for sure, but it sounded like he and the coaching staff were leaning towards Andrey Makarov getting the start. He said that he couldn't play Makarov Sunday, plus Friday night, plus two and a half periods on Saturday, hence part of the logic behind putting Lieuwen back in for the third period against the Wolves. The Amerks haven't fared well against the HamDogs lately, so I don't know what might happen on Sunday. The Amerks will return to the Blue Cross Arena November 21st to face the Utica Comets. Something has to give, right? Hopefully, for Nathan Lieuwen and the team as a whole, there's nowhere to go from here but up.