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Friday, April 24, 2009

Starring the Columbus Blue Jackets as Rocky Balboa

Watching Game Four unfold in Columbus last night, I realized early in the second period that I’d seen this movie before. The year was 1976, and the movie was Rocky. The 2009 version was recast thusly:

ROCKY (2009)

The Columbus Blue Jackets as Rocky Balboa
The Detroit Red Wings as Apollo Creed
Ken Hitchcock as Burgess Meredith...I mean, Mickey
The Columbus Fans as Adrian

Despite the rather radical recasting, the producers (The Hockey Gods) stayed true to the original script: A nobody, from nowhere, steps into the ring with The Champ. It’s supposed to be a glorified exhibition (and with the Jackets down 3-0 going into the game, it was a foregone conclusion, so the analogy holds), but Rocky didn’t get the memo. After Apollo Creed knocks down Rocky early (with a PPG by Lidstrom at 2:58 of the 1st), Rocky picks himself up and lands a solid blow of his own (Huselius PPG at 6:12).

This only serves to anger The Champ, who unleashes a combination and floors Rocky again (Holmstrom at 7:09 and Cleary at 10:02). Rocky struggles back to his feet and holds his own against Apollo until the bell.

Between rounds, Mickey slaps Rocky around a bit and gives him what for…but only because he sees the Rock’s potential and believes in him. Though he’d never admit it, Mickey loves the big lug.

Rocky answers the bell and comes out swinging; now it’s Apollo Creed’s turn to taste the canvas (Nash at 1:44 of the 2nd, followed by Umberger’s PPG at 5:38). There’s a reason Apollo Creed is the Heavyweight Champion of the World, however, and he again demonstrates his powers, administering a beating Rocky won’t soon forget (Hossa at 6:59 and again at 11:26 on the PP). The Rock climbs up the ropes and onto his feet as the ref counts nine, then reaches deep within himself and steps back into the fray…and surprises everyone by dropping The Champ again (on goals by Russell at 15:45 and Modin at 18:04). As the bell rings, Rocky has Apollo on the ropes and is working him over.

More encouragement/tough love is forthcoming from Mickey between rounds, as he has to cut Rocky’s swollen eyelid so the Rock can see. Meanwhile, Apollo Creed’s trainer is asking him why he hasn’t finished the kid yet.

The two exhausted pugilists step back into the center of the ring for the final round. They eye one another warily, an air of mutual respect between them. Suddenly, they lunge toward each other, fists flying. Back and forth, the momentum swings. The crowd roars, and Adrian is one of the loudest. In a flash, they both go down. As the referee counts, both fighters slowly pull themselves back up. The bell rings, ending the match…and Rocky gets jobbed by the officials (who, after simply letting the two teams play throughout the 3rd period, whistled Columbus for a very marginal Too many men penalty with 1:34 remaining, allowing Franzen to win the series for Detroit with a PPG at 19:13. Methinks a certain linesman didn’t want to work OT). Nonetheless, both Rocky and Adrian now know that he has what it takes to go toe-to-toe with The Champ (and The Champ has a newfound respect for the Rock), and they emerge from the arena, bloodied but unbowed, their love for each other stronger than ever.

It was a great movie in 1976, and a great hockey game in 2009. Congratulations to Adrian...I mean, the Columbus fans – after all these years, now you know what playoff hockey looks and feels like. While it ended on a less-than-satisfying note, wasn’t it worth the wait? You should be proud of your Blue Jackets – they played their hearts out in Game Four. Just think of what you have to look forward to in 09-10…remember how Rocky II ended?

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