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The Road of Samuel Ross Chapter 2


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    Samuel knew he was talented, but never dreamed that so many people had noticed his skills.  He had never heard of the VHL, but after showing interest in the league, it was clear they knew at least a little about him.  The offers to play in the minor leagues started to trickle in.  Sam had picked an odd time to join the league, the draft had already happened and most teams had a good idea of how their roster was going to shape up.  Even with what seemed like bad timing, Samuel had a decision to make.  He had two offers to be a starter, and while that seemed great, he wasn’t so sure that he was starting material.  That left one option,  the Ottawa Lynx.
     Samuel’s decision wasn’t solely made on playing time though, it had a lot to do with the Ottawa GM.  Acyd Burn was starting his first season for a team that had lost in the finals the season before.  “Perfect situation” thought Sam, “I can learn this league, be a backup without a lot of pressure.”  After a day or two of consideration, he accepted a one year deal with Ottawa to back up Raymond Bernard.

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    For a kid who had never been out of the United States, Ottawa was quite a shock.  Not knowing any French, exchange rates or even what the menu was (what is this poutine???) Samuel Ross needed help.  A lot of rookie goalies would feel threatened by a GM signing another rookie, but Raymond Bernard wasn’t like that.  Raymond Bernard had also made a big name for himself in a small league in California, but was much more cultured than Ross.  Samuel Ross had found his new friend and Sherpa on his professional hockey journey.  Ross knew that Bernard was the backup and didn’t mind his role.  Ross told his general manager, “I don’t care much about playing time, just play whoever is better.”  That didn’t mean he was going to let Acyd have an easy decision.

 

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Ottawa dropped their first game to Halifax.  Halifax had one of the better goalies and were just a little better than the Lynx.  The team chemistry was just off.  Ottawa hit the practice rink hard and the wins started rolling.  Although Ottawa was on a winning streak, the league was held hostage by the Minnesota Storm.  The Storm had the number one overall draft pick, Berocka Sundqvist and a strong offensive minded defensive corps.  Ottawa also was being held hostage by their penalties.  Hockey is a strange game, Ottawa was having penalty problems but only had one big hitter, league leader Anthony Hawk.  Instead of giving a huge, domineering speech Acyd Burn kept his cool.  He knew that Ottawa needed a fresh face and some more practice time.  It was time for a trade.  Samuel Ross had never heard of Finnegan MacBurn, but as a rookie, he had not known of ninety percent of the league.  Soon everyone would know both.  

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      Finnegan MacBurn was a hot shot defenseman that took over lower leagues.  He was college educated with the swagger of arrogance that came from a wealthy family line in California.  Opposites do indeed attract because both hit it off instantly.  Samuel and Finnegan both had huge work ethics and both liked to have fun.  It was nothing unusual for MacBurn to buy the team drinks after wins and to jump into the post game celebratory antics with Samuel.  It seemed like the defense was solidified, but what about the forwards?
Zeno Mitili was in his second year with Ottawa, but was playing like a 10 year veteran.  He was scoring at a record pace that had not ben seen since the experience cap was put on the minors.  There were rumors of him scoring an unimaginable 150 points.  He wasn’t alone atop the leader boards.  Anthony Hawk was turning into one of the best two way players in the minors, but in stepped another contender for that title, Thorny Underyew.
      No one was sure how everyone knew Underyew would be a great captain.  He wasn’t the biggest locker room presence lacking the flair of Samuel Ross and Finnegan MacBurn.  However, you did not want to let him down.  He was a lot like Oscar Robertson, you might do the wrong thing once, but that was your one time.  If you were in the right place, Underyew made sure you were successful.  Thorny was moving up the scoring ladder and reminding people of another great leader, Mark Messier.  One third through the season, Ottawa sat in third place behind last season’s champions, the Philadelphia Reapers and the undefeated Minnesota Storm.  This set the table for a huge match up between Ottawa and Philadelphia.
     Even though Samuel Ross wasn’t playing, this game gave him the sense of nervous excitement of a playoff game.  Ottawa knew they were good and knew they had a good chance of winning, but Minnesota had looked so impressive this season. Ottawa jumped out to a two to one lead with Finnegan scoring a goal.  The impressive stat was that Ottawa out shot Minnesota 18-6. Minnesota tied it up, but the game wasn’t as close as the score suggested.  MacBurn assisted on captain Underyew’s goal to give Ottawa a 3-2 lead and Anthony Hawk scored and empty netter to take down undefeated Minnesota 4-2.  Ottawa only allowed 12 shots the entire game and Finnegan MacBurn was named first star.  Finally everyone knew how good Ottawa was, it was no longer quiet confidence.  The Lynx weren’t braggarts or boisterous they remained business like and casual.  They came in, took care of business and left.  This trend continued.
Samuel Ross was getting more and more playing time.  He was also racking up more and more wins.  Raymond Bernard was sneaking up on some of the leader boards for goalies.  There were draft rumors for Bernard, but there was business to take care of in the form of the Philadelphia Reapers.
     Minnesota had played hockey at a good pace, but couldn’t keep up with the buzz saws that were Philly and Ottawa.  The minors became a 2 team race for the top seed.  Getting the number one seed was a big priority since it was unlikely the number one seed would face Minnesota unless they made the finals.  Philadelphia had also signed some rookies who were highly touted prospects.  It got under Samuel Ross’s skin just a little bit.  Who are these guys and how do they just waltz in and act like they own the place?  Ottawa had worked hard to be where they were and these guys just showed up acting like they were the best.  Samuel got his revenge beating Philadelphia in a start that was a surprise.  Usually Ross was playing against teams that were not quite as talented or deep as Ottawa.  That helped inflate his win/loss record.  Ross had won 20 games as a backup and was one of the top goalies in the goals against average category, but none of that was as sweet as beating the Philadelphia Reapers.  It wasn’t so much the win or his performance, stopping 21 of 23 and winning in a shootout, but the confidence Acyd showed in him.  “yeah I wanted you to know that we could beat Philly matter who was in net”.  This win put Ottawa up 4 points with 10 games to go and they never looked back.  They secured the number one seed, the best record in the VHLM with 61-9-2.  The team had 3 100 point scorers and leaders all over the leader board.  Samuel Ross finished his rookie regular season with a record of 20-2-2 and .887 save percentage and 2.11 goals against average with 2 shutouts.  None of that mattered now, it was playoff time.
     The Lynx drew the Las Vegas Aces in the first round.  Everyone thought it would be a sweep.  Las Vegas came out of the gates ready to go and maybe Ross was starstruck by getting his first playoff start.  The Aces played great and won 4-3.  They wouldn’t get any closer, however and Ottawa won 4 straight to advance.  Next up for Ottawa was their nemesis, the Halifax 21st.  Halifax had a good year, but always seem to kick it up a notch against Ottawa.  It was Ottawa that jumped out to a quik 2-0 series lead.  Halifax had gone through a general manager change during the year.  Interim GM Fonzi pulled some magic as the Halifax defense and goalie played great and tied the series at 2.  Ottawa won the next 2 and closed out the series to win 4-2.  
In the other bracket, Minnesota managed to take down Philadelphia.  That number one seed paid off well for Ottawa.  Now was their biggest test of the year.  Ottawa had knocked Minnesota out of the ranks of the unbeaten, but could they do it consistently?  The series looked like it was going to be one for the ages.  Ottawa, who had a deep history versus Minnesota who would have had a historically good season except for Ottawa and Philadelphia.  Everyone, including the Ottawa locker room, were expecting a long, hard-fought series.   Have I mentioned hockey is a weird game?                Minnesota was rather un-ceremoniously trounced 4-0 in the series.  Raymond Bernard had backstopped the Lynx to a championship.  The Ottawa forwards had been consistently strong and the defense played a great two way series.  Samuel Ross was a champion.    It was a bittersweet moment, as much as the championship was great, it was his last moment in a Lynx uniform.  Samuel had a big decision to make.
     Samuel had the experience to jump into the VHL draft.  It was his chance to make it to the top tier of a professional league even if it was as a backup.  He could also stay down in the minors and develop even more as a superstar in that league.  After a few interviews from VHL general managers, a big announcement would change the future of the league.  Two new teams would join the league.  This was good news for Samuel Ross and now former roommate Raymond Bernard.  This means that a possible 4 new goalie spots opened up.  It was a chance for each goalie to be a part of history and not have the pressure of trying to start on a championship caliber team.  With a week left until the draft, Samuel Ross made his decision to leave the VHL minor league system.  Sure he was a backup on a championship team, he had put in lots of work.  VHL gms had noticed, scouts had noticed and Samuel felt like he had achieved about all he could in the minors.  Also, what if he took the spot for the next no name goaltender from some part of the world that no one had heard of?  What if he took the next Samuel Ross’s spot?  It just felt right to move up.  After an excited phone call to his parents, Samuel took a week off in South Carolina.  He went back to his life of fishing, boiled peanuts, frying everything in site, and showing his parents his newfound dish of “hillbilly poutine” at least for a week,  Hockey was never far away as he still was an instructional coach for a developmental summer camp.  Hockey was no longer a ticket to greener pastures, it was his job.  The only question that was left was who would draft him?    

 

Holy cow there is 1924 words in here.  Sorry if you actually read the whole thing!

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