by Keith Avallone, PLAAY Games
So I had this idea a few years ago, what if pro hockey had a pre- or post-season "tournament" like the NCAA college basketball tournament, single-elimination, win and you advance. I think it would be unpredictable and cool! Pretty much any team could get on a roll and win the whole thing!
Fellow Coloradoan Steve Heller and I decided over an exchange of e-mails to get together Saturday January 9, 2016 to make this idea happen. We met at Enchanted Grounds in Highlands Ranch, CO—the same place we met last winter for our "All-Time Franchise Great Hockey Teams" tournament. Our "Commissioner's Surprise" tournament featured the 2014-15 Pro Season HOCKEY BLAST cards in a single-elimination tournament using all 30 NHL teams, matched up randomly! I sent out e-mail invitations to all Denver-area PLAAY Gamers to stop by and watch or play, and four other local PLAAY Gamers took me up on it: Jason Retallack, David Santistevan, Michael Lemick and Mike Zett.
Obviously, we weren't going to be able to full-play the entire tournament on Saturday. Our plan was to full-play play the "elite eight," "final four" and "championship game"—that would be a total of seven games. To get there, me and Steve did a combination quick-play/solo play for the first two rounds.
We needed to give first-round byes to two teams in order to make the brackets work: so, naturally, we gave them to Chicago and Tampa Bay, the real-life championship Cup teams. The rest of the first round looked like this…
Washington at Pittsburgh
Nashville at Philadelphia
Anaheim at St. Louis
San Jose at Arizona
Carolina at Edmonton
Vancouver at Minnesota
Detroit at Buffalo
Toronto at Ottawa
Florida at Los Angeles
Calgary at New Jersey
For the first round, eight of the games were full-played, and six were quick-played using the Instant results chart that comes with the set…
FIRST ROUND FULL PLAY
Pittsburgh 3, Washington 1
Philadelphia 4, Nashville 2
Boston 8, Columbus 0
Arizona 5, San Jose 3
NY Islanders 4, Montreal 3 (OT)
Ottawa 4, Toronto 2
NY Rangers 3, Dallas 2
Winnipeg 4, Colorado 3 (OT)
FIRST ROUND QUICK PLAY
St. Louis over Anaheim (OT)
Carolina over Edmonton
Vancouver over Minnesota
Detroit over Buffalo
Los Angeles over Florida (OT)
New Jersey over Calgary (OT)
The biggest surprise was Philadelphia knocking off Nashville; it was a tight game, 1-1 at the end of two. Philly scored goals in the eighth (Del Zotto) and ninth (Giroux) minutes, but the Preds kept grinding. Forsberg's goal at the 18:00 mark made it 3-2, Nashville pulled Rinne but the Flyers won the face off and Giroux launched an empty-netter that sealed it. Steve played the Boston/Columbus game, an improbably painful 8-0 thrashing, and also the Montreal/New York game, which was pretty epic as well, with the Isles rallying late and winning in overtime.
And so, we moved on to the second round, now down to 16 teams! Just like the first round, the SECOND round match-ups were generated randomly—literally drawn out of a hat!—and were resolved with a combination of quick-play and full-play solo games…
Boston at Chicago
NY Rangers at St. Louis
Vancouver at Philadelphia
New Jersey at Ottawa
Los Angeles at Tampa Bay
Arizona at Carolina
Pittsburgh at NY Islanders
Winnipeg at Detroit
SECOND ROUND FULL PLAY
Chicago 3, Boston 0
NY Rangers 3, St. Louis 1
Detroit 1, Winnipeg 0
Tampa Bay 2, Los Angeles 1 (OT)
SECOND ROUND QUICK PLAY
Ottawa defeated New Jersey
Philadelphia defeated Vancouver
Carolina defeated Arizona
All of the full-play games were hotly-contested, but especially the OT Tampa Bay/Los Angeles game. Boston should have saved some of the goals they produced against Columbus in the first round—"feast and famine" for B's!
And so we had our "Elite Eight" for the full-play game day at Enchanted Grounds, arranged randomly…
Carolina at Philadelphia (The Flyers' THIRD home game! Talk about the luck of the draw!)
Chicago at NY Islanders
NY Rangers at Ottawa
Detroit at Tampa Bay
And here's how it went in the THIRD ROUND of action, all games full-played…
Philadelphia comes from behind to knock off Carolina in OT, 4-3; The NY Islanders break a 2-2 tie with a goal in the 19th minute of the third period, BUT the Blackhawks score in the final minute to send the game to OT, then Chicago pulls out a 4-3 win!; Ottawa upsets the NY Rangers 4-2, an empty-netter in the final seconds making it a two goal margin; Tampa Bay blanked Winnipeg 2-0, two goals from Stamkos.
For the FOURTH ROUND, we scrambled the teams, drawing opponents and host teams at random. (HINT: That's why we called it the "Commissioner's Surprise Tournament!")…
Chicago put an end to Philadelphia's "Cinderella Run" with a 3-1 win that was more dominant than the score indicated, Kane and Saad scoring early for the Blackhawks. Ottawa had Tampa Bay on the ropes, seizing a 3-1 lead midway through the second period. But the Lightning chipped away at the lead, tying the game in the eleventh minute of the final period, and Tampa Bay winning it on Stamkos' goal in the fourteenth minute of OT.
So, despite all the randomness, we still wound up with a Chicago vs. Tampa Bay "winner take all" Commissioner's Cup FINAL ROUND Championship game!! WOW!
And WHAT a FINAL ROUND game it was!! Scoreless through the first period and most of the second, the Blackhawks got a goal from Richards in the eighteenth minute for a 1-0 lead. But, as was the case for the Lightning the entire tournament, Tampa Bay just would not be denied, Callahan's shot at the eight minute mark tied the game, 1-1. Chicago stormed the Lightning goal in the final minutes, getting off six shots, none of them finding the net. So—for the fourth time in seven games—we went to overtime!…
Tampa took the early momentum and got off a point-blank shot in the opening minute, but Crawford's SPEC SAVE kept the Blackhawks alive. He then turned back four shots in the second minute of OT and another one in the third minute before things settled down a little. Four minutes later it was over—Toews' wrist shot the game-winner for Chicago, 2-1!
We all thought it was pretty cool that we got a Blackhawks-Lightning championship game, and agreed that this is a neat format for a tournament. Thanks to David, Jason, Mike and Mike for joining us at the game table and, a special thanks to Steve for the encouragement to make this happen and for helping with the early rounds for the tournament.
We will MOST definitely will do this again next January!