The cruel tease of the empty net

Apparently, my editor isn’t buying the “I’m recovering from surgery” ploy. This means no more gloating about the Patriots (…pause for divine justice served…), and back to Yale sports.

After I finally dragged my ass out of my room on Tuesday night, ending up in the spacious confines of the Whale to watch the women’s hockey team host Brown, the second intermission had come and gone and I still didn’t have a column idea. Fortunately for all of you, I quickly rejected such less-than-stellar ideas as why the organ music they play during hockey games is so random — the highlights were clearly “Hava Nagila” and the Mortal Kombat theme — and whether refs get frustrated that girls’ pony tails cover their names on the backs of their jerseys.

All hope was lost until the final minute. Yale trailed by one goal with 59 seconds remaining, and the face-off was in Brown’s end. The Bulldogs called timeout, and head coach Hilary Witt drew up some sort of play. Goalie Shivon Zilis was pulled for an extra skater before the face-off.

The following took exactly 15 seconds. Brown won the face-off, with the puck squirting out toward the boards. Bears forward Rylee Olewinski gathered the puck and left the Brown zone, trailed by a Yale defender. After skating to about center ice, Olewinski slid the puck toward the Eli net. Maybe 10 minutes later, the puck crossed the crease for the Bears’ sixth and final goal.

There were only 30-some-odd fans in the Yale section, but you could still feel everyone collectively thinking, “What the HELL was that?!?” Which brings me to an important sports question: Why do empty-net goals hurt so badly? To answer this deep and meaningful question, let’s break down the generic last-ditch attempt at a comeback.

First, how much are you getting your hopes up? In the case of a 6-on-5 in the other team’s zone, scoring is definitely not out of the question. And you’d guess a defender wouldn’t get out of his or her zone untouched, or would just try to send the puck to the other end, so the chance of an empty-net goal isn’t that great. There’s some cause for excitement.

Second, how long is the setup before the last-ditch attempt? The longer you’re forced to anticipate it, the more failure will hurt. I’d say the 6-on-5 is one of the more anticipated late-game ploys in all of sports. By the two-minute mark, fans are rubbernecking between the puck and the goalie, who’s rubbernecking herself between the puck and the bench. Everyone knows what’s coming.

Third, how long does the backfire take to develop? As in, where does an empty-net goal fall between ripping off a band-aid and trying to chew through your wrist during Monday morning orgo? Another point for the empty-netter here — you can see it coming from a mile away. Everyone in the stands is trying to figure out how hard they have to stare at the puck to make it hit the right goalpost, until it inevitably clanks it and you just feel dirty.

Fourth, do you still have to play? This is very, very important. When all was said and done Tuesday night, the Bulldogs still had to come back on the ice for another 45 seconds. That may not seem like much, but think about how much nicer it would be if once someone scores an empty-net goal you could just go shower, change and ask your mom to take you out for ice cream.

And finally, how funny is the failure of the last-ditch attempt? The more absurd the failure, the more you can’t help but shake your head and laugh about it, the less it hurts. I’d say an empty-net goal is no laughing matter. Unless, of course, there’s a clown on the ice. Then it’s funny.

On all counts, the empty-netter seems the most painful backfire of the last-ditch comeback attempt. But to be safe, let’s look at a pair of similar examples from other sports:

My personal favorite, and I’ve only seen it once, is when a basketball team is trailing by three with under two seconds to play and the losing team is taking free throws. The shooter makes the first, then has to miss the second and hope someone can get the put-back … only he makes the second by mistake. Extremely disappointing, but WAY too funny to be a huge letdown. You just know that on the ride home, someone will give that kid a wedgie and then it’s water under the bridge.

A close second is the missed extra point in football with time essentially expired. You think you’ve pulled off the comeback, and then your holder goes and pulls a Tony Romo. Pretty painful, but I’d say this is like ripping off a band-aid. You know immediately that it’s lost. And again, there’s high comic value in a missed extra point. Just imagine the kicker trying to scramble with the football before inevitably getting piledriven by a real football player.

So it’s official: the empty-netter is the dumbest, most painful backfired comeback attempt in sports. Maybe I should watch hockey more often. I already miss the organ playing “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands.”

Dan Adler is a senior in Pierson College and a former Sports Editor for the News. His column appears on Thursdays.

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