When I was a kid – about 12 years old – growing up in Plymouth, Michigan, I lived in a pretty large subdivision. It wasn’t anything super flashy and there weren’t three story houses on every block, but it did well enough for us. The subdivision itself was huge; about a mile North to South and another mile East to West. Our house was up towards the Northeast corner of the “sub” as we used to call it, and I was fortunate to grow up on a street where there will multiple kids within the same age range as me. All I had to do was walk out the front door after school and within two minutes, all of us would be on our bikes and riding through the neighborhood. Our favorite route took us to the Southwest, smack to the middle of the subdivision, where we would meet up with our friends from school who happened to live in the different regions of our mile-by-mile piece of Plymouth.
The center of the subdivision was a natural meeting place not only because of it’s central location, but because it housed a huge tract of woods. A creek ran through the middle of the entire subdivision, split only by the one road we would use to access our meeting place. Every day we’d take our bikes off the sidewalk and down into the woods, and it felt like you were entering a place that was all your own. It was a rite of passage for the kids in our neighborhood to come in and claim areas of the woods, and ours was pretty special. We’d cut through the middle of the trees, following the gently bubbling creek to the West, until it started to take a slight jog to the South. It was there that our dirt trail hit a soft edge and made a seven foot slope downward, running dangerously close to the water on the right. This was our territory. This was our claim.
Of course, like any kids at that age, we were always looking to push the limits of our own existence. One summer – the one where I was 12 – we decided that right at the point where the slope began to trend down, it would be a great idea to build up a dirt ramp to jump our bikes off of. So we dragged a shovel into the woods one morning, started digging, built it up and had ourselves our own little slice of danger and daring. Of course, the first time we all took the hill, it was more of a “roll” over the jump as opposed to actually having a full head of steam and throwing all caution to the wind. We’d roll down the slope, turn around, give that jump a stare and say “Nah, not big enough. Didn’t get enough air.” Nobody had the balls or gumption to disagree, opting instead to nod emphatically and grab the shovel to heap more dirt on an already dangerous ramp. This went on for the entire day, until the light finally started fading and it was time to head home. We all knew that the next day would mean the excuses were over, as we had “expertly” assessed the hill as “completed” that night before we all rode home.
Our routine was the very same the next morning: breakfast, bikes, woods, ramp. Except this time there was no going back from a full fledged jump off the ramp. The stakes were set, the ramp was perfect. It was all about who was going to sack up and make it happen. Naturally, I decided it was a good idea for me to kick off the festivities. So there I went, pedaling around on my bike for a good five minutes just working up the courage to point my handlebars at the ramp of dirt and fear and let it all ride. Finally, it was time. I went charging at the ramp as fast as I could. I wanted to stop pedaling, but I knew I couldn’t. I felt the front tire begin to climb, I saw it go over the edge, and I pulled on my handlebars with everything I had in me. For a brief moment everything was perfect. Everything went silent. I knew what it felt like to soar through the air and defy the laws of physics. I was flying. I was King of the Thing. I was unstoppable.
That feeling would quickly evaporate upon landing. See, the key to this story is that I was riding an old school Magna mountain bike when I took this jump, and upon landing the front wheel collapsed and bent awkwardly and I found my way into the mud next to the creek. I was fine, the bike wasn’t. It was un-ridable. All I could do was drag it back up the hill, whack at the busted tire with a stick, and realize my day dominating the ramp jump was toast. I had felt invincible, yet poor calculation and poor execution had cost me the victory I had taken for granted. I sat there and watched my friends hit jump after jump, offering me time and again the opportunity to take the plunge on one of their bikes. It just didn’t feel right though. I NEEDED to do it my way, with my own gear and not somehow cheapen the experience by using someone else’s property. Unfortunately, that was impossible at least for another week, as I headed off to baseball camp the next morning. I loved baseball a whole lot, but I’d by lying if I told you my head wasn’t on that jump back in Plymouth…
For the Wings, their likely ramp jump with the San Jose Sharks is more than just another second round series in the NHL Playoffs. It’s strikingly ironic that the Wings may play the same opponents they saw in last year’s playoffs in the exact same order this year. San Jose is on the precipice of closing out the Kings and – despite Roberto Luongo’s best efforts – the Canucks SHOULD close out their series with the Blackhawks at some point in the near future. Yes, the Sharks are the most likely opponent for Round 2 and the Red Wings should be savoring the opportunity to go after the team that knocked them out last year.
But why would the Wings want to face a team like the Sharks; a team who has the skill and depth to rival the Wings in almost every area of the game? Yes, on paper many would argue that the Sharks are the superior team, and I’m not one to disagree with them. I saw San Jose play in person this year, and they are an immensely talented team with plenty of potential to go the distance. But Detroit HAS to want them. The Wings NEED to play San Jose. There’s no way around it and if anyone tries to duck it in the Wings locker room, then they have no business being there. Sure, the Wings could conceivably square off against Anaheim or Nashville in the next round and this would all be moot, but deep down you don’t want that to happen, and neither do the guys who wear the Winged Wheel. Are you nervous? Good. Are you scared that it may come crashing down around you? Even better. Because what the hell are the playoffs even about if you aren’t feeling like you could puke at any second?
The whole point is that if the Wings don’t battle the Sharks at some point in these playoffs, the whole experience (while fantastic in itself) would still be a little bit hollow. The Wings want to tackle that jump on their own bikes with their own skill just to prove that they can indeed do it. San Jose was the ground that broke their tire last year. The Sharks were the hill that wan’t conquered. The week at baseball camp was the entire offseason, preseason and regular season for this Wings team. And now the table is almost set for another jump. It’s a jump that has to happen, otherwise there will always be doubt and defeat in the minds of the guys who fell short last year. They knew they could do it last season, but a few things went wrong and it didn’t go according to plan. The planning is better this year. The equipment is sturdier this time around. The jump is still just as terrifying, but there’s no denying that it has to be attempted. So when the Sharks and Kings take to the ice tonight, don’t try and suppress the anxiety of seeing an opponent who could be just as good as the Wings. Embrace it. Own it. Revel in the uncomfortable and understand that it’s just one more step toward the greater goal. A necessary step…
A week later I took a brand new HARO BMX bike back to the jump. I was scared and nervous, but I was so amped up that I didn’t have any time to feel. I was laser focused on what needed to be done and I wasn’t going to let me fear or anxiety stand in my way. I pedaled, I pulled and I even spun the handlebars in mid air. The landing was textbook: rubber met dirt and the bike stayed up. I remember my friends cheering in the background, yet I was still tuned out. I was focused too much on the task at hand and knew that one jump, one conquered foe, wasn’t the full victory. Rather, it was just another step to the larger goal of putting together a consecutive string of jumps, defeating all of those demons and making that hill my bitch. As I slid to a stop, I allowed myself a small fist pump before I hopped off the bike, turned it around and made my way back. “Where ya going?” one of them asked.
“Back to the top.”