From the beginning of this season, the Hamilton Pistols have made it clear that they’re a force to be reckoned with. They’ve led the Eastern Division wire-to-wire, and they haven’t faded as the season has gone on.
But whenever a reporter has asked Pistols coach Keith Shields a question about the postseason, he as always balked. “We haven’t clinched anything yet, and I’m not about to assume,” was his refrain.
Shields can officially let go of his refrain now. On Tuesday, the Pistols defeated the Kansas City Smoke 4-2 to clinch their first-ever trip to the postseason.
As soon as the clocked ticked down to 0:00 at Heartland Telecom Center, the Pistols raced to center ice and formed a pig pile. They whooped and hollered as they flung their gloves and helmets in the air. “If we’d been at home, we’d have gone up into the stands to celebrate with the fans,” said Pistols C Calvin Frye. Instead, they spotted a couple of fans in Hamilton sweaters behind the bench and invited them on the ice to join the celebration.
After they finished their on-ice celebration, they adjourned to the locker room to continue the party. Songs like “My Shot” and “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” blasted over the stereo while the young Pistols showered each other with beer, champagne, barbecue sauce, and whatever else they could find. They took turns making up impromptu raps to honor each other. They smoked giant cigars.
“I know you’re supposed to be cool and act like you’ve been there before and save the big celebration for the Vandy,” said Shields. “But you know what? We’ve got a young bunch of guys, and they haven’t been here before. It’s only your first time once, so why not enjoy it? There’ll be plenty of time to be cool and mature later.”
The dynamic duo that powers the Pistols, LW Steven Alexander and RW Claude Lafayette, spent the evening hugging and toasting each other. Alexander blinked back tears as he reflected on the journey that got him here. “Claude is my brother,” Alexander said. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be playing hockey. I might be dead in an alley somewhere. But he got me here, and ever since then we’ve been working and dreaming for this moment. Now we’re here, and we’re not throwing away our shot!”
Shields heaped praise on his team. “Ever since the first couple of weeks, when we got off to such a good start, I’ve been warning them, ‘It’s not going to be this easy. There’s a lot of good teams in the division, and they’ll make a run at us. We can’t take anything for granted.’ And they haven’t! They’ve worked hard and stayed strong. I don’t think anyone’s going to want to face us.”
C Henry Constantine, who won the Vandy last season with Hershey and signed with the Pistols in the offseason, is impressed by this club. “We had a good, talented club [in Hershey], but this team is scary,” he said. “I don’t know how anybody keeps up with our top line, they’re so fast. And we’ve got good depth, and more speed on the bottom line. We’ve got a rough, hard-hitting bunch on defense. This is a crew that can hang with clubs like Michigan and Anchorage and give them real trouble, now and for years to come.”
Before they can vie for the Vandy, though, the Pistols will need to win the Eastern playoff. Their likely opponent, the Quebec Tigres, will do their best to frustrate and slow down Hamilton’s speedy forward lines. “Quebec’s a tough team, and they’ll push us hard,” said Shields. “I’m certainly not going to look past them.”
But the challenges of the playoffs are tomorrow’s problem. For today, the young Pistols are happy just to celebrate how far they’ve come. “History has its eyes on us,” said Alexander. “But when our children tell our story, they’ll tell the story of tonight. Let’s have another round tonight!”