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3 Keys to Hockey Upsets

By Sean Jensen, SportsEngine, 05/01/19, 9:15AM CDT


Luc de Gaspé Beaubien acknowledges the absurdity of the story from an outsider’s perspective.

An upstart hockey program based in Greenville, South Carolina wins three out of six divisions at the Junior Nations Cup in Detroit last December.

Talk about a Miracle on Ice.

But Beaubien is an insider, and he’s seen the remarkable chemistry of the players and families, who travel from five different states to comprise the weekend-focused Carolina Rage Hockey Club.

“There were so many stories within stories,” he says. 

There’s Beaubien’s son Jean-Luc, a standout goalkeeper… who is playing with a broken back. Or there’s Hailey Anderson, a female player. And, of course, there was the epic tournament opener against a Canadian team that outshot them 44-4… yet settled for a 2-2 draw.

There was an immediate buzz about this team from South Carolina. 

They won their second game, 6-1, then managed another tie in the third game. When the dust settled, their 3-1 victory over the Whitby Wildcats clinched the U-13 title.

So how did they do it?

“We have amazing chemistry, and the goaltending is incredible,” Luc Beaubien says. “But the secret sauce is, they’re having fun.”

Well, the Carolina Rage apparently foreshadowed the hockey season of the underdog; the NHL playoffs have been filled with upsets, most notably the Columbus Blue Jackets sweep of the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning

(Photo: Members of the USA 13 and under team, including goalie Jean-Luc De Gaspe Beaubien)

Here are three keys to overcoming the odds:

Don’t believe the hype

John Tortorella

The Lighting tied the NHL regular-season record with 62 wins, and they had reached the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the previous four seasons. Meanwhile, Columbus had never won a playoff series. Yet even after falling behind 3-0 in the series opener, the Blue Jackets remained mentally strong and continued to battle. Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella deserves his share of the credit.

He is a passionate, innovative and tough-minded coach, characteristics his players displayed in the historic upset. Besides, Tortorella had already led a team to a Stanley Cup championship: the 2004 Lightning. “It’s a hard league to gain respect and we are going about it the right way,” Tortorella said of the Blue Jackets. In the Western Conference, the top-seeded Calgary Flames were upset by the Colorado Avalanche in five games. The only reason that surprising result didn’t get more attention is because of the Blue Jackets’ stunner.

Protect the net

The great hockey upsets are often fueled by a hot goaltender, and the Carolina Rage and Blue Jackets are no exceptions. The professional goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has excelled in the regular season but generally been lackluster in the postseason — until this year, of course. Fans familiar with him must have been frustrated after he conceded three, first-period goals in Game 1. But in games 2 and 3, he saved 53 of 55 shots. With a .932 save percentage, Bobrovsky had his best postseason series. “We have a really good goalie,” Tortorella said. “You don’t get to this time of year without having a really good goalie and you don’t win playoff games without your goalie.” The St. Louis Blues were the NHL’s worst team in early January, but they reached the postseason and have advanced behind the brilliant play of rookie goalie Jordan Binnington.

Play with discipline

Nikita Kucherov

The Lightning were an explosive and offensive team, boasting the league’s-best power play. But the Blue Jackets played disciplined, only allowing six power plays, three of them in Game 1. For the series, the Lightning mustered just one power-play goal. “It's tough. I don't know what to say," said Nikita Kucherov, who won the NHL’s regular-season scoring title.

On the flip side, the Blue Jackets converted five-of-10 power-play opportunities in the series. “They did a lot of good things and we didn’t have an answer for them,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. Unfortunately for them, the series sweep compelled the New York Times to argue that the Lightning could be “the biggest playoff underachievers in sports history.”

About Sean Jensen

Sean Jensen was born in South Korea, but he was raised in California, Massachusetts and Virginia, mostly on or near military bases. Given his unique background, he's always been drawn to storytelling, a skill he developed at Northwestern University and crafted for the last 16 years, almost exclusively covering the NFL. Sean lives in a Minneapolis suburb with his wife, two children and dog. Read more

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