A not-especially-accomplished writer of doggerel would surely deploy the word ‘faraway’ to capture the look in his eye, and might go so far as to say his features were drawn, or perhaps haggard.
Also, the voice: strained and raw.
Josh Gorges won’t turn 30 until August, and however you choose to describe it on Thursday night he looked and sounded like an old man.
Defeat, it appears, can age a person.
“You come home with nothing,” he said, voice trailing off, in a quiet Montreal Canadiens locker room shortly after their exit from the Eastern Conference final. “It’s going to take a while to sink in, and then before you see guys having a good time.”
The old hockey wisdom holds that you must first lose before you can win, but for many members of the Habs, it rings justifiably hollow.
Gorges was around for the conference final run in 2010 – it ended in defeat against Philadelphia – and he and the team’s other mid-career veterans (Tomas Plekanec, Rene Bourque, Alexei Emelin, Brandon Prust) are, to put it plainly, running out of runway.
Though Gorges is one of the team’s undisputed leaders and signed to a long-term contract that still has four years left to run, he was candid about the disappointment of falling short of the Stanley Cup final again.
“Nine years in the league, 10 years in the league, whatever it’s been now – you get to the Eastern Conference finals twice. You don’t get to the finals, I mean, you’ve got to think that my career’s more than half over and you still haven’t reached that next level. So,” he said, sighing, “it’s tough. Because we’re so close and we’re right there and I’m a little bit lost for words because I’m still trying to process this. I’m still stunned. It’s tough.”
The margin between winning and losing in the NHL is small enough to be decided in a few slivers of time or fragments of distance.
The time it takes, for instance, for Chris Kreider to lose his footing and crash into Carey Price.
Or the few millimetres that make it so a puck – in this case shot by Alex Galchenyuk late in game four – hits the knob of a goalie’s stick and spins off the crossbar.
Veteran centre Daniel Brière, a 36-year-old who eliminated Gorges and the Canadiens in 2010 and whose Philadelphia Flyers lost the Cup to Chicago, said his message throughout the playoffs was to remind his younger peers to cherish the moment.
“The message was hopefully they understand it’s tough to get back here. You don’t want to leave anything to chance,” he said.
The defeat was even enough to take the sheen off playing for his beloved childhood heroes in the playoffs, scoring a crucial goal at the Bell Centre in round one.
“Right now it’s tough to appreciate all that . . . it hurts too much,” he said.
The Habs will have some personnel decisions to make in the off-season, though Brière has a year left on his deal, he was a healthy scratch at one point in the playoffs and was unbeloved of coach Michel Therrien in the off-season.
Defenceman Andrei Markov, who is 35, can become a free agent in July, as can 35-year-old captain Brian Gionta and defenceman Mike Weaver, 36, (it’s widely assumed that Francis Bouilon, 38, George Parros, 35, and Douglas Murray, 34, won’t be retained).
It’s a fact of life that older players come and go in the NHL, and the Habs will also need to assess the performance of the younger tier of veterans – Gorges, Bourque, Travis Moen and the like – as they figure out how to work the next wave of prospects into the lineup.
Hockey’s a business, and that’s not lost on the players concerned.
But the equation is not a simple one.
One look at the pain and fatigue etched on Gorges’ face – this is a man who died a little on Thursday – reveals that.