The Condors had just defeated the Colorado Eagles 5-2 on Tuesday night when a scrum developed along the boards just south of the Condors bench.
Players were coming off the bench and around a dozen for each team milled around with some pushing, shoving and face washes and one could feel the tension rise in the crowd, which had grown quite.
Suddenly, Bakersfield’s Evan Polei emerged from the corner, sans helmet, and started waving both hands into the air which brought the crowd back to life.
The scum was over, the Condors had a 2-1 lead over Colorado in the best-of-five series and the fans were once again roaring.
“The adrenaline is going, everybody is scrumming it up and I’m just trying to get the fans into it too,” said Polei, who had two goals and an assist in the game. “It’s a fun game. It’s why families bring their kids out and watch the game.”
The Condors can advance to the second round the Calder Cup Playoffs with a victory Saturday night at Rabobank Arena.
“We understand what the opportunity is before us,” Condors head coach Jay Woodcroft said. “It’s an elimination game and elimination games require your best effort, you’re best game. Every shift counts, every second counts.
“For us, we’re putting our focus not so much on (Colorado’s) desperation, rather our focus in on urgency to establish our game right off the bat. We have a belief in the way the game should be played, we’re going to play towards that. We’re going to play towards our identity and if we do that we’ll be just fine.”
The Condors did just that on Tuesday night, out shooting Colorado17-1 in the first period and 41-18 on the game.
The Condors haven blended seriousness with an overall looseness throughout the season and that has continued into the playoffs.
For instance, Polei and defenseman Evan Bouchard, who played his first game for the Condors on Tuesday after the conclusion of his Major Junior season, joked before the game about which Evan would be better.
Both had three points as Bouchard had a goal and assist.
The debate over which Evan is better has been a running theme since then.
“He played incredible, I think he might have the upper hand right now,” Bouchard said.
“It’s a tie right now,” Polei said.
A crew from the Edmonton Oilers is chronicling Bakersfield’s playoff run in print and film and are keeping alive the battle of the Evans.
“They both had great games,” Lowe said when asked to weigh in. “Po was going to those hard areas and that’s playoff hockey right there. I might have to go with Bouchard just cause he’s back on my D corp. I lean toward the D-men, but both were unreal.”
The Condors seem to have hit on the perfect mix of fun and work.
Some players stayed on the ice for more than 30 minutes after Friday’s practice ended.
“We keep it light around here and we’re having a good time but we know during those practice hours when Woody’s on there we’re serious and ready to work and our minds are focused,” said goaltender Shane Starrett. “Then we have the downtime after practice to kind of play some games and have some fun with each other.”
Come Saturday evening, it will be all business for the Condors.
“We know Saturday at Rabobank will be a wild atmosphere and we’re really looking forward to playing in front of the home fans,” said Josh Currie. “But when that puck drops we’ve got to be ready to go because they’re on the brink of elimination and their lives so we just gotta make sure we’re ready.”