For just a moment, I felt a kinship with Pavel “Frankie” Francouz.
Mind you, this has nothing to do with shared athletic ability. Coordination, musculature, endurance … sure, I can spell all those words. But in a world where some people move with the grace of Bruce Lee, I’m more like Inspector Clouseau on roller skates. I’m certainly not at the level of Francouz, a backup goalie for the Colorado Avalanche.
But in Game 2 of the conference finals, the backup became the star. And that’s something I do know about.
If you saw the game last Thursday, you know what I’m talking about. Starting in place of an injured teammate, Francouz was unmovable, stopping 24 shots in his first career shutout. Between that and a two-minute offensive explosion by the rest of the lineup, it added up to a 4-0 shellacking that left the Edmonton Oilers wondering “What the heck just happened?”
It’s the moment every understudy dreams of.
Heaven knows I did.
Pre-pandemic, I did a lot of amateur acting. In my first few productions, a quick memory for lines – everybody’s lines – got me jokingly dubbed “the universal understudy.” I appreciated the compliment, kept a close eye on the leads just in case … still with a role myself, but always ready and waiting for an opportunity.
And waiting some more.
Backups, whether official or otherwise, do a lot of that. Oh, sure, there can be pre-planned appearances to give the regular starter a rest, or chances to lend a hand during practice, and so on. But most of the time, if you’re on, it means something has broken down. And you with your gifts – the gifts that were passed over the first time around – you’re the one who has to step in and help keep things moving.
That’s intimidating. Even terrifying.
And if you do it right – if your big break doesn’t break you – it can also be exhilarating.
“It’s a special feeling,” Francouz told The Sporting News after the game. “It’s tough to describe. It doesn’t happen every day, it was a special night for sure.”
No doubt. And those moments – on the ice, on a stage, anywhere – are moments of hope for the rest of us, too.
Because lately I think a lot of us feel like understudies in a show where we’ve barely seen the script.
At the best of times, imposter syndrome can be challenging, that feeling that everyone else knows what they’re doing and you’re just making it up as you go along. These aren’t the best of times. We’ve been dealing with a constant drumbeat of crises, each blow landing before we’ve had time to fully process the last one. A global plague. A massive drought. A slaughter of innocents that too many seem powerless to stop. On and on and on.
As a nation, as a people, we’ve passed through the fire before. But it’s easy to say that was someone else, more capable, more ready. We’re just … us. Aren’t we?
So were they. So is every generation. And even if they were outright demigods, we’re the ones who are here now, this day, this moment. It’s our turn on the ice, our gifts that have to meet the moment without warning.
It’s all right to feel unready. But the spotlight is on. The net is waiting. And with the willingness to step in to take our place – yes, our place – the terrifying can become the miraculous.
Twenty-four shots. Twenty-four stops. A moment of glory that even Inspector Clouseau couldn’t break from a hero no one expected.
That’s a goal – and a goalie – worth imitating.