The 67 Debacle

James Pykonen

© Copyright 2020 by James Pykonen

James sitting on a giant head sculpture.

In 1999, I enrolled in a two year business course with on of the classes on Economics which I knew nor understood little.  However, I thought the course would be easier than it turned out to be.  The following story is about the journey I took over a course of 10 weeks, the struggle to comprehend the subject and matter and how help arrived on time from an unexpected source. 

June, 1999 6pm. A warm evening breeze ruffles the state flag atop the Western Business College building in downtown Portland, Oregon; I make my way into the classroom taking a seat amongst other students as Economics instructor, Mr. Bartlett, looking disheveled as ever, shuffles papers about his desk then begins tonight's lecture with an announcement, “This evening I am going to talk about NAFTA and Supply and Demand concluding with a list of students who will not have to take the final exam. OK, any questions,” Bartlett pauses. Tonight marks a first as all 24 of us are in attendance not so much as to learn but to find out who will be exempt from the final exam. Seeing no hands he continues, “Good, so NAFTA stands for...”

When the course began ten weeks early, Mr. Bartlett, projecting his voice with lawyer’s precision, informs us, “...those students that score 90% or better on six of the ten weekly tests will be excused from taking the final exam.” To many, Economics is no more interesting than watching barley grow however, the challenge, an extraordinary goal, caught our attention I mean, who wouldn't want to escape the exam.

Completing the lecture, “OK, that covers the basics of NAFTA and Supply and Demand but before continuing,” Mr. Bartlett pauses, for he knows what we all want to hear, then stresses, “are there any questions on the material covered tonight?”

Taking a moment to survey the class he sees no hands raised then begins to go down the list we lean forward in collective thought, “Very well those students not having to take the final exam are...” some fists clinch, “yeses!” others release tension with sighs, “whew!” Anticipation mounts, as he goes on I replay the past ten weeks leading up to tonight, which would fit nicely into a stock market graph tracking gains and losses, and how an electrified game of ice hockey played a crucial role.

Growing up in the 1960’s near Detroit, Michigan I tuned in to the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Company) out of Windsor, Ontario on Saturday nights to watch hockey greats: Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Bobby Orr, Stan Makita, Gordie Howe, Gerry Cheevers, and Yvan Cournoyer (to name a few) bump, slash, fight, and score their way across 17” of black and white excitement not to mention playing table hockey with family and friends. Today, the sport is like comfort food. The Economics course I signed up for began in April 1999 coinciding with hockey’s playoffs for the coveted Stanley Cup trophy; my team, the Detroit Red Wings, was eliminated early in the playoffs but no matter who wins I love watching the trophy presentation as grown men, tough athletes with bearded mugs loft the Cup above their heads, elated, while fans go crazy with jubilation.
Through the first three weeks ardent notes and dedicated study produce test results of 95, 90, and 90%, confidence in success is high. Then, as if some being perched on my shoulder had whispered into my ear, I began to doubt my understanding of Economic topics like Supply and Demand, the U.S. Economy, and the Circular Flow Model resulting in scores of 85,80, 80 and an all time low 67% over the next four exams. Damocles Sword swayed above I felt like a team needing to win three straight games to move on in the playoffs as taking the final exam loomed large. I turn to a favorite distraction, hockey.

So much action happens in the game what with players racing from one end of the ice rink to the other, stopping on a dime, changing directions, fights, and goals all of this on a thin piece of sharp metal. Thank goodness for VCRs (Video Cassette Recorders) for this technical wonder of the 80s gave me a means to record Stanley Cup games and, albeit for just a few hours, escape reality and it was while watching one of these games that, in an unguarded moment, a phenomenal occurrence took place. The New Jersey Devils and the defending cup champs Dallas Stars were the only two teams remaining out of the 16 vying for Lord Stanley’s cup when the playoffs began in April. With the Devils holding a three games to one lead in the best of seven series I could relate to the precipice Dallas hung over.

New Jersey hounded Dallas relentlessly checking players off the puck mid-rink, smashing Dallas players into the corner boards, side boards, behind the goalies net, and effectively keeping them off balance so with one more win the Devils could dethrone the Stars and capture the Cup. Unfortunately, there was an Economics class the night game five was on, so, not really interested in the game itself, I set the video recorder in hopes of seeing the Stanley Cup presentation. Arriving home from school I turn on the TV and much to my elation found the game still undetermined and deadlocked at 0-0 through three 20 minute periods and two 20 minute overtime periods with a third just beginning, I ignore previously recorded programming. Players on both teams, exhausted, fight to stay alive, until the six minute and twenty one second mark of the third overtime period.

From the left wing Mike Madono of the Dallas Stars skates fast and hard to the New Jersey net while Stars teammate Brett Hull, on the right wing, collects the puck and, knowing Madono’s intent, fires it at the goal to which New Jersey goaltender Martain Brodeur defends. Just as Madono reaches the net so too does the puck which neatly deflects off Madono’s extended stick and between Brodeur’s legs.
Madono is mobbed by exuberant teammates as if they’d just won the championship instead, though, the win extended Dallas’ season one more game, one more opportunity to defend their championship. Brodeur stood in front of the net motionless still trying to comprehend what just happened as did his teammates. The favored Dallas Stars, having been outplayed by New Jersey throughout the first four games, looked deep within themselves, didn’t like what they saw and rose to the occasion with a combination of doggedness and grit. As I watch the jubilation of weary athletes celebrate, their self-will and pluck transfers from that ice rink in New Jersey to this fan in Portland, can I too could come from behind to win even if just one game or test at a time.

Invigorated, note taking organization, writing assignments, and study time take on new meaning resulting in, on the first exam after the 67 debacle, a score of 90%, the second 100%, and the final before the final 92% accomplishing the goal of six out of ten tests above 90 as set forth at the beginning of the semester by Mr. Bartlett. I received no trophy to parade around an ice rink in front of adoring fans yet, just as grand, the belief in myself and what hard work and tenacity can accomplish.
A smile is the only evidence to hearing my name called by Mr. Bartlett, inward my heart pumps adrenaline, clinched fists thrust into the air and I am mobbed by fellow students, “You did it Jim, you did it,” they shout as they carry me around the room on their shoulders.

Dallas lost game six and the championship to New Jersey thus being dethroned; Mike Madono and teammates will never known what their heroics in that game five did for me, turning near disaster into success. Never give up until the final seconds tick off the clock and the whistle blows, keep moving forward help sometimes hits you in unguarded moments. Oh what a glorious feeling victory!

My name is Jim Pykonen I was born in 1958 and raised in St. Clair Shores, Michigan (near Detroit).  I am a baby boomer.
I am also a late bloomer having stumbled around, sort of, aimlessly but writing down bits and pieces of life events I guess to etch the event in memory kind of like the student that rewrites notes in order to better understand and recall. Not until at a friend's Christmas party in 1994 did the wheels of writing truly began turning, I started journaling with meaning and daily, took a few writing courses, and in 2013 started a blog in order to showcase my writings and in 2016 writings became more passionate.

I love the process of writing from beginning to end, the frustration, feeling defeated than snatching victory out of the jaws of that defeat.  Research invigorates.

Currently, I live Eugene, Oregon working for a medical transit company and write in my spare time.

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