Not the Only One
DISCLAIMER: Yada yada yada. This story is pure fiction, all names and characters are made up and any similarity to real persons is not only a coincidence, it's damn eerie! Of course, I make no claims about the sexuality or opinions of real athletes who are mentioned in this story. You'd have to ask them yourself.
Part ThreeJackson, Mississippi - the morning of December 27, 1999
At 5:15 my alarm dragged me out of my sleep. Reaching over I hit the snooze button and buried my face in my arms. Suddenly I had crossed from the pleasant world of dreams and memories to the harsh world of reality. It was a sudden crossover I always despised.
By 6:00 I was getting dressed in the lockeroom of the small ice rink where we practiced. Several other players sat silently around me lacing up their skates or in various other stages of putting on their equipment. The only sounds were the occasional rips of hockey tape as sticks were adjusted and shin pads taped tightly around the legs.
"How are your nads today, Brewer?" my friend Patrice Girdeaux asked me in his thick French Canadian accent.
I looked up and managed a smile. "They're still attached," I offered.
Patrice nodded and said, "Good. None the worse for the wear." Patrice was one guy I generally liked on the team. We was 23 years old and been kicked around a dozen teams in the ECHL, IHL, and AHL. I probably would have spent a lot more time with him if I wasn't sure that he'd be traded away again in a few weeks. He had a lot of miles on those young legs.
Half an hour later the men of the Jackson Bandits were gathered on the end lines of the rink. Half the team was on one side, half on the other. For our lackluster performance last night our coach had informed us we'd be treated to hockey's version of the gut buster. 30 sprints up and down the ice, all timed. If someone failed to make it in the allotted time, the count went back to 0.
Thankfully, we made each one, but barely. For the next hour we worked on power plays and penalty kills, before running a short scrimmage. I was surprised as the coach called my name out to skate with the line I had been with last night. I figured he would have bumped me down again. I noticed the particular sour expression that Radek, the guy I had replaced, had on his face. I'm sure he'd be gunning for me this morning to get his spot back.
We had been skating for fifteen minutes and I was doing pretty well. We were mostly matched up against the third line. However as I chased a puck deep into our sides zone, the coach changed lines on the fly. I dug the puck out and started to skate towards neutral ice. As an opponent skated up to challenge me, I did half spin and made a blind pass to my line mate, Trevor Keim, whom I had seen streaking up on the right side. Trevor caught the pass on the fly, got to the red line, and dumped the puck into the offensive zone. I expected to hear the coach call out to us to change but he let us continue skating. The puck went into the corner and after a brief struggle, the other line was able to get it out to neutral ice. I stayed with the man I was covering and looked up just in time as Keim fed me a quick pass as he recovered the puck. I look down and made sure it stayed on my stick and turned towards the offensive man. I looked up only to see Radek coming at me with a full head of steam. He plowed into me sending me flying onto my back.
I landed hard and had the wind partially knocked out of me. A loud cheer erupted from the bench and the guys started thumping their sticks along the boards. Everyone loved to see a nice hit. Especially against a 17 year old naive rookie like myself. Radek had been gunning for me all morning trying to get his position back. I got up quickly and reassured myself it wasn't going to happen. I skated into our defensive zone keeping an eye on the puck and on Radek. I got my chance as the puck squirted out to the point and Radek gave chase. He had been tied up with Trevor and didn't see me coming. I was going to reach the puck first but I slowed down to allow him to get there ahead of me. As he reached out for the puck he looked up, but too late to do anything. I slammed into him as hard as I could slamming him into the boards. As I skated away I threw an elbow into his face that Gordie Howe would have been proud of. The puck was already heading up ice by the time I turned around to follow the play. Radek got up off of the ice and tore after me like a bat our of hell. Halfway up the ice he caught up and slashed me hard on the leg. My shin pad absorbed most of the blow but it still sent me sprawling. As he skated past me hit me again on the top of my helmet. I got up, furious.
"You cheap fucking pussy!" I yelled. I got up and followed him into the corner and around the back of the net. The puck came to me and he pinned me up against the boards to tie me up. He kneed me in the thigh as he tried to get the puck out with his stick. I tied it up as long as I could waiting for a teammate to come over. My other line mate, Darcy Brown, finally came to my aide and I pushed it out to him. Radek gave me another whack with his stick before I was able to break free. I skated high towards the blue line and then came back towards the slot looking for a pass. Radek stayed with me the whole time. The puck was behind the net and I skated in front of the net to wait. Radek came by and tried to push me out from in front of the net but I held my ground. Trevor made a clean pass to one of our defensemen on the point and he fired a shot. The goalie deflected it wide into the corner and I chased after it. I got their first but Radek got there right behind me as I cycled the puck to Trevor who was still behind the net. Radek slammed me into the boards once again.
"You call me pussy?" the Czech yelled at me. "I bet you not even know what one looks like!" He said before tossing me to the ground like a sack of potatoes. As he skated away I reached out with my stick to trip him and sent him to the ice as well. I skated back out in front of the net. Trevor was still digging in the corner. Radek had gotten up again and was homing in on me like missile. Suddenly Trevor got a hold of the puck and sent a blind pass right onto my stick. I one-timed the puck and sent it high right over the goalie's shoulder into the back of the net.
I raised my arms triumphantly to celebrate the goal. Radek didn't slow down at all even though the coach had blown the whistle signaling a stoppage of play. Radek spread out his hands on his stick and came into me at full speed. He jammed the stick up in my rib cage, just below my shoulder pads and sent me flying with a viscious cross check. I hit the ice hard, but immediately scrambled back over to Radek. The coach was blowing the whistle furious, at both of us. By now several guys had skated over and tried to get between Radek and I. "Are you hard of hearing you dumb shit!" I yelled at him.
Trevor grabbed me with both arms as I tried to reach out and push Radek. He swung me around and away from the fray. The coach was yelling at both of us to knock it off but Radek was able to break away from the pack. And skated over to where Trevor was trying to subdue me. His gloves came off and he raised his fists, ready to rumble. Trevor let go of me so I had the chance to defend myself and I threw my gloves to the ice too.
"Come on, faggot!" Radek yelled. Of course, none of these guys knew I was gay and I knew my secret was safe. But his choice of words threw me into a rage. I grabbed a hold of his jersey but he got lucky and his right fist connected with my jaw, jerking my head back and sending my helmet flying off. I grabbed a hold of his jersey to try and prevent his arms from swinging at me again, and he did the same.
Fighting was strictly prohibited during our practices and both Radek and I knew we were in a heap of trouble afterwards. But the rule is in hockey, once two guys have squared off, you generally let them fight. If you try and break it up you're going to get an elbow or an errant punch in the nose. You wait till one guy wins or they both fall onto the ice in exhaustion. Radek had gotten in a lucky punch in the beginning but I was a head taller than him and outweighed him to boot. After struggling initially I was able to get my left arm free and get a hold of both his arms with my right. I swung once, then twice, and his nose exploded in blood. I should have let him drop after that but I had all this pent up aggression in me. I was miserable where I was living, I wasn't getting any playing time, and none of the guys gave me any respect. I got in four more punches into the meat of his face before he fell to the ice with me tumbling on top of him. Our coach and one of his assistants were on top of us immediately pulling us off each other. The assistant grabbed me and brought me to my feet skating me over to the gate that led to our lockeroom. Radek was still on the ice on his stomach, his face buried in his hands. The coach was leaning over him. A pool of blood was already starting to spread out around him on the ice from his broken nose.
The coach look up at and screamed at me. "I'll see you back here tonight, after practice. Get out of here, now! If you're still in the lockeroom by the time we finish I'll kick you out the door myself!" The assistant opened up the gate. I started to walk off the ice toward the lockeroom before he grabbed my arm and spun me around.
He had a wry smile on his face. "Its about time you stuck up for yourself out here in front of these guys. Maybe you are ready for the minors after all." He winked at me handing me my gloves and stick. "Now get the hell out of here before the coach blows an artery." I smiled to myself as he slammed the gate shut to rejoin the practice. I felt a lot better. I looked at my hands, spattered with some of Radek's blood. It was like a black funk had been expelled from my body.
I got changed and hit the showers. Quickly, I washed the sweat off my body and then toweled off. Practice would be over soon and I wanted to be as far away from the coach as I could be. I got dressed and grabbed my jacket and headed outside into the mild Mississippi sun. I started down the street and headed towards a favorite diner of mine to have lunch. It was only a couple of blocks away from the rink. Sometimes Patrice would meet up with me there.
Five minutes later I slipped into my usual booth. The waitress, Cheri, idled over. "What can I get for ya, sugar?" she asked in her pleasant southern drawl.
"Hey Cheri, how about a turkey club and a coke?"
"You want fries that, hon?"
"Be right back, hon," she said scrawling down my order and heading to the counter. I leaned back in my booth and stared out the window at the busy street outside. I had had the largest, goofiest smile on my face ever since I left the rink. I felt great. I had beat the hell out of that shithead Czech and it felt great. Way too great. I never liked him anyway. He was probably in his mid-30's and had spent his entire career in the minors. His only satisfaction in life was picking on rookies like me. He had tormented me from the first day I had stepped onto the ice.
Cheri came by and set down a plate of food interrupting my daydreams. "There you go, sweetie," she said smiling warmly. Along with my turkey club and french fries, were two huge helpings of mashed potatoes smothered in gravy, and on another plate, a slice of their specialty; homemade apple pie with whipped cream.
"Cheri, I didn't order this," I said looking up at her with curiosity.
She winked at me, "On the house. A little extra nourishment, for a big guy." She stroked my arm as she said it, then turned and walked away. I shook my head laughing. Boy was she barking up the wrong tree. I gobbled up the sandwich, french fries and mashed potatoes and was halfway through the pie when Patrice and another player, Brian Hennigan, slipped into my booth. Brian was 20 years old and on his way up. He planned on entering the NHL draft this year and was expected to go in the first round. He played center on the first line and had barely said two words to me the whole time I had been here.
"How's it going, Lennux Lewis?" Brian asked me with a wide smile across his face. "Man they're still mopping up Olzmussen's blood from the ice!"
"What the hell got into you?" Patrice asked me.
"Hey guys, I greeted them. What got into me?" I asked shaking my head. "I don't know, frustration finally got to me I guess," I finally responded.
"Well a word of advice to you," Brian said. "Remember how it feels, because if you come out with the same aggression next game you're going to do just fine!"
I laughed. "Next game? I'll be lucky if I'm not still riding the bench for that fight for the rest of the year!"
Patrice shook his head. "Hell no, I tell you what. You will be playing definitely in tomorrow night's game in Johnstown."
"You think Coach's still going to play me over Radek?" I asked them.
Brian started to howl with laughter. "Of course he is. Radek isn't playing for a while. Not only did you break his nose but you broke his jaw as well. He'll be eating his meals through a straw for a month."
My mouth dropped open. I felt horrible! I couldn't believe I had put out one of my own teammates! "Oh my god," I gasped. "I feel horrible."
Brian shook his head. "Don't feel bad. He shouldn't have messed with you. He's an asshole anyway. When I first got here, he put me out for two weeks with a cheap hit."
Patrice nodded, "You shouldn't fight your teammates, but if there was one guy its okay to mess with, its him. I was cheering for you the whole time."
"Me too," Brian added. "Maybe I haven't been too friendly towards since you got here, but realize its nothing personal. Its just I had you pegged for someone else. And the type of person I had you pegged for doesn't last two months here."
After lunch we had a team meeting where we watched some film and went over some chalkboard diagrams. I noticed that Radek was nowhere to be seen. Then we had the rest of the afternoon off until our night practice at 7pm. After that we were told to go home and get some rest because the plane to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, left at 7:30 in the morning. Everyone went home except me. I got to do ice sprints all night long with the coach for my altercation earlier in the day.
Trenton, New Jersey - February 25th, 2000
The cold wind stun us as we stepped off of the small jet and onto the tarmac of the airport. It had been 69 degrees in Jackson when we left in the morning. It was 14 degrees with the wind chill here in New Jersey. I couldn't have cared less. I was so happy to be back in the northeast. I hadn't been this close to home in months. I had been looking forward to this date on our calendar for weeks now. It was the date I'd get to see my family again, and some of my friends, but most importantly, I'd get to see Matt.
It had been a bit awkward between us right before I had left for Mississippi. He had called me the night before I left and we talked awkwardly for half an hour. Neither of us was still really sure how to approach each other. He had promised to call me in Jackson and maybe even come visit over the Christmas break. But I had only talked to him twice over the phone since then. Once on my birthday and once a week before we came to New Jersey. I desperately wanted to see him, but I was nervous as hell for the reunion.
We got some ice-time at 2 o'clock at a rink near our hotel. We skated for an hour and went over some plays and worked on our power play. We needed as much practice as possible. We had dropped 7 of our last 10 games and were in last place in the Southern Conference. It had been a tough season to handle so far.
After the afternoon skate we returned to our hotel and were told to relax and hang out until 5:30. That's when we would be shuttled over to the Trenton Titan's home rink, the Sovereign Bank Arena. It could seat about 8000. The Titans did pretty well for a minor league team in terms of filling seats. Most games the rink was near capacity. And this game it would be no different. The Titans were battling it out for their own conference's lead and had closed to within two points of the leader. My friends and family had had a hell of a time securing tickets to the game. But they had all gotten some and were ready to come root for me in what would be their first time seeing me skate in a professional game.
At four o'clock my friends and family finally arrived at the hotel. My friends had piled into Bryan's van and driven down right after school got out. My parents had followed them to chaperone and make sure they behaved.
Patrice and I were in my room watching an old movie on Comedy Central. I heard a knock on my door. "Who is it?" I called out.
"Just some fans," came the muffled reply. "We wanted to know if we could get that loser Nick Brewer's autograph?" I smiled as I recognized the voice of my friend Mike.
I opened the door and shook hands with all my friends. Seven of them had come down, all the same kids that I used to play hockey with on the lake years ago in Connecticut. Then I hugged my mom and dad. I still had an hour and a half so we went out to a diner. They hadn't eaten anything and were starving. I just drank bottled water. We would be given something to eat later on the shuttle ride over to the game. It was so great to see them and we wasted no time in catching up.
My mom was still fretting over the black eye I had gotten a couple of nights ago from an elbow. "Why don't you wear a face shield honey," she asked me.
"I don't like them. It hurts my peripheral vision."
My dad added, "Well you know if you get hit by a slapshot, you could lose your vision totally. Then you can forget hockey for good."
"Dad, I'm not wearing a visor. Christ, the old timers used to not even play with helmets. Even the goalies, too!"
My parents just shook their heads disappointedly. I was still a minor and they could still control some parts of my life. But they knew they couldn't mess with hockey. It had been established when I first signed with the Bandits that I had free reign over my career.
"Hey there, Brewer," said a familiar voice. I turned around in my chair and my heart dropped. I stared into the face of my boyhood chum, my old hockey teammate, my old soul mate, the first guy I ever had a crush on, Matt Rykers. I had left the name of the diner that we were going to with Patrice before we left in case he showed up. He noticed my shiner and added, "Still forgetting to take the spoon out of your coffee before you drink?"
I stood up and grabbed him into a bear hug. "Jesus, its good to see you S.O.B!" My stomach was all flutters but it was so incredibly good to see him again.
"Yeah, I guess it's good to see you too, man," he said, patting me on the back. "This is my girlfriend, Jennifer."
I smiled and shook the hand of a gorgeous blond. "Very nice to meet you," I said. "I've heard a lot about you."
"Nice to meet you too. Matt's told me a lot about you, too!" she said warmly. I wondered just how much Matt had in fact told her.
I shook his father's hand. "Good to see you again, Mr. Rykers."
"You too, Nick. Oooh, that's a hell of shiner you've got there!"
The Sovereign Ice Arena, Trenton, New Jersey - February 25th, 2000 - 7:15 pm
I had only been able to see Matt for ten minutes. I'd had to leave everyone in the middle of their meal to get back to the hotel to catch the shuttle. And I hadn't even been able to talk to him privately either. But I guess it could wait. It was a Friday night and they'd all be staying for the night. The rest of the team was flying out tonight to Pensacola for a game on Sunday afternoon. I had convinced the coach to let me stay until tomorrow afternoon so I could spend the time with my friends and family. He had agreed only because I was so young and so damned homesick. I had to pay out of my own pocket for a commercial flight to Florida but it would be worth the money if I could see Matt.
"All right let's go fellows," Coach yelled at us. I broke my thoughts about my friends and family and got up. We followed our captain outside the lockeroom, each player grabbing his stick from the rack as we passed by it. The ice attendants stopped us in the tunnel right before we got to the rink entrance. We had to wait as the Titans team was being announced to a roaring, sellout crowd. The walls all around us seemed to shake as 8000 crazy fans whooped and hollered for their team. I wish we could draw that sort of crowd!
Finally the attendant waved us through the tunnel and we skated onto the ice amidst a chorus of boos and taunts from the home fans. I skated several laps around our zone with the rest of the team as we got our legs warmed up for the game. I scanned the crowd as I skated but didn't see any of my fans. They must have been sitting at the other end of the rink or way up high in the rafters.
The refs blew their whistle and our team headed to our bench except for the first line. They lined up on the blue line opposite the Titans for the singing of the National Anthem. I took my place on the bench and stood and removed my helmet. Some fat old lady belted out the opening lines of the anthem as everyone stood at attention. I chuckled to myself like I always did at the absurdity of the situation. Sure we were in America but three quarters of the players on the ice weren't even born here. If we were going to sign any anthems at all it should have been, "Oh, Canada!".
The anthem ended and the crowd was on its feet clapping and stamping their feet and shouting "HEY!" as "Y'all Ready for This!" blared over the loudspeaker. The puck dropped and the game started. Our first line got pushed back into our defensive zone and the Titans got two quick shots on goal. They were throwing us everything they had and it was obvious why they had the third best record in the league. Eventually our center got a hold of the puck and got to the center line before dumping it deep into the Titan's zone. The exhausted line skated over to the bench and our coach called for both an offensive and defensive line change. They had been out there for almost a minute and a half! The average shift lasts about 15-30 seconds. That may not seem like a long time but 30 seconds can drain you. You're constantly accelerating, and then stopping, and then accelerating again which quickly tires you out. Plus if you're battling in the corners you can get really winded. You have to keep the shifts short in a game and keep changing lines so your players don't get wiped out before the end of the first period.
I had been playing extremely well in the past couple of weeks and was rewarded with the left wing position on our second line. In the 15 games I had played in since my disastrous debut in December, I had recorded 3 goals and 11 assists. That's almost a point a game. Pretty impressive for a rookie.
"Second line, go! Go!" the coach yelled as the first line reached the bench exhausted and out of breath. I leaped over the boards, hit the ice and raced full stride down the rink towards the puck. You couldn't imagine how pumped up I was. The energy in the building from all the screaming fans was enough to get my blood rushing alone. It's a great feeling scoring a goal in a road game and listening as the entire place goes silent and you and your teammates celebrate on the ice below. That alone would have been enough to drive me crazy with 8000 people screaming for their team. But the fact that my friends and family were here to watch me and cheer for me was crazy... my skin was flushed with goose pimples from the excitement of playing in front of them. And not in just some amateur midget league, but in a professional league, at that! But the thing that threw me over the edge was knowing that Matt Rykers was watching me somewhere up in those seats. This was probably the highest point in my life up till now. This was a pinnacle.
The defenseman was starting to skate the puck out of the zone when I reached him in full stride. The poor bastard didn't have even have a chance as all 190 lbs of me traveling at more than thirty miles an hour collided into him. I heard a great "Ohhh!" from the crowd as we went flying backwards from the force of my check. The puck kept moving forward from its momentum but not before our center Trevor stopped it just before it reached the blue line preventing the play from going offsides. I was still reeling from the excitement of my hit as he wound up and let loose with a slapshot from the point. The puck screamed towards the net but the goalie deflected it away from danger into the left corner. I raced in after it. A Titan got there before me and sent the puck flying around the boards. For his efforts he got creamed into the boards and then flattened to the ice as I slammed into him. I skated behind the net and waited in case the puck squirted back towards. The crowd had been energized by my two thundering hits. I could tell already they wanted revenge. I was sure before the game was out I'd be dropping the gloves and squaring off with someone. I could only imagine how my fans were reacting right now!
The right winger, Sergei Kosov, got possession of the puck and sent it back to the blue line where one of our defenseman, Michel Briere grabbed the pass and wound up for a slapper. I started to skate towards the front of the net to try for a deflection on his shot. He faked the shot and sidestepped a Titan who had thrown himself onto the ice to try to block his shot. Then Michel threw a perfect pass to Trevor who was streaking in from the point. Trevor caught the pass on the fly and wristed a hard shot to the lower right corner of the net. The Titans goalie somehow saw the puck coming through the jungle of players gathered in front of his net and threw his left skate out just in time to block the shot. I got untangled from the Titans' defenseman who was crosschecking me in front of the net long enough to see the rebound come dribbling out to the right side of the goal. I grabbed the puck right in front of the open net. The goalie dove on the ground and threw his legs up in the air, stacking his pads to try and block as much of the right side of the net as he could.
I held onto the puck instead of shooting and raced around the back of the net. My skates dug into the ice deep as I tried to turn as sharp as I could to come around the other side of the net for a wrap-around chance. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the goalie still lying sprawled out on the other side of the net. I turned the corner sharply and collided with the defenseman who was trying to knock me off of the puck. I lost my balance for a second before regaining it and getting my stick back onto the ice. The puck had come off my stick a little bit and was starting to slide up the ice out of my reach. I reached out as far I could and got it on the blade of my stick. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the goalie on his feet and then sliding to the left side of the net.. I flung the puck as hard as hard as I could aiming for the top left corner of the goal, confident that the goalie would be too late.
The puck flew off my stick and zinged into the air in a black blur. The goalie had no idea where I had even aimed for and blindly threw out his hand hoping to snag the puck if it was in the air while kicking his leg out in case I had shot it low on the ice. Right before the Titans' center came and leveled me, I saw the puck slam into the outstretched glove hand of the goalie. I heard the ref's whistle blow. The next thing I knew I was on the ice lying underneath the center with the crowd roaring with delight after the tremendous save the goalie had just made. I looked up into the face of the Titan and was rewarded with an eyeful of saliva as he spit in my face. "Nice try, asshole!" he said, rolling off of me. I wiped the spit off my face and shook my head to clear the cobwebs out of my brain after that crushing check. I skated back to our bench, very pleased with the shift I had just had.
"Way, to go Nick!" my teammates congratulated me slapping me on the helmet with their gloves. "Nice feed Michel!" "Way to hold the point, Sergei!" "Good shot Trevor!" "Great shift guys!" they all yelled as we took our places on the bench. The third line skated out to take the next faceoff.
As the puck dropped the assistant coach leaned over me and said, "Shit, we should fly your parents down to Mississippi for every game if you're going to play this hard in front of them!"
I smiled and looked up at him nodding my head.
My following shifts didn't go as well. The Titans remembered my number and they keyed their goons on me. I was getting knocked all around the ice. It was late in the first period and I had just gotten my clock rang in our defensive zone. Just as I was picking myself up off of the ice after a viscious hit I heard the arena's fog horn blare. I looked up and saw Trenton celebrating their goal right in front of our net.
"Shake it off, guys!" our coach yelled as we skated back over to our bench. "It's only 1-0. Plenty of time left!"
Ten minutes later we were getting reamed out in the lockeroom after giving up a soft goal right before the end of the first period. We were down 2-0 but it wasn't that bad considering how much better their team was than ours.
17 seconds into the second period they went up 3-0 and the arena was going wild. We were starting to get desperate and it was showing. With 8:33 left in the second period I was skating up ice with my head down, a big, big mistake. One of their defenseman collided with me and sent me sprawling to the ice. It was a clean hit, but way too viscious for my linemate Trevor not to take offense. As I lay on the ice half-dazed he threw his gloves down and squared off with the defenseman who had hit me.
I quickly got up off of the ice and grabbed a hold of a Titan. When two players squared off, you let them have their go. But to make sure no one rushed the fight and and got an unfair advantage, every player on the ice grabbed an opponent's jersey to even things out. If you were in the mood for a fight and so was he, you two could drop your gloves as well. If you weren't, you would just stand their holding onto your man as the other guys duked it out. Such was the ritual in the minors. Having just had my bell rung I was in no mood for a fight so I grabbed a European since they were less likely to be looking for a fight than North Americans.
Trevor beat the hell out of the Titan, more than avenging my hit. Our bench went wild and erupted with shouts and screams as the refs skated Trevor and the now bloody and bruised Titans defenseman to the penalty box. The fight energized out team and twenty seconds later our checking popped our first goal of the night. A minute after that the first line netted the second goal.
The once rowdy stadium was suddenly hushed as they watched their lead dwindle to a goal. Going into the second intermission the score was now 3-2, in favor of the Titans. Our coaches gave us all the encouragement they could having come back from a 3-0 deficit. Midway through the third period we got lucky again. Our defense had shut down the Titans in the second period, only allowing four shots. In the third period, up by a goal, they stopped rushing our zone and sat back a bit, trying to protect their one goal lead. I was battling for the puck in the corner as the clock wound down to below 8 minutes left in the game. I got away from the defender. I saw a black blur out of the corner of my eye and prayed it was one of my teamate's before throwing a blind pass out towards it. The pass sailed onto Trevor's stick and he put it into the back of the net. The game was tied! As I sat on the bench and people slapped me and Trevor on the back congratulating us, I scanned the crowd for my own cheering section. The arena was practically silent as the stunned fans realized they had just lost a three goal lead. There was only a low murmur as the PA guy came over the loud speaker and announced the credit for our goal.
"Bandits goal scored by number 11, Trevor Keim. Assisted by number 28, Nick Brewer." All of a sudden a chorus of shouts and whoops erupted as my friends and parents jumped to their feet and applauded my assist. They were all sitting about ten rows up right in back of the goal we had just scored on. I must have been standing right in front of them as I celebrated after the last goal! The PA announcer continued, "Time of the goal at 12:12 of the third period."
I smiled and raised a fist hoping they'd see me on the bench. I picked out Matt by his spiked hair, highlighted with blond. He was jumping up and down, more excited than all of them. My eyes welled up and I had to choke back the emotions I was feeling. I didn't think it could get any better than this.
Time was winding down under a minute in the third period as I stepped on the ice with the second line. The puck was deep in the Titan's zone but already a defenseman had picked it up and started to carry it out. I realized they were going to clear it and skated around mid-ice looking for an errant pass. The Titans sent it deep into our zone and went for a line change. I skated back to our blue line getting ready to help my teammates breakout of our zone. I glanced up at the clock. 43 seconds left in regulation. Trevor got the puck on his stick and started up the ice. He crashed into a Titan who had just stepped back on the ice. I raced for the loose puck and arrived at the same time as another Titan. I won the battle and threw the puck back into their end of the ice.
Unfortunately, I had not reached the center red line before shooting it the length of the ice. If the Titans got to the puck first, it would be icing and the ensuing face-off would be in our defensive zone, right in front of the goal. Sergei Kosov was racing down the ice full speed right behind a Titans' defenseman. Just before the Titan reached out for the puck to get the icing call, Sergei lifted up his stick and checked him to the side. He got past the stunned defenseman and grabbed the puck skating around the goal.
I had followed the play and found myself right out in front of the goal. I slapped my stick on the ice furiously trying to get Sergei's attention. He looked up and saw me standing alone in front of the goal. He slid a perfect pass right towards me and I wound up getting ready to one-time it into the net. My stick came down right as the puck reached me and sent it careening towards the top right corner of the net.
The goalie reacted perfectly and with his blocker tipped the puck right before it went streaking into the net, deflecting it harmlessly to the side. A Titans defenseman picked up the loose puck and made a quick pass to a forward breaking out of the zone. He got to mid-ice and dumped it into our zone as they made a line change. Our defensemen skated after the puck and I heard our coaches yelling, "Line change, line change!" We skated over to the bench as fast as we could, a little disappointed at almost scoring the game winner.
Just before I reached the bench I heard our coach yelling, "Brewer, stay out, stay out there!" Two forwards jumped onto the ice to replace Sergei and Trevor and I changed direction and headed back into our zone. While this was happening, the defense found themselves facing a head-on attack by four Titans who had been able to get on the ice before our replacements could. Just to avoid a four on two situation one of our defenseman wristed the puck out of our zone headed towards the Titans' zone, risking the icing call. A Titan who had just stepped on the ice picked up the loose puck and started to skate back to our zone.
By now we had gotten our guys back on the ice to help out the defense. I turned around at our blue line to try and stop the puck from crossing into our zone. I looked up at the clock. 17 seconds left! The Titan with the puck threw a cross ice pass to one of his wingers to avoid turning it over as our center skated over to him. As my eyes left the clock I noticed the dangerous cross ice pass flying towards me. I skated forward and reached out as far as I could with my stick.
The puck hopped off my blade and started to skid off to the side. Just before I skated by it I was able to gain control of it and bring it around. I looked up and saw only the defenseman who had made the errant pass to begin with. I skated as hard as I could to the left side of the rink to try and get around him. He started towards me cutting off the angle to the net preventing me from getting a clean breakaway. I looked left and right and saw none of my teammates were in position for me to dump off the puck to. I looked back towards the defenseman who was coming in full speed from the right for a hip check. In another second we would collide.
In a last ditch effort I dug my edges in as hard as I could into the ice and tried to swing around to the right of him. He saw my move and immediately dug his skates in to change his momentum and crash into me.
But he was not as nimble of a skater as I was and he lost his balance and went careening past me into the boards. I dragged the puck close into my body as his stick came dangerously close to knocking it loose in a desperate attempt to stop me. I crossed over my right skate as I changed direction again and started towards the goal, with only the goalie to stop me now. I zoomed over the blue line and into the zone. The goalie had skated halfway out of the net to challenge me in case I took a quick shot. But I had no intention of letting him off that easily.
The dickhead had stoned me twice already tonight and I was determined that the third time would be a charm. As I neared him he started to skate back towards the net matching my every move. I continued to dig in with my skates and gain as much momentum as possible before I would make my final move and go for the coup-de-gràce. Five feet away from him I blocked everything from my head. My vision seemed to tunnel and I could only see him and the goal.
The crowd was going wild. They were screaming as loud as they could as I raced towards the net and the possible game winning goal! My parents and friends were on their feet as well and Matt was practically tearing his hair out of his roots as I raced in alone towards the goalie. But I was unaware of all of it. All I could see was the goalie and the gaping net behind him that seemed to be taunting me. The only thing I could feel was the solid weight of the puck on my stick. This was it. I had to make my move. With all the energy I had, I brought the puck to my backhand and with my skates turned right as hard as possible. I threw my head to the right as well, trying to sell the fake as best as I could. If the goalie bit, I would be a hero. If he held his ground, I would be a goat!
The goddamned bastard ate it up like a hog! He threw himself to the right kicking out his legs and poking his stick out to knock the puck away. I turned hard to the left and brought the puck to my forehand, changing direction in a split second, a feat that can only be performed on ice with a pair of sharp skates and the agility of a true skater. The puck came zooming off to my left at the sudden change of direction. With everything I had I reached out with my stick and stopped it from fluttering away. At the same time I dug my skates into the ice to keep myself from falling over. The puck was on the very edge of my stick and I pushed it with everything I had hoping I could direct it into the gaping net that lay behind the outstretched goalie. Just before I slammed into the goalie I leaped into the air hoping to avoid the collision. I got my skates off the ice but not high enough and I slammed into the goalie, which sent me tumbling head over heels into the back of the net. I practically landed on my head. I heard the ref's whistle blow and the arena go absolutely silent. I sat up and looked around me. I was sitting in the back of the net. Right in front of my left skate the puck sat triumphantly across the goal line. I looked up at the ref who was pointing towards me and the net signaling a goal. Then I looked up at the scoreboard and saw only 11 seconds left on the clock. The game was over! There was no way Trenton could come back. I had just scored the game winning goal! My first game winner in the minors.
I was suddenly distracted by an unusual whir of excitement taking place behind me. I stared in fascination as I watched Matt going crazy directly against the glass in back of the net. He must of rushed the Plexiglas after I had scored. I got to my feet and crawled out of the goal. I skated over to my friend just as my teammates came up from behind and engulfed me in a pile of bodies. Lying on the ice after being taken down by my teammates in celebration, I looked up and saw Matt's face. It was glowing with excitement and exhilaration.
I closed my eyes and thought I must be dreaming. I opened my eyes and stared back into Matt's beaming face through the glass. Then my vision got black and hazy as my mind raced back to the memories of another time, and another place - 16 years old, alone and cold on the streets of Quebec...
TO BE CONTINUED...
This story is in danger of being scrapped. If you don't think it sucks and you want to hear more, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have a pretty good idea of where I want to take it from here and I think it should be pretty entertaining.
ALSO, this chapter is dedicated to the loser who gave me a hard time at the door of Chaos last night. I hope you choke on a bottlecap, you little shit. You probably haven't been laid since ALF was on.