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 the real athletes who are mentioned in this story. You'd have to ask them yourself.
Part FiveJackson, Mississippi - May 4th, 2000
I was heading home from the rink after a grueling morning practice. It was near the end of the season and we had been mathematically eliminated in a 6-0 loss last night to the Johnstown Chiefs. Any one familiar with the game of hockey has probably seen the movie, Slapshot! If you haven't, I suggest you rent it. Its a pretty funny movie starring Paul Newman. The Johnstown Chiefs were made famous by it.
I was on my way to the bus stop when I saw a Hockey News magazine in a vendors rack. I walked over and looked at it. The headline read: "NHL Draft 2000, Full Preview!" I paid for it and headed over to the bus stop. I sat down on the bench and opened it up to the draft coverage. I was curious to see if I'd be mentioned or not. My old coach, Ron, had told me I was a lock for the first round. He sometimes got a little excited. I had signed up to become eligible last month. The registration was online. After I hit that submit button there had been chills racing across my back.
When a young player announced his eligibility was important. If he entered early his chances for getting picked up were not only less but he might not be paid as much. You could only announce your eligibility twice. If after the second time you weren't picked up, it was over. You wouldn't be allowed to enter again and you'd never be able to play in the NHL. However, if a player waited too long, he took the chance of getting injured and suffering a career-ending injury.
Most players went to college and played there before entering the draft. Most Europeans played in leagues over their for several years before coming to North America and entering the draft. Very rarely did kids younger than 18 enter. The NHL actually discouraged it but made exceptions in some cases. They wanted their players to at least graduate from high school.
I was supposed to ge going to night classes three days a week when I was in town. But I had stopped going after the month when I arrived in Jackson. I lied to my parents about it, too. School just wasn't my thing. I knew what I was put on this earth to do, and it didn't involve getting my high school diploma.
They listed the projected picks from the first three rounds. I quickly scanned through the names. My heart sank as I didn't even see my name! I re-checked, more carefully this time.
Bingo! I read the print. First round, 10th pick... Chicago Blackhawks... W Nick Brewer, ECHL. 10th! I felt my eyes start welling up with tears of joy! I couldn't believe this was actually happening.
The article gave detailed bios of the players who had been projected to go in the first round. I quickly scanned the article to see what they had written about me. I saw my smiling face and next to it a tiny blurb about me. I read:
10 - Chicago Blackhawks - Left Wing - Nick Brewer, USA. 6'3", 190lbs. Shoots: Left. Nick could be the youngest player picked in the first round since Eric Lindros became the number one pick in the 1991 entry draft. He's got size and speed but at 17 years old he hasn't figured out yet how to use those traits effectively. He plays with extreme intensity which is both his greatest strength and weakness - he takes a lot of bad penalties. Brewer has notched 19 goals and 23 assists in just 45 games with the Jackson Bandits of the ECHL. He's the sole representative for the league in the upcoming draft. But he's also logged 95 penalty minutes. That could be an asset or a liability to Brewer who could become the next big power forward. After a few more years in the minors, we'll learn if its rookie luck or if Nick has the right stuff to play in the NHL.
Chicago has been searching for offense ever since trading away Jeremy Roenick in 1996. The aging Tony Amonte is nearing the end of his career and Brewer could be the next big buzz in a city craving the glory days of the early 90's. He'd be an impressive addition to their young offensive roster boasting weapons such as Eric Daze and Steve Sullivan.
The Skinny: It could be a bang or a bust taking a player this young who hasn't even played a full season in the minors. Nevertheless, if he doesn't go in the first round, he'd be a steal in the second.
I sat back with the biggest and dumbest grin on my face. I closed my eyes. Holy shit! Every kid dreams of becoming a professional athlete. But its an almost impossible dream. I realized that I had never even expected to make it this far. I was getting too excited. If I wasn't drafted I would be crushed. I normally had a sixth sense about these sorts of things and I had a bad feeling about the draft. Something in my stomach didn't sit right.
I opened my eyes as the bus pulled up. I took a seat near the back next to an old black lady. "Ma'am," I said nodding to her politely. She smiled warmly and moved her purse to the side allowing me to sit. I closed my eyes and thought back happily on my career. I loved this game! My parents practically had to drag me off of the ice at night after playing all day on the lake. I was always the last to leave the rink after a game and sometimes at night I would sleep with my stick. This game had gotten into my heart and had practically taken over. The smell of sweaty equipment. The sounds of tape being wrapped around a shin. The sound of the skates digging into the ice at a 4:30am practice. I loved everything about it.
I remembered my first game ever in a rink. Stepping out onto the ice for the pre-game skate I imagined as I was stepping out onto the ice at the mall for a Hartford Whalers game. I imagined the few empty seats around the rink extended endlessly towards the ceiling, filled with green jerseys and screaming fans. I remembered the ice shanty my friends and I had built to put near the lake; someplace sheltered and protected from the cold wintry winds to lace up our skates and tape sticks. Hockey had a certain smell to it. The ice in every rink smelled the same; the rubber carpeting they put down to protect your skates from the floor had a special smell; hockey gloves also all stank to high heaven from the sweat. But sometimes at night I would dream about these smells and I would wake up in the morning with them fresh in my nose.
I thought about my friends and how much I enjoyed playing with them. I thought about Matt and how exciting it had been to score a game-winning goal in front of him in New Jersey. After late night games in Simsbury I would usually spend the night at his house. And whenever we traveled together we always shared a room. I remembered that time we went to Minnesota for a weekend tournament. The smile left my face as I remembered the events of that night. I thought for sure I was going to lose for a friend after that weekend. I sighed remembering the night...
St. Paul, Minnesota, March 2, 1997
Matt and I barely made it back to the hotel before our 7pm curfew. If we had been a minute later there would have been hell to pay. The coach took chaperoning very seriously, especially with a bunch of 14 years olds loose in a big city. We took the elevator to the 11th floor of the Hyatt Hotel and stumbled into our room right before the phone rang.
Matt picked it up. "Hello?" he said out of breath. We had run the last four blocks home.
He listened to the caller and then said sarcastically, "No, of course not, Coach. We've been sitting in our room quietly reading! Little Women. Yup... OK," he joked. I was grinning at the thought of us sitting around like a couple of innocent school boys. "Good night, then." He hung up the phone in the receiver. He drew his hand across his forehead. "Whew!" he said. We just dodged a bullet. 30 seconds later it would have been sprints for us!"
I was sitting on the bed, feeling a little antsy. I knew what I wanted to do. I knew what I thought Matt wanted to do. But I always hated bringing it up. I didn't want him to think I enjoyed it too much.
"So..." I started slowly off, glancing down at my feet dangling on the side of one of the two single beds. "Whatcha want to do now?"
Matt had stretched out on the other bed and was staring up at the ceiling. "I don't know. Let's go over to Benny and Kyle's room."
We were allowed to go anywhere we wanted to in the hotel up till 10pm. Our 7 pm curfew was just to keep us off the streets. I wasn't in the mood to visit. Matt and I had been hanging out with other guys all day long. I wanted to just hang out with him.
"I don't know, why don't we just hang out here... watch TV or something."
Matt picked up the remote chained to the night stand beside him and flicked on the tube. He started flipping through the channels searching for anything. "If I can't find something good in the next 30 seconds I'm going to their room." He paused on MTV. They were running some Spring Break previews and he paused, admiring the girls in the bikinis. "Yo, check her out! Damn!" I watched him as he stared enthralled at the TV. "She is wicked hot!" I stared at his crotch and was trying to determine if he had sprung a woody or if it was just the crease in his jeans. I couldn't tell.
"Am I wicked hot?" I asked him, half joking, half serious hoping to get him in the mood.
He looked over at me, a weird expression on his face. Then he burst into laughter and flashed his killer smile. "What? Don't ask me that, you weirdo!" I rolled over on my side.
"Come on, really, am I a good-looking guy?"
Matt looked puzzled, and then must have thought I was joking, because he started laughing again. "You're like butter, baby!" he said in an effeminate voice. Within seconds I was off of my bed and onto his. I wrestled him into submission as he vainly tried to beat off my attack. I was a lot bigger than him so it did not take long. He was on his stomach and I had his hands pinned behind his back.
He was struggling to get out of the move but I wouldn't let go and he eventually stopped. When he had stopped struggling I said, "So I'm like butter, huh?" I asked.
"Like butter, baby!" he repeated. He sounded like Linda Richman from "Coffee Talk". I applied slight pressure on his neck hoping to get him to yield. He didn't no matter how hard I pressed down and complained so I eventually threw a pillow over his head smothering him into the bed. I was getting pretty hot and horny doing this.
"Come on," I said, finally lifting the pillow up. "How hot am I?" I asked. He was still lying on his stomach and I admired the smooth muscles of his shoulders as they met his neck. While he contemplated another wisecrack I leaned down and softly kissed him on the back of the neck. Then I kissed him again and flicked out my tongue. He had stopped struggling and was allowing me to work him over. I sat down on him a little more and pushed my now stiff cock down onto his firm butt, grinding around a little. I released his hands with mine and brought them under his body. I traced from his chest downwards, admiring and enjoying his taut and lean body. I paused at his stomach, before lifting up his shirt and plunging down the front of his shorts.
Just before I hit pay dirt, there was a knock on the door.
I leaped off of him and back on to my bed. Matt straightened himself out before calling out, "Come in!"
The door opened and our buddies Benny and Kyle entered. "Hey losers," Benny blurted out, in his childish high-pitched voice. He was the only guy on the team who hadn't started through "the changes" and his voice squeaked like a little mouses. You bet we constantly ranked on him.
"Hey Benny! How's it hanging?" Matt retorted in a high voice, making fun of him.
Benny flipped him off and sat down on the foot of my bed, Kyle on Matt's. I had my hands folded on my crotch trying to hide my excitement from the activities of a few moments ago. Matt was flipping through the channels non-chalantly trying to act as if nothing funny had been going on. I guess we were decent actors because Kyle and Benny didn't seem to suspect a thing.
Turns out they just wanted to hang out so we went down to the gameroom in the hotel and played pool and video games. I was still turned on and the only thing I wanted to do was go upstairs and make out with Matt. But I kept my cool and managed to keep myself and my organ under control. Some of the other guys eventually wandered down and the game room pretty much emptied out except for our team. I guess no one wants to put up with a bunch of screaming 14 year olds. I sure as hell wouldn't. At ten o'clock, we headed back up to our rooms obeying the doors closed and locked curfew. Everyone else seemed upset but I couldn't be happier. At that point I just wanted to be with Matt, alone. And naked.
When we got back in the room Matt collapsed on the bed with his eyes closed. I shut the door and locked it, praying for no more interruptions. I jumped up and landed on the bed next to Matt sending us bouncing around a bit. He looked over at me oddly and I asked him, "So what do you want to do now?" I asked with a large mischievous grin.
His face turned red, "Ummm..." He averted his eyes and looked down. I reached out and started to stroke his chest. Then I leaned in and kissed him on the lips and opened my mouth. As I tried to flick my tongue in his mouth he resisted me, keeping his mouth tightly closed. I figured he was playing around with me so I pushed him over on his back and straddled him. I started sucking on his neck as I reached down and undid the fly on his jeans. I reached in and grabbed his stiff cock and stroked it slowly.
Suddenly he pushed me up off of him and almost off the bed. I sat up and stared at him, not quite sure what his problem was. "What's wrong?"
He shook his head. "It's getting weird."
"Us, you know, making out." His face was red and he wasn't making eye contact with me. "It's not normal."
Well, I agreed with him there. "Fuck normal. It's fun," I replied.
"Not really anymore," he said.
"What do you mean? You were hard as a rock!"
"But... I still don't want to... I don't, really like it anymore. It makes me uncomfortable."
I shook my head not understanding his sudden change. "What, are you afraid you're queer or something?" I asked.
"I'm not queer! Fuck you!" he yelled. He got up off the bed and walked over to the window, re-zipping himself up. I could tell by the way his shoulders were hunched that I had pissed him off.
"I know you're not queer. Calm down," I said. He stood there and stared out the window. He didn't reply. "Matt, relax. You're upset over nothing."
"I said shut the hell up!" I didn't press him any further. Something about the tone of his voice kept my mouth closed. I tried to act relaxed as if I wasn't phased at all. But I was really worried. I felt I had stepped over the line and now he knew I was gay and he was going to tell everyone. That night, I didn't sleep a wink.
New Milford, Connecticut - June 24th, 2000
I was in my living room with the air conditioning on full blast. My friend Mike was sitting in an easy chair drinking a Coke and eating a bag of potato chips. Both my parents were at work. Working on Saturdays was sometimes necessary and they hadn't been able to get the day off unfortunately. Sitting on the couch was my old coach, Ron, and my agent, Trent. Across from them one of my older brothers Dave sat, glued to the TV. Its not everyday your little brother gets drafted into the NHL! I sat nervously at a table with the phone in front of me. Everyone I knew had been explicitly warned not to call me for the next three hours.
"We now go live to Alberta, where the Islanders are about to announce their first draft pick and the first pick overall in the 2000 NHL entry draft," the anchorman said. ESPN had been on for the past hour as we scanned the news to try to see any news or mention of me. I was nervous as hell and couldn't eat or drink a thing. I had been pacing the room constantly until Ron had ordered me to sit down with verbal threats.
The camera switched to the busy room in Canada where an NHL representative stood at the podium ready to announce the first pick overall. I knew I was a long shot for the first pick, but still the butterflies hadn't been able to leave my stomach. I shook my head. I couldn't be the first pick. The Islanders hadn't called me. Usually the team would call you and let you know they were going to draft you right before they announced your name. They wanted to give you a heads up. And they also wanted to make sure they wouldn't have any problems signing you. That's why everyone we knew had been instructed not to call unless it was an emergency.
"The New York Islanders, with the first pick overall in the 2000 entry draft have selected," my throat tightened and my stomach nearly leaped into my throat! "from Boston University, goalie Rick DiPietro." I expelled a huge amount of air from my lungs. Oh well, so I wasn't the first pick.
"Oh my gosh!" my coach called out. "I think that's the first time ever someone selected a goalie for the first pick!"
We waited in agony for the next decision. The teams had 5 minutes to either make a selection or trade their pick for players and/or other picks. We only had to wait another three minutes for the next announcement.
"The Atlanta Thrashers, with the 2nd pick overall, select from the WCHA, left wing Danny Heatley." I felt my stomach flutter a bit more as the 3rd and 4th picks were announced and still the phone didn't ring.
21 minutes later they announced the 9th pick. According to Hockey News, I might be next. We all stared at the phone. I looked at my watch. 2:35. At 2:38 the phone still hadn't rang. "Let's go back live to Alberta," the Sportscenter announcer said from the studio in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where the Blackhawks are about to announce their pick. Shit, I thought. They hadn't called. That probably meant they weren't picking me. But they may just not have felt it was necessary to call me. Most teams probably knew that a 17 year old could be very easily persuaded to sign with them.
"The Chicago Blackhawks, with the 10th pick overall, select from Russia, center Mikhail Yakubov"
I was starting to get frustrated. I was getting nervous that no one would pick me up. But no, that was crazy. If I didn't go in the first I would have to go in the second.
A little while later the anchormen were killing time between picks, analyzing who might be next to go. "What do you think about this next pick?" the anchorman said. It was the 17th pick and the Oilers turn. "Who do they need?"
"The Oilers need offense and they need size. Let me tell you who would be a great pick for them right now. Alexander Frolov. This guy has the complete package."
One of the other anchors said, "Someone else comes to mind as well. Nick Brewer. At 6'3", 190lbs he's got both the size and speed that they crave. I'm surprised he hasn't been picked yet."
"I'm not," Berry Melrose, a famous hockey personality interrupted. "He's young, he's impatient with the puck and he takes a lot of dumb penalties. At 17 years old he's a liability for any team. I'm looking for him to go late in the draft or even not at all."
"Screw you Barry!" Ron screamed at the TV. I was laughing. It was the first time ever my name had been mentioned on television, other than the local Comcast channel in Jackson that sometimes broadcast Bandits' games. It was a pretty big rush, even if I had just gotten slammed. I was beginning to get pretty nervous. Barry knew a hell of a lot about hockey and he used to be a coach. He knew talent, or lack thereof, better than anyone in the game. I respected his opinion a great deal.
The Oilers were about to announce their pick. "The Edmonton Oilers, with the 17th pick overall, select from Russia, left wing Alexei Mikhnov."
"Man, they're having a field day with the Russians today," my brother said. A while later the Blues from St. Louis were about to announce their choice for the 30th pick overall, the last pick of the opening round. This was my last chance to become a first round choice. After the first round, salaries dropped considerably and so did sign-on bonuses. I hardly cared about the money at this point. I just wanted to play. But still, it would be nice to earn some real dough. "The St. Louis Blues with the 30th pick overall, select from the WCHA, center Jeff Talle.
I sighed heavily as I failed to be selected in the first round. "One round down, eight to go," I said getting up to get a drink of water.
"Don't worry, Nick! You'll go this round. I guarantee it," Ron said.
ESPN went to commercial. When they returned the Atlanta Thrashers were about to announce their pick. "The Atlanta Thrashers with the first pick of the second round and the 31st pick overall, select from Russia, defenseman Ilja Nikulin.
I was beginning to get pretty upset. I saw the chances get slimmer and slimmer after each minute and pick passed and the phone still hadn't rang. It was the next pick and Carolina was up. It was their first pick of the draft. I was interested to see who they'd select. They used to be my favorite team when they were called the Hartford Whalers. But they had skipped out of town in 1997 and moved to North Carolina. I respect the southern states in wanting to get hockey franchises. Its awesome that the game is growing so fast. But I wish they only got new franchises. Whenever they steal a team from Canada or a northern U.S. state I get so pissed. The game belongs up here and franchises shouldn't be flocking south! After they moved, the 'Canes traded away my favorite player, Geoff Sanderson. The team I used to adore I now despised!
The man came on the screen again from Alberta. "The Carolina Hurricanes, with the 32nd pick overall, select from the ECHL, left winger Nick Brewer." Everyone jumped up and screamed as my picture came onto the screen. I couldn't believe it! I was pretty sure I'd be selected but having it actually happen blew my mind! We watched as they showed highlights of me scoring goals from some of my Bandits games. They cut back to the ESPN studio in Bridgeport.
"Barry, what do you think about this?" one of the anchorman asked.
Barry laughed and said, "I'll tell you what, I'm pretty surprised. Carolina needs defense at this point. They've already got an impressive roster of young and talented forwards. This really wasn't what they needed.
The other anchor cut in. "Perhaps they're looking to trade this guy away for a defenseman. We've seen this thing happen before and...."
All of a sudden the phone rang. Everyone was still yelling and jumping around the room. "Hold on, hold on!" I yelled, trying to calm them down so I could hear the phone. Everyone became silent as I reached for the cordless and pressed "Talk". "Hello?"
"Congratulations, you're a Whaler! Well, a Hurricane I guess!" It was my dad.
"Hey dad, they still haven't called me, though. Can you call back in an hour?" I asked. For some reason my parents hated call waiting and had refused to sign up for it.
"Oh sure," he said. "Just wanted to congratulate you."
"OK, thanks," I said.
"All right, I'll see you when I get home," he finished.
"All right, bye!" I said and hung up the phone. He must have had a TV on or been logged into the draft on the internet at the office. I chuckled. He hadn't even liked hockey until I became fascinated with the sport at a young age. But he'd grown to love it as I grew up and introduced him to the game.
A second after I put down the phone it rang again. "This better be the 'Canes," I announced to the room. "Hello," I said into the telephone.
"Nick Brewer?" a young voice I didn't recognize answered.
"Yes," I said my chest thudding heavily.
"You wouldn't happen to be watching ESPN right now would you?"
"As a matter of fact I am," I said.
"Well then, on behalf of the Carolina Hurricanes organization I'd like to say congratulations to you."
"Well thank you," I replied. "I was pretty surprised."
"My name is Sheldon Ferguson and I'm in charge of scouting here in Raleigh. I'd like to apologize for not calling you beforehand. We almost traded away that last pick to the Blackhawks. We were running down to the wire and we needed to make a decision so we didn't have time to consult with you. Not that we're not happy to have you on board, of course."
"Well thanks," I said.
"So we'd like to get started right away Nick. We need to know the name of your agent and phone number he can be reached at."
"Actually he's right here if you'd like to speak with him."
"That would be wonderful!" Stan said.
I handed the phone to Trent. "It's the 'Canes. They want to speak to you!"
Trent took the phone from me apprehensively. I was hugging Ron and shaking Mike's and my brother's hand as he talked with Stan.
"This is unbelievable," I said, soaking everything up. "Holy shit. Ron, who are they affiliated with? Where do you think I'll end up?"
"I'm not exactly sure who their affiliates are," he responded. "I know that their owner Karmanos owns a junior hockey club up in Canada where most players who are under 20 play. But I doubt they'll send you there. Not after all the success you've had in the ECHL. I think their ECHL affiliate is the Florida Everblades. And they must have an AHL or IHL affiliate, too. That's probably where you'll end up. Excuse me for just a minute, OK?" Ron went out to his car and I continued to hug my brother and slap hands with my friend. I was pacing around nervously unable to sit down and relax. Hell, I had just been drafted into the NHL! This was huge! Ron came back in carrying a plastic bag.
"So, Mr. Brewer?" he said to me taking something out of the bag. "Do you think I could get an autograph?" I watched as he reached into the bag and procured a green jersey. It took me only a second to recognize it.
"Holy cow, that's my old youth jersey!" I exclaimed to him. He handed it to me and I looked it over. We hadn't gotten to keep them and I'm sure it had been worn by plenty of kids since I had it but I held it to my nose and smelled it anyway. What memories! "Are we going to retire this number?" I joked.
"Maybe not the number, but definitely the jersey," he replied handing me a pen. With a flourish I signed the back of the jersey.
"To Coach Ron! Well, I finally made it. Thanks. #28. Nick Brewer."
I laughed and handed the pen and jersey back to him. "Are you seriously going to keep this?" I asked him.
"Of course," he said nodding his head emphatically. "Its not everyday one of your players gets drafted into the NHL!"
My agent finally hung up the phone. "Nick," he said putting his hand on my shoulder. "I have some good news. The last thing I want to do is put pressure on you to sign a hasty contract, but..." he said as his eyes gleamed. "They've promised you a $100,000 signing bonus if you sign with them and their affiliate in the IHL, the Cincinnati Cyclones within one week's time."
I almost fainted.
Sorry for the long delay. I've been too busy watching hockey to write about it. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.