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ALL THAT COUNTS By Frank Scalise


All That Counts Frank Scalise Copyright 2010 Frank Scalise Cover Design by Russ Davis. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real persons, places, establishments, or locales is entirely coincidental.


Dedication:

At first, I offered this up to the hockey gods, hoping that they might bring glory to my feared Philadelphia Flyers and beloved Spokane Chiefs. But I figured that might be pushing my luck with those deities and I came to my senses. Instead, I realized that just as Graham has his Beth, I also have my dearest love and my best friend all in one person. So this for my Kristi.


How would you like a job where, every time you make a mistake, a big red light goes on and 18,000 people boo? —Jacques Plante

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PART ONE: PRE-SEASON

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One: An Idea A goalie must have one overriding quality-- he must want to be a goalie. - Emile Francis, legendary coach and former goalie “I want to play goalie.” My wife cocked her brow and looked at me like I was crazy. “You want to what?” “I want to play goalie,” I repeated. “Or at least try it out.” “What are you, crazy?” “Why is that crazy?” She tilted her head and gave me an impatient look. “You want a list, Gray?” I didn’t, actually. But marriage is about compromise. “Sure,” I said. Beth held up one finger. “First off, you have no gear.” “I already thought of that,” I said. “I’ll borrow some at first. Like I said, I just want to try it out.” She ignored my response. “Two,” she said, holding up her second finger, “your team already has a goalie.” “I didn’t say I wanted to be the Rangers’ goalie. I just—”

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“Three,” she continued, relentless, “goalie gear is expensive and you already have a bag full of skater’s gear out in the garage. Those CCM skates you bought just three months ago were over two hundred dollars.” She waited for me to argue that one, but I didn’t have anything to say. I’d bought the skates more like nine months ago, but other than that, she was right. “Four,” she said, not pausing to enjoy her little victory, “you don’t know squat about the position. You’d be a beginner all over again.” “What’s to know?” I asked her. “You stand there and wait for someone to shoot. Then you get in the way. That’s it.” Beth shook her head. “You just got to the point where you’re feeling good about yourself as a skater, Gray. Remember how hard on yourself you were those first couple of years?” “I wasn’t that bad,” I argued without much conviction. She was right – I was my own worst critic. “No?” She tilted her head at me. “You were down on yourself all the time and I was the one who had to deal with that.” “This’ll be different,” I told her. “Yeah,” she said. “I know. It’ll be worse.” “How do you figure that?” 2


She shook her head at me again and waggled her four fingers in the air. “Don’t talk to me like I don’t know hockey. I’ve been going to your rec league games for five years now, and watching the NHL on TV with you. Plus going to Chiefs games.” “I realize that. But what’s that got to do with me playing goalie?” “What it’s got to do with it,” she said, “is that if a goal goes in, it’s always the goalie’s fault.” “Not always,” I said weakly. “Yes, it is,” she said. “Even if it’s a five-onoh breakaway, everyone blames the goalie if the puck gets into the net.” “No, they don’t,” I tried to argue, even though she was right. “Yes, they do,” Beth said. “And I know what that would do to you. You already blame yourself for days if a defenseman takes a shot from the point you’re supposed to be covering and it goes in. How do you think you’re going to act if every puck that goes in is your fault?” I took a breath to answer her, but she interrupted me. She extended her thumb, turning the four count on her hand into five. “Besides,” she said, “goalies are crazy, and I won’t be married to a crazy man.” 3


Two: Dumb Enough I’m not dumb enough to be a goalie. - Brett Hull “Why would you want to do that?” Petey asked. I shrugged and sipped my Kokanee. We were sitting in his garage, supposedly working on his 1969 Chevy Malibu. Mostly we sat on upside down five-gallon buckets and drank beer from his mini-fridge. It usually lasted an hour or so until his wife found a reason to come out and break things up. “I mean, Beth is right,” he said. “It is crazy.” “Maybe so,” I agreed. “Then why do it?” I didn’t answer him right away. I was struggling for the answer myself. Sure, I’d always been fascinated by goaltenders. As an eight year-old kid, I saw Jim Craig on TV make save after stunning save in the Olympics, defeating the powerful Soviets and winning the Gold medal. I watched a brash Patrick Roy lead the Canadiens to two Stanley Cups before moving to Colorado to do it all over again. I’d seen the towering and temperamental Ron Hextall almost lead my beloved Philadelphia 4


Flyers to the Cup against the powerhouse Oilers during their years of domination. I’d seen video of the legends like Plante, Sawchuk and Parent. They had a mystical quality to them, especially once they started to wear masks. Everyone on the ice was trying to put the puck in the net. Only the goaltender stood apart. He was the antithesis of hockey. On the ultimate team sport, he played alone. He tried to do the opposite of everyone else on the ice – keep the puck out of the net. Would Petey understand that? Would he get that it was for the challenge? For the mystery? Maybe. I opened my mouth to tell him that, but something stopped me. It wasn’t that the words I’d been prepared to say weren’t true. They just weren’t complete. There was more and I knew it. “Cat got your tongue?” Petey asked. “Suppose so,” I answered, and took another swig. Maybe it was that my life was too safe. Maybe I wanted an adventure. Something to shake up my world. “Look at it this way,” I tried to explain. “What’s the point of recreational league sports?” 5


“To have fun,” Petey answered. “Duh.” “Sure,” I conceded. “But it’s more than that, isn’t it? It’s more important. I mean, all week long we deal with life. Most of us are at an age where maybe we’re beginning to wonder if all we’re doing is treading water until we die.” “Now you’re getting...what’s the word? Murky?” I shook my head and shrugged. “You know,” he said. “Like, spooky?” “Morbid?” “Yeah!” Petey accentuated his words by pointing the mouth of his beer bottle at me. “That’s it. Morbid. Like a mortician or something.” “I’m not trying to be morbid. I’m just saying that life can be a grind. People look for meaning and don’t always find it. Or they feel trapped by choices they made. Either way, when they come out once a week to play softball, volleyball, football –” “Hockey.” Petey gave me another tip from the bottle mouth. “Of course hockey. When they come out and play for that three hours, they’re not who they are. They’re something else. They’re an athlete. And they’re part of something, too. They’re part of a team. A brotherhood. And for those 6


three hours, they get to be that someone else and cling to that team and it means the world.” Petey stared at me, slack-jawed. I shrugged. “And then we go back into the world. Renewed. Maybe not treading water anymore.” Petey shook his head slowly. “You’re a strange dude, Gray,” he said. “Coming from the guy who’s been restoring a ’69 Chevy since about 1985, I don’t know how much weight that carries.” “I’d get some work done if you didn’t come over asking for beer all the time.” “Who else would rescue you from Sherry for a couple of hours every weekend?” He smiled over the top of his bottle. “That must be what cousins are for.” I smiled back. “You’re not going to try and kiss me, are you?” Petey took a swallow of beer. “Dream on, sugar plum.” I glanced over at Petey’s hockey gear hanging on the wall to dry. “You still have a few games left with your summer team?” He winced. “Yeah. Two.” “Win any yet?” “Nope.” He sighed. “Almost the whole team are beginners. We’re totally a D league team. 7


We got like one guy who can skate.” “Losing can suck.” “It’s not just the losing,” Petey said. “Now fewer and fewer guys show up every week. Last week only seven came to the game. That means the rest of us have to pay more in ice fees. That sucks worse than losing.” “Petey,” I said, “I’ve got an idea.” “Uh-oh.” “No, hear me out. Let’s say I get some goalie gear—” “Where from?” I waved his question away. “Let’s just say I get some. Now, I can’t play down in your division as a skater, but I can be the goalie. Then your regular goalie can skate out, giving you another body on the bench.” “I don’t know…” Petey said. “You said you only had seven last week.” “Yeah.” “So, this will help.” “Yeah, but...” “Hey, I’m your cousin.” “I know, Gray, but—” “Your favorite cousin.” “That’s debatable,” he said. “But still, the thing about it is we haven’t won yet and we’d like to try to win just one before the summer 8


league finishes up.” “You like softball, Petey?” I asked quietly. He looked me cautiously. “Yeah. You know I do.” I smiled knowingly. We both knew perfectly well that I let him play on our softball team last summer even though he couldn’t catch if we put a ball magnet in his glove. And forget the fact that he threw like a girl—he hit even worse. He swung at the ball like he was trying to break open a piñata. We stared at each other in the silence of his garage until Petey finally sighed. “Fine,” he relented, “but you better play good.” “It’s goalie,” I said. “How hard can it be?”

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Three: Gear Playing goal is like being shot at. - Jacques Plante “Borrow it?” Steve raised his eyebrows at me in disbelief. “You want to borrow a full set of goalie gear?” “Yeah,” I said. He shook his head. “This ain’t a library, Chief. It’s a sports shop. You buy things here, not borrow them.” “I might end up buying it all,” I said. “Just consider this like a test drive.” “Uh-uh,” Steve said. “This isn’t a car lot, either.” “Come on, man. It’s not like a game or two is going to ruin the gear. It’s used, anyway.” He squinted at me. “It’s valuable.” “It’s expensive. Over-priced, if you ask me.” “Then don’t buy it,” Steve said, scratching his head. “Why you want to play goalie, anyway?” “I just want to try it out.” “Don’t the Rangers already have a goalie? Ain’t Bennie playing net for you guys anymore?” 10


“Yeah, he is,” I said. “You looking to give him a run?” “No. I just want to give goalie a try.” “Maybe you could be the backup goalie for the Rangers.” Steve cackled at that. “Imagine that, a C-league rec team with back-up goalie on the bench. You guys’d be big time then.” I sighed. “Really funny.” Steve kept chuckling. “Oh, it is. I could just see you sitting there on the bench, working the door for the defensemen, just waiting for your big chance.” “I don’t plan on playing for the Rangers.” Steve’s chuckling tapered off pretty quickly. “What, you’re quitting the team?” “No. But I might play goalie on another team. Maybe a D-league team or something.” “Maybe F-league,” Steve chuckled. “F as in ‘fuck you’?” Steve’s chuckle transformed into a scowl. “Hey now, no need for that language in here. This ain’t the locker room.” I didn’t apologize. “Are you going to help me out or not?” It was Steve’s turn to sigh. “I don’t know, Gray. I mean, I trust you and all, but we’re talking over five hundred buck in gear.” “You’ll get it back.” 11


“It’s not that.” Steve looked away, embarrassed. “It’s just that…you know, business hasn’t been that good, so I’ve got to be careful. That’s all.” I’d noticed that his stick and skate collection had been getting thin, but didn’t think much of it. Ransom’s was the best new and used sports shop in town, especially for hockey gear. I figured he had things on order. It never occurred to me that he might be struggling. “I didn’t know,” I said. “It’s nothing big,” he said, still not meeting my eye. “It’ll work out.” I chewed the inside of my lip. “How about this?” I said. “I’ll give you a fifty dollar deposit on the gear. Nonrefundable. If I buy the gear, you apply it toward the purchase price. If I don’t, the fifty bucks pays for your risk and the time it’s off the shelf.” Steve thought it over. “How long you want the gear?” I shrugged. “Two, maybe three weeks.” We were both quiet for a minute, then Steve stuck out his hand. “Fine. But you have to buy the stick outright. No return on that.” “Fair enough.” We shook hands.

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Four: Pre-Game If you want to be a good goalie, get with a bad team. - Ron Hextall, Philadelphia Flyers “You sure you wanna do this?” Petey asked me. “I’m sure.” I was sweating already with the effort of putting on all the goalie gear. The chatter of other players filled the locker room around us. “’Cause I can have Eli put the pads on and you can just skate out with us instead,” Petey said. His voice was full of doubt. Sitting in the locker room with a bunch of guys I didn’t know and struggling to put the gear on correctly, I was beginning to doubt myself. Just figuring out which strap went where on the leg pads was like a Chinese puzzle. Petey was still looking at me, his eyebrows raised questioningly. “You need Eli to skate out,” I told him, cinching the strap up tight. “Without him, you’ve only got eight guys.” Eli sat in the corner opposite me. He was already dressed in skater’s gear and he

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watched me struggle without a word. He didn’t look too happy at being supplanted, even for a game. Petey sighed. Nine was the minimum to be competitive and he knew it. You could get by with three defensemen, which you could do with nine skaters. But if you dropped to eight, it sucked trying to rotate five forwards. That extra forward you got with nine players allowed you to have two consistent forward lines. It made a big difference. I cinched another strap, pulling the leg pad tight to my shin. “Besides, what are you worried about? You guys have lost every game.” “Yeah,” he said, “I know. That means we only have this game and next week to get a win.” I finished cinching the top strap right below my knee. The leg pad felt good, nice and snug to my leg. I stood up awkwardly and sat back onto the bench. “Well, maybe I’ll be good luck for you,” I told Petey, wiping the sweat from my forehead. “I hope so,” he muttered. With a shrug, he went back to taping his stick. Eli continued to glare at me. I ignored him and leaned down. I hooked the toe strap 14


through my skate blade, then dropped onto the top of the second leg pad. This time it went a little quicker, though I still felt awkward. I finished, stood up and flopped back down on the bench again, looking for my chest protector. “They’re backwards,” Eli said. The chatter in the room wilted. Everyone looked at him, then swung their heads over to me. “Huh?” He pointed at my leg pads. “They’re backwards. The big lip along the edge goes to the outside.” I looked down. Sure enough, the rounded lips that ran along one side of each pad were pressed together between my legs. Sweat popped out on my forehead and under my arms. “Oh. Uh, thanks.” Eli didn’t answer. He stood up and walked out of the room. Most of the skaters were finished dressing and followed him out. I looked over at Petey, who was staring at me. “You sure about this?” “I’m sure,” I said, but I didn’t know any more. 15


Petey sighed. I knelt down and started unlatching the straps on both pads. I could hear the Zamboni out on the ice, which meant I probably had less than five minutes left. Once the Zamboni was finished grooming the ice, we’d get a five minute warm-up. I needed to be on the ice for that. It’s one thing if a skater is running late, but the goalie has to be there for the warm-up. “You wanna help me out with this?” I asked Petey. Petey sighed and stepped over to me. “We’re going to get murdered.” So what else is new, I thought, but I didn’t say anything. We got the pads off and switched around. I hooked the toe straps through each skate, then knelt down on top of both pads. “Get the right one,” I told Petey. I worked the straps on the left pad, cinching them up as snugly as possible. Sweat ran down my temples and the center of my back. “How tight you want these?” Petey asked. “As tight as you can get them,” I said. The last of the skaters finished getting ready and ambled from the locker room to wait for the Zamboni to finish scraping the ice.

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Somehow, Petey finished before I did. He grabbed my chest protector and dropped it over the top of my head as soon as I finished with the last leg strap. I slid my arms into the sleeves and cinched the wrists down. Petey found the buckle on the side and snapped it into place. I started to try to get up, but Petey said, “Stay there, your highness. We’ll get done quicker.” I didn’t answer, but took a moment to wipe the sweat from my forehead. “Jersey,” Petey said and slipped my Flyers jersey over my head. The material caught the sleeves at the elbows. I heard the Zamboni engine change pitch and level off. “He’s done with the ice,” I said. “I can hear it.” Petey’s voice was a little tight. He worked the jersey past the elbows. It caught next at the shoulders and the back of my neck. “This jersey is too small,” he said. “It’s a large.” “Large skater jersey equals extra-small goalie jersey, Gray. Even I know that.” “Just pull it down,” I said. He got it past the shoulders and back of the neck with a sharp pull. I rotated my upper

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body left and right and wind-milled my arms. It was a little tight, but not too bad. “You look like the Michelin man,” Petey said. “Just give me my mask.” Petey handed me the mask. It was bone white, without any ornamentation. “You going to paint that?” “I dunno,” I said, trying to figure out how the straps worked. It was a little different than my skater’s helmet, but I figured it out after a moment. In the meantime, Petey dug around in my bag and pulled out my blocker and catching glove. “None of this stuff matches,” he said. “It’s supposed to match?” Petey arched an eyebrow at me. “Yeah. You don’t watch the NHL? Or the minors? Even those guys match.” “Sorry I’m not up to your standards,” I said, holding my hand out to him. “Give the glove first.” He frowned and gave me the glove. It was black and floppy, just like any good softball glove. The stitching was re-tied in some places, but I’d checked earlier in the day to make sure all the ties were tight. I pushed my left hand

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into the glove and held out my right for the blocker. Petey handed it to me. “Ain’t that backwards?” I put my right hand into the blocker glove. “What’s backwards?” “You shoot right, right?” “Yes, Yes.” He ignored my joke. “So, with your blocker on the right hand, you’ll have to shoot left. That’s backwards.” I shrugged. “I don’t plan on doing much shooting.” “It’s still backwards.” I didn’t answer. I got to my right skate, then pushed up and stood. “Ready?” Petey asked. I nodded. “Do I look like a goalie?” “You look like you’re dressed up as one for Halloween.” “Shut-up,” I said. Then I took a step toward the door, caught the left pad on the right and tumbled to the floor. Petey groaned. “We’re going to get murdered.” I pushed myself up to my knees, wishing I had my goalie stick to help me up and maybe

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to whack Petey on the back of his legs. He didn’t say anything else as I stood back up. This time, I tried to walk bowl-legged and it worked a little better. I waddled toward the door and grabbed my stick from the rack. Only Petey’s sticks remained. The door proved to be another obstacle. I couldn’t grab it with my gloved hand and my blocker hand held my stick. I stood still for a moment, then I reached out with my stick and tried to hook the wide blade in the door handle. “I got it,” Petey said. He slipped past me and swung the door open without any difficulty. “Thanks.” “Just stop the puck,” he said. “Please.” “No problem,” I said.

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Five: First Blood Hockey is like a disease, you can't really shake it. - Goaltender Ken Wregget Petey slipped past me and strode out toward the bench. The Zamboni driver had already pulled into the Zamboni garage. He stood at the gate throwing the excess slush off the ice with a flat snow shovel. I glanced up at the scoreboard. A pair of zeros stood on each side and the clock read five minutes in blood red block numbers. My first game. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I tried to envision how the goalies came down the runway on television or at the Arena. They had a confident stride, full of energy and pluck. They walked a little bowl-legged, which I had figured out back in the locker room. And I remembered something else, too. The goaltender always seemed to kick out forward with every step. I wasn’t sure why, but there had to be a good reason. The sound of the Zamboni gate slamming shut brought me out of my reverie. Time to go. I started walking toward the player’s door. I made sure to keep my legs bowed out and 21


tried to kick my feet forward. I tried to project confidence. But mostly, I tried not to fall down again. The buzzer sounded and the clock started winding down the warm-up. The players hit the ice and skated counter clockwise, each team staying on it’s own half of the ice. I watched a couple of Petey’s players as they skated at the far end of the ice, struggling to turn, stop or even stay up. I stepped out onto the ice and tentatively skated along the boards toward our end of the ice. The other team was dressed in red and black. Several skaters whizzed by me going the other way. I tried to ignore them, but found myself sizing up the team as I skated past. It was an old habit, one I always did while playing forward for the Rangers. Petey was supposed to be in D league, but during the summer time there wasn’t any regulation to speak of. As a result, a lot of people sand-bagged down in the lower leagues. Some of them did it to play with friends that they couldn’t play with during the regular season, where the rec league commissioner was strict about playing levels. Others did it to showboat and be a superstar. I never quite understood it, and like everyone 22


else, I didn’t like to be on the receiving end of it, either. There were a couple of definite sandbaggers on the red team. Number SeventySeven zipped around the ice, dangling the puck on his stick, dropping it to his skates and kicking it back out to his stick. When he shot the puck, it ripped past the goalie into the upper corner of the net. Number Twenty was good, too, though he wasn’t show-boating. I saw him take one booming slapshot on net from the blue-line. The goalie got his pad in front of it and the thud resounded throughout the rink. After his shot, Number Twenty skated down to the corner and started feeding pucks to other shooters. His passes were hard, crisp and on target. Petey skated up to me. His team wore green with yellow trim. Petey had a large ‘C’ sewn below his left shoulder, signifying that he was the team captain. “Let’s go, Gray. Get in net, man.” The warm-up period was already under four minutes and I hadn’t taken a shot yet. I skated toward the net, imagining an announcer’s voice coming over the PA. “And now, appearing in goal for the first 23


time ever, Graham Willll-suuuuun!” And the crowd goes wild. When I got to the net, I turned a slow circle and faced the first shooter. He stood at the far left side of the offensive zone, a puck motionless in front of him. The eight others did the same, lining up just inside the blue line and waiting. The first shooter was Petey’s ringer, Jonesy. He was from Vancouver, British Columbia, and according to Petey, he’d scored about eighty-five percent of the team’s goals. He played defense. Jonesy watched me get into position, his stick resting comfortably across his knees. I glanced at the net behind me and slid out toward him. I angled my stick down onto the ice and cocked my glove in the air, even with my shoulder. Finally, I gave him a nod. Jonesy wound up and took a shot. The hard crack of his stick blade on the ice sent the puck firing toward me like a bullet. Before I could move, I felt it graze the inside of my left pad and then it was past me and in the net. There were a few groans. The next shot came from Petey. He lofted a slow moving wrist shot at me and it struck me right in the chest. I didn’t even have to move. 24


“Thanks, Petey,” I whispered and tried to shuffle to my right for the next shooter. The edge of my skate blade caught on the ice just as the shooter fired. I fell on the ice, collapsing to my right and landing with a thud. A moment later the puck slid into me, bouncing off my hockey pants. Without pause, I struggled to my feet, brushing the puck aside with fat blade of my stick. Maybe they’d think I meant to do that. The next three shots were slower and along the ice. I stopped two of them with my stick, but the third one bounced off the heel of my stick and hopped over the top and into the net. The next two players missed the net and the last one peeled off and didn’t shoot for some reason. He carried his puck into the neutral zone and shot it at the boards. I shrugged and shuffled back to my left. My blade caught again and I stumbled, but kept from falling. Jonesy waited until I was set before he fired another slapshot. I didn’t have time to react, but luckily the puck struck me directly in the left leg pad. I could feel the power behind Jonesy’s shot. See, I thought, just stand there and let it hit you. Petey lobbed another weak wrister and I 25


tried to catch it with my glove. Instead, I batted it with the heavy padding that protected my lower palm and wrist. The puck dropped to the ice at my feet. I ignored it and tried to shuffle to my right for the next shot. My skate edges bit into the ice every time I shuffled. The rounded skate blades forced me to lean forward and I felt off-balance. I took another shot, this one glancing off my stick and into the corner. When I moved right again, I tried to turn the skate blade so my toe pointed that direction. I slid right, then turned the blade back and stopped in position. It was easier than shuffling. Easy as pie, I thought. The next shot went in, sliding between my legs as I dropped down onto my knees to stop it. I stood back up quickly and awkwardly. Jonesy waved off the other shooters and skated up to the crease. “Get a good groin stretch, eh?” he said. “Okay.” He tapped my pads with this stick and skated off. I dropped to the ice and spread my knees apart as far as I could on the ice. Petey’s players started skating around our half of the ice again. They didn’t seem to have much jump 26


in their stride. In fact, most of them looked like they’d already lost the game. Petey stood by the benches and called for the warm up pucks. The skaters slid the pucks toward him and he knelt down and started filling a small black bag with them. The referee skated up and checked the net for holes and made sure the posts were securely set in the ice. In the big leagues, games had two referees who called penalties and two linesmen who watched for off-sides, icing and other infractions. In rec league, we got two officials and they pulled double duty as both referee and linesman. In summer league, we were lucky to get one ref. When he finished checking the net, he started to skate away, but something caught his eye and he stopped. “You don’t have a number,” he told me. “I’m the goalie,” I said. “I realize that,” he said, a little bite to his tone. He pointed at the back of my jersey. “But there’s no number on the back of your jersey.” “I’m the goalie,” I repeated. “What does it matter?” “It’s the rules,” he said. “In summer league?” He nodded. “All players have to wear 27


numbers on the back of their jersey. And no using black tape, either. It falls off and creates a safety hazard.” “But this is the only jersey I have.” He eyed me for a moment. “Fine. But your name better be right on the score sheet.” “Graham Wilson,” I said. “It’s there.” “Fine,” he said. “Thanks.” “Get another jersey,” he told me, skating off. “That one’s too tight, anyway.” “Fuck you,” I muttered to the number 42 on his back when he was out of earshot. The buzzer sounded and warm-ups were over. I clambered to my feet, thirsty. I looked at the top of the net and realized I didn’t remember to bring a water bottle. The skaters were lining up already, drifting into position. I didn’t have time to go to the bench and ask if one of the guys would loan me his bottle. The referee checked with the scorekeeper behind the pane of plastic, glancing over at me. Then he skated to center ice, a puck in his hand. I slid out into the slot between the two circles and watched the ref check with the red team’s goalie, then look over at me. I gave him a short nod. I was as ready as I was ever going 28


to be. The ref dropped the puck and the game was on. The red team won the draw. Number Seventy-Seven drew it back to Number Twenty and Twenty skated backwards with it along his own blue line looking for an outlet pass. I kept my eye on the puck. I’d heard goalie’s talk about ‘tracking the puck’ on TV. I figured that was probably the most important thing I could do. Know where the puck is at all times. Twenty found Seventy-Seven cutting across the middle at our blue line and hit him with a hard pass. Seventy-Seven caught the pass and cut sharply into our zone. He came in on the left wing, away from Jonesy, who was covering the right side. I slid to my right, trying to cover the angle and hoping he didn’t get past the D-League defenseman between him and me. At the top of the circle, Seventy-Seven wound up and fired a slapshot. My right leg flashed out and caught the shot, blocking it. A thrill zipped through my chest and down my legs. A cry rose up from the bench and a few sticks were banged against the board. That’s right, I thought, looking at the shooter. 29


You’ll get nothing and like it! The rebound bounced directly back toward Seventy-Seven, who slipped past the defenseman and grabbed the loose puck. Before I could even wonder what he was going to do with it, he snapped it past me and into the net. The yelling and banging from our bench stopped suddenly, but the red bench picked up the slack. Seventy-Seven raised his hands in the air and skated to his line mates to tap gloves. Jonesy fished the puck out of the net and sent it easily along the ice toward the ref. “Don’t worry about it, eh?” he said to me. “The defenseman blew the coverage.” “Yeah,” I said, but I knew it was my fault. I gave up the juicy rebound and then didn’t stop his shot. “I’ll try to get over next time,” Jonesy said and tapped my pads with his stick. “Thanks.” I glanced over my shoulder at the clock. We played twenty-five minute periods with running time. The clock read 24:03, then :02, then :01. I looked away. It had taken less than a minute for me to give up my first goal. 30


I wanted a drink but realized I’d forgotten to ask Jonesy for a water bottle. The ref blew his whistle and dropped the puck again. Seventy-Seven won the draw clean, just like the first time. Twenty grabbed it and pulled it back into his own zone, watching the forwards start up the ice. I stared in disbelief as he zipped his pass straight back to Seventy-Seven again. It was the same play as before and it was like a bad dream. I saw Jonesy moving laterally to intercept Seventy-Seven, but the red center tapped a pass over to the left wing and broke for the net. Cautiously, I shifted to my right to play the angle on the man with the puck. The left winger wasn’t as fluid a skater as Seventy-Seven and Jonesy closed on him fast. Two strides into the zone, though, he pulled up to a stop, reached back with his stick and launched a slapshot at me. I dropped clumsily to my knees. The puck bounced off my pads and back out into the slot. Right on to Seventy-Seven’s stick. He flicked his wrist. I flailed at the air with my glove as the puck sailed right past me and into the back of the net. 31


Another roar went up from the red bench. Seventy-Seven shot both hands in the air and looped around the back of the net. I pulled the puck out of the net and pushed it out toward the ref. Seventy-Seven stopped his loop next to the crease. His skates bit into the ice and sent a shower of snow onto me. “Dude, you suck,” he said. I didn’t answer. The cool snow felt good on my sweaty face. Jonesy coasted in and bumped his chest into Seventy-Seven’s shoulder. “Get off my goalie, douchebag.” Seventy-Seven turned and looked at Jonesy, then gave him a half-hearted shove in the chest. “Fuck off,” he said. Jonesy skated through the light push and chested up to Seventy-Seven again. “You wanna go?” “Dude, it’s just a game.” “Then get the fuck off my goalie,” Jonesy said. I clambered slowly to my feet. The ref skated up and dropped his arm between the two. “Enough of that, boys or you’re out of here.” “I didn’t do anything,” Seventy-Seven said. 32


Then he glanced over at me. “Except score.” “You’re a pussy,” Jonesy said. “Whatever, dude.” “Enough,” the ref repeated. He looked over at me like I was the problem. “Get back in your crease.” I looked down and both my skates were in the blue paint. I shrugged and pushed backward a foot. Jonesy and Seventy-Seven skated to their benches and both teams got a wholesale line change. I hoped that with five new players on the ice, things might change. Our center won this draw and pulled the puck back to the defense and the game was back on. There was a definite talent drop off once Seventy-Seven and Twenty were off the ice, but it was still lopsided. We spent a little while in their zone, but couldn’t seem to get a shot. The Red team brought the puck back up the ice and took a couple of weak shots that I was able to save. Then one squirted between my pads and was in the net. On the next shift, Jonesy came back out. He and Seventy-Seven spent some time rubbing up against each other when the play allowed, but neither took it to an extreme. Meanwhile, 33


Twenty took a low slapshot from the blue-line. It caught the edge of my leg pad and ricocheted into the net. Near the end of the first period, there was a scramble for the puck just out of my reach in the slot. One of the red players jammed it toward the net and it slipped past me somehow. When the buzzer sounded, I looked up at the scoreboard. Five to zero. I skated slowly toward the bench. Sweat trickled down my back. My breath was hot inside the mask. When I got to the bench, Jonesy gave me a tap on the pads with his stick. Petey looked up and nodded, but everyone else avoided looking at me. Except for Eli, who was staring daggers at me. “Tough period,” Jonesy said. I nodded and reached across the boards for a water bottle. The cold liquid tasted great and I took a long drink. The silence on the bench hung in the air like a fog. “We’ll get it back,” Jonesy said. “Just hang in there.” “Thanks.” I turned and skated toward the other net, taking the water bottle with me. 34


Once at the crease, I put the water bottle on the top of the net. I wondered what sort of superstitions I should have, since I knew every goalie has some. I settled for putting the water bottle on the same side of the net that my team’s bench was on. It wasn’t very imaginative, but it would have to do for now. The second period started and was the same as the first. I struggled to move from side to side and to cover the angles. I was surprised at how hard it was to know where the net was. I couldn’t look behind me to find it because I had to concentrate on where the puck was. The first goal of the second period went in because I was way too far to the left of the net, leaving almost the whole right side exposed. When the puck got past me, I turned around and looked and realized I had only covered about a quarter of the net. I wondered what sort of sixth sense goalies used to know where the net was. The next goal was a breakaway. The skater got in behind the defense while Jonesy was on the bench and came skating in on me. I tried to do like I’d seen other goalies do, skating out toward him and then skating backwards as he approached. I didn’t know how fast to skate backwards and I worried for a second that I’d 35


back right into the net. Then the player made as if he were going to shoot a backhander and I dropped down to cover. He pulled the puck back to his forehand and skated to my left and then he had the whole net to shoot at. I dove in his direction, but the puck was in the net before I even landed on the ice. Seven to zero. Before the next face-off, as I stood at the top of the blue painted crease, I fell forward for no reason other than I lost balance. The skates that I was so used to didn’t seem to work anymore. Laughter rose from both benches, echoing across the rink. I scrambled to my feet and looked straight ahead, vowing to get some goalie skates. Two minutes later, Seventy-seven went into the corner after the puck. Jonesy took up a defensive position in the slot and waited. I put my skate against the post and faced the corner. The other defenseman wasn’t that great and Seventy-seven was able to dig out the puck and curl up above the goal line. He spotted Jonesy waiting for him in the slot, so he flung the puck at me. It hit my shoulder and ricocheted into the back of the net for his third of the game. When the ref pointed at the net and blew his 36


whistle to signify a goal, Seventy-Seven let out a loud whoop. “Hat trick, baby!” he shouted, skating hard toward center ice. As he crossed the blue line, he slid his stick between his legs and let the blade drag on the ice behind him, riding the stick like a pony. I recognized it as an old move that Marcel Dionne used to do. “Fucking showboat,” Jonesy said. I didn’t answer, just stepped aside so that the ref could retrieve the puck from the net. “Hang in there,” Jonesy said. “Trying to,” I told him. I took a shot of water, squirted some on my face and got set for the face off. By the end of the second, I’d let in two more. One was a lazy shot along the ice. I got down on my knees and laid my stick along the ice in what was called a “paddle-down” move. Unfortunately, the blocker on my right hand got in the way as it hit the ice and kept part of the stick about an inch off the ice. The puck slid right under my stick and past me at about two miles an hour. The other shot was a slapshot that hit a defenseman’s skate and was re-directed past me. I didn’t feel so bad about that one. At the end of the period, I skated back to the 37


bench for more silence and another glare from Eli. Jonesy gave me a tap on the pads, but said nothing. Petey didn’t look up at me. The third period didn’t get any better. I stumbled and fell on one play and was flat on my back when the red player zipped the puck over the top of me and into the net. The twelfth goal was a two-on-one break with Seventy-Seven and another red player. Seventy-Seven had the puck and I expected him to shoot, but he managed to slip the puck under the defenseman’s stick. All the other skater had to do was give it a hard tap and it was a goal. Seventy-Seven wasn’t finished yet. He waited until Jonesy got a line change and then carried the puck from behind his own net up the ice. I had a bad feeling by the time he hit his own blue-line. He stick-handled past Petey and two others in the neutral zone and then burst across our blue-line. I tried to set up for a shot, but I had no idea what he was planning to do. When he wound up for a slapshot, I tensed. He was faking, though, and skated in on me instead. I shuffled to my left. The edges of my skate blades were biting into the ice and I stumbled but didn’t fall. Seventy-Seven dangled the 38


puck on his stick as he cut across the front of me and pulled it to his backhand. He let go with a backhander and it seemed to me that the puck just disappeared. I heard a “tink” behind me and his hands shot up in the air. “Four goals!” he shouted. “Texas Hat-Trick! Woo-hoo!” He took off a glove and threw it in the air, then used his stick as a shotgun and pretended to shoot the falling glove. I tried to ignore him, but my stomach was burning. “Asshole,” I muttered. The ref took the puck back to center ice and waited for Seventy-Seven to finish tapping gloves with all of his teammates. I tried to appear unaffected, but that was pretty hard to do, considering I’d given up thirteen goals. The clocked ticked down. I glanced over my shoulder at it during every whistle. The bright red letters glared back at me and the countdown seemed to take forever. With three minutes left, Number Twenty launched a slapshot from center ice. I’m sure it was more of a dump-in than a shot, because he turned and skated toward the bench immediately after shooting. The puck sailed and turned in the air. I went down to block it. 39


Then I noticed that it was curving to my right as it flew toward me. I tried to slide over on my knees, but all I accomplished was shuffling in place. The puck hit the ice next to me and bounced past my blocker and into the net. Laughter and cheers erupted from the red bench. A few groans came from Petey’s bench. I stood up slowly and skated to the far boards and back, stunned. Fourteen goals. The laughter died down a little by the time the puck was dropped again, but I could still hear a few laughs from the red bench. I stood at the top of the crease and stared out at the puck as the skaters battled it out at center ice. One of their forwards brought the puck into our zone, but Jonesy poked it away and our forward picked it up and sent it down the length of the ice for an icing whistle. I glanced over my shoulder. Thirty seconds. Jonesy skated over to me, resting his stick across his knees. “I think that’s it,” he said, and tapped my pads. The buzzer sounded. I put my stick on top of the net. Petey’s team spilled out onto the ice reluctantly and meandered over toward me. 40


The tradition was to skate to your goalie and start the handshake line with him, then through your own team. Then the goalies skate to center ice and the two teams shake hands. But only three or four of Petey’s team tapped my pads or said anything to me. Most just fell into line and waited. I skated slowly to center ice, removing my blocker and shook hands with the red goalie. “Nice shutout,” I told him. “Good game,” he said. I skated through the rest of the line and shook hands, nodding and repeating myself to each of them. “Good game,” I told everyone, including a smirking Number Seventy-Seven. When I reached Number Twenty, he leaned in closer to me and said in a low voice, “I’m sorry about that one from center ice. I wasn’t trying to score on you.” I looked him in the face and saw that he was sincere. “It’s all right,” I told him. “I should’ve had it.” “Those long ones are squirrelly,” he said. We nodded at each other and then moved on. I gathered up my stick and left the ice, careful to walk bowl-legged and to kick my 41


skates outward while I walked, but my stride had no bounce to it. In the locker room, no one said a word. Everyone just undressed in silence. I tried to hurry without looking like I was hurrying. Jonesy finally broke the silence. “You did good for your first time.” Eli snorted and a couple players chuckled. “I mean it,” Jonesy said. “Goaltender is a tough position. You did good.” “Thanks,” I muttered. No one else said anything. I finished taking off my borrowed gear and got dressed. A shower could wait until I got home. “See ya,” I said to Petey. He nodded at me but said nothing. “Thanks, Jonesy,” I said and left. On the drive home, I re-lived every goal and felt a burning shame in my stomach. I realized there was a lot more to goaltending than I ever figured there was. It was like starting out playing the game all over again. At home, I laid the gear out to dry in the garage and went inside. Beth was cooking pork chops on the stove. “Hey there,” she said. I slipped up behind her, cupped her breasts and kissed her on the neck. 42


“Phew,” she said, wrinkling her nose at my smelly hands. “Hockey stink.” I gave both breasts a squeeze. “How’d it go, babe?” she asked. “We got murdered,” I answered, remembering Petey’s prediction. “How bad?” “Fourteen—zip.” “Fourteen?” I nibbled her earlobe. “Yep.” “That tickles.” She pulled her head away. “So how do you feel about goalie now?” “I love it,” I told her.

43


Six: A Friend Only a goalie can appreciate what a goalie goes through. - Jacques Plante, goalie Eagles Ice-A-Rena had drop in hockey every Monday and Wednesday night at seven in the summer. I decided that was where I was going to have to get my experience. Summer League was almost over, but even if it wasn’t, I doubted Petey would ever have me back again after the shellacking I took. I showed up early and chose the locker room closest to the ice. It was empty, so I took up a position in the corner and started to lay out my gear. The warm summer air in my garage had dried it out completely. I wondered how long it would take to dry out in the winter. The tramp of approaching feet caught my ear. In the quiet of the near-empty arena, the sound carried quite a ways. I slipped on my hockey pants and pulled the suspenders over my shoulders. After a few moments, the door swung open and a pair of sticks preceded a body through

44


the doorway. I noticed that the sticks were wide. Another goalie. He shuffled in, dragging his large bag behind him on wheels. I recognized him after a moment. His name was Jim Bridger. During the regular season, he usually played at The Ice House, the rink out in the Valley. He was about fifty or so, with dark hair that was receding and graying at the temples. His goatee was thick and streaked with gray. He gave me a friendly nod. He didn’t recognize me at first, but by the time he stopped and unzipped his bag, he looked up at me again. “Don’t you play rec league?” he asked. I nodded. “C league.” “What team?” “The Rangers,” I told him. He snapped his fingers. “That’s right! I subbed against you guys a few times last year.” “Usually for the Police-Fire team.” “My neighbor’s a cop,” he said. “So they always call me when they need a substitute goalie.” I pulled my left skate on. Jim removed his leg pads and dropped them on the floor in front of him. “You guys have that one big guy, 45


right? The one with the mouth?” “Ruby?” “I dunno. He jabbers a lot and gets under people’s skin.” I smiled. “That’d be Ruby.” “The talking doesn’t bother me,” Jim said, undressing. “But he always stands right in front of the net and screens the hell out of me.” That was how Ruby played. He’d park himself just outside the crease and put his big ass right in the goalie’s face while he jostled with the defenseman. He was my right winger and I was his left winger. I benefited more than once last season from him screening the goaltender, as my shot would get past the keeper before he even saw it. Of course, Ruby got his share of garbage goals, too, where the goalie made the stop, but gave up a short rebound, allowing Ruby to pounce on it and jam it into the net from point blank range. We got dressed in silence for a few moments. Once my skates were on, I threaded the toe strap through the front of the blade and dropped down onto the left pad. I’d decided that in addition to my water bottle superstition, I was also going to always put my left leg pad on first. “I didn’t know you played goalie,” Jim said. 46


“Didn’t Bennie play for you guys?” I glanced up and saw him tying the laces on his skates. “Bennie’s our goalie,” I said. “I just started playing net.” “When?” “A few days ago.” He raised his eyebrows. “Brand new, huh?” I nodded. “How’re you liking it?” “Pretty good,” I said. “It’s the best position in the game,” Jim said. “And the most fun.” I started strapping on my leg pad. “Have you played any games yet?” Jim asked. I shrugged. “One.” “What level?” “It was supposed to be D league,” I said, cinching a strap up as tight as I could. Jim grinned. “Let me guess. There were tons of sandbaggers?” ”Yeah. They killed us.” Jim worked his straps expertly. “How bad?” I felt my face get warm. “Fourteen to zero.” He whistled and finished with his first leg pad. “Fourteen? That’s almost as bad as my first game.” That piqued my interest and I stopped 47


putting on my gear. “Really?” Jim smiled at me. “I lost my first game Twenty-two to three.” “Twenty-two?!” He nodded, still smiling. “Ya-uh. It was a bloodbath.” Suddenly, I didn’t feel so bad about fourteen goals. “How’d that happen?” Jim ran his laces through his skate blade and wrapped them over the top of his skate. The laces were connected to the bottom of the pad instead of a toe strap. I wanted to ask him why he had that type of set up, but I was more interested in the twenty-two goals, so I kept quiet. He knelt onto the pad and sighed. “Well, the other team got a hold of the puck, you know? And then they shot it in the net behind me. They did it like that twenty-two times.” Then he winked and buckled his straps. I didn’t reply right away, because I wasn’t sure how to take him. By the time he finished buckling the leg straps and stood back up, all I could think of to say was, “Sounds a lot like my game.” He reached for his chest protector and smiled. “They were probably a lot alike. I had a bunch of beginners in front of me and the other 48


team was full of ringers. To make matters worse, I didn’t know my blocker from my keester. The ringers didn’t let up, either. They just kept pouring it on.” “One guy in my game had four goals,” I said, thinking of Seventy-Seven’s smirk. “One guy in mine had six,” Jim replied, slipping the chest protector over his head and shrugging it into place. “And after each one, you’d think the guy’d just scored the game winner in overtime to win the Stanley Cup or something.” I grinned, remembering Seventy-Seven’s exclamation about his Texas hat trick. Jim put his arms into the chest protector and strapped it down at the wrist. “I’m all about being competitive,” he said, “but I swear some of these guys think that there are NHL scouts in the stands at these recreational league games.” “You mean there aren’t?” He flashed me a grin. “No. Sorry to break your heart, but no.” I cinched down the top strap on my leg pad. Jim pulled his jersey over his head. I recognized the colors out of the corner of my eye. He wore the road reds of the Montreal Canadiens. After he finished dressing, he 49


watched me for a few seconds, then reached for his mask. “You might want to consider keeping those top three straps a little looser. It’ll let you butterfly easier.” I looked up at him. “Really?” He nodded. “Definitely. Keep them loose enough to rotate outward when you go down to your knees.” “They feel good when they’re tight,” I said. “Keep the bottom two straps snug,” he said, pulling the mask onto his head. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used it being looser.” “Thanks.” I unbuckled the top buckle and loosened it two notches. “No problem.” He picked up his glove and blocker. “See you out there.” I nodded to him and he sauntered out of the locker room. I watched him go and noticed that he did walk a little bowl-legged. He kicked his skates out forward a bit, too. At least I got something right.

END OF SAMPLE

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All That Counts