Chapter Three: Goalies Can't Win
Monday, October 19th
I ran my hand through my hair for what was probably the hundredth time within the pass hour. My eyes glazed over as I poured over my biology book in attempts to memorize all the different functions of each and every muscle in the body. Most of them were easy, such as the hamstrings, deltoid, and triceps, but there were a select few that very few people know about besides knowing it for a test. And those were the ones that were driving me nuts.
I'd taken a test on the muscles back in sophomore year, but after the majority of the class screwed up a few questions on the last test, the professor decided it was time for a refresher course and unfortunately, a lot of information had escaped.
I was currently held up in Don's, my supervisor's, office at the arena. I needed somewhere quiet to study, and knowing that Haley would be annoyingly loud; it was either here or the library. And I always felt at home here. Don had to pick his daughters up at dance so he bolted as soon as practice was over so he told me I could use his office as long as I didn't make a mess out of it.
I was just about to give up and try focusing on some work for another class when someone knocked on the door. I glanced up to see Coach standing the doorway, and if he was surprised to see me sitting at Don's desk, it didn't show.
"When you get to a stopping point," he asked gesturing my books, "Would you mind getting a certain hockey player of mine off the ice? I swear that boy is going to wear himself out before the game on Friday."
I dropped the pencil in my hand. I knew that Coach was frustrated with the fact that he couldn't help Connor out of whatever funk that he was in. Over the years, the two had developed a very personal relationship and seeing him clueless as to how to help him out was almost painful. "Of course," I replied, "I'll do what I can but I can't make any promises."
"That's all I can ask."
Dog earring the page, I closed the book and neatly stacked the pile of papers I had scattered about on the corner of the desk. I looked back over towards the door but Coach was already gone. He did have a tendency to be a man of few words after all.
I made my way through the tunnels and out onto the team's bench and, as I expected, Connor was the only one left in the arena. He still wore his jersey from practice that ended two hours ago and was firing a bucket full of pucks towards an empty goal. And once again, it seemed as if his mind was a million miles away.
I stood in silence for a few moments before finally walking out onto the ice. He turned his head briefly when he heard the gate open and sent me a quick smile, before he continued shooting pucks.
The pickup game over the weekend had gone well for the most part. Connor did a decent job as a defender, but it was weird not seeing him take on an offensive role. He played the part of a perfect teammate, always passing the puck when it got to his stick near the goal line, but from years of experience, he naturally drifted toward the spot that had the best angle for a shot. And he gave it up every time.
I slowly walked out to center ice and flipped over the bucket that once housed all the pucks to sit down on. He didn't bother to greet me and continued firing the pucks down the ice.
His form looked perfect and no indication of any injury. The power of his slap shot was still there, so whatever was bothering him had to be something mental. He had to at least have some clue as to what it was despite the fact he has told us otherwise.
"You'll do yourself an injury if you don't let your muscles relax," I finally told him, hoping to maybe scare some sense into him. His constant need to practice also served as a constant reminder as to his problems, which meant the matter was never far from his thoughts even when he was off the ice. And this weekend, while he had fun, wasn't enough. The entire ride back, I could tell from the look in his eyes that he needed to get back on the ice to work on his shot. It was getting to the point where it wasn't healthy.
When he finally ran out of pucks, he took off his helmet and sat down on the other bucket. It was a few more minutes before his eyes met mine, and several more passed before he spoke.
"It used to be simple," he said softly, running his hand through his hair.
My heart went out to him. I don't think I've ever seen his guard this low. "It still is."
Shaking his head he replied, "there's just too much pressure."
"The only person pressuring you right now is you. You need to lighten up on yourself. You've been having a bit of bad luck lately, you will shake it off."
"It's not that easy."
"Yes, it is. Stop focusing on scoring. Start racking up on assists. Help everyone else play better out there. You and I both know that there are a hundred other things you could do out there besides dumping the puck in the net. There are twenty-three other guys counting out there, who need you.
"What did you guys do sophomore year when Brian had trouble defending against pucks in the top left corner? You upped the defense on the left. And when Jack was slow off the puck drop? Coach came up with some new plays to put you automatically on the defense. Every single person on that team has struggled at least once over the last three years and the team has always found a way to account for it. There is no point in you injuring yourself to figure something that will fix itself. The guys don't care that you are off your game but they will care if you somehow injury yourself trying to prove something that doesn't need to be proving."
He just shook his head and fired another puck towards the net. "Care to write my next prep talk?" he asked half-heartedly.
"I think I'll pass, thank you," I replied, silently cheering that his mood seems to have lifted. "Now can we please get out of here, I'm starting to get cold."
"Well where is your coat?"
"Don's office. I wasn't expecting to have to come onto the ice and physically drag you off myself."
"But you're not."
I stood up and gave him the iciest glare I could manage under the circumstances. "Wait another minute and see," I threatened.
Connor met my glaze and finally smiled. "Fine," he laughed as he skated towards the net to collect the pucks. "But only because you asked nicely." A sigh of relief escaped my lips. Finally he was listening to someone.
Friday October 24th
I crossed my arms and leaned slightly forward as two figures crossed in front of me. One red, one white.
A few more seconds passed by and two more red blurs raced by. And then another white. A little while later, they all crossed again, but this time from left to right.
I knew that I should have been following their moments up and down the ice but my eyes remained locked. I was zoning out in the first period of our first game of my last season. To the casual observer, it would appear that I was staring at our opponent's bench, since they were located directly across the ice from us, but that was far from the truth.
I had been out of the ice for four shifts already. Four very unsuccessful shifts. We were slowly losing the momentum that we had built up in preseason as Blake College easily had the advantage. They were outshooting us, outplaying us, and were currently on a power play as Prim had 1:32 left on his penalty for hooking.
I was ready for the standing room only crowd to start booing us. Or leave the game entirely and in fact, it was probably only due to the fact that Banks was playing brilliantly in goal and hadn't let a puck pass that they were still in the building at all.
We weren't playing like a team. Our passes were sloppy, our plays were easily broken up, and everyone seemed exhausted. Coach had been screaming at us for the majority of the period however now he stood quietly as if he had no idea how to motivate us.
The weekend away seemed to be the break everyone needed, but was as effective as it should have been. You could blame the new lines coach developed this year or the fact that our team was made up mostly seniors and freshmen, or the fact that the captain should really be kicked off the team for his horrible performance in the preseason. But whatever it was, it needed to end. Alex was right. We had worked too long and too hard for this to happen. We were better then this.
My concentration redirected to the game just in time to hear the officials blow their whistles signaling a timeout. I knew without a doubt that we had taken it. With my eyes I followed the Jags to their bench and couldn't help but notice the smug smiles painted on their faces. They thought they had this game in the bag. Well, I hate to break it to them but there we still had forty-five more minutes to play. I just needed to snap out of it.
As the team gathered around the bench, instead of lecturing us or going over game strategies, coach looked at me. And when a few seconds passed and he still hadn't said anything, I realized that I would be the one to rally the troops. I took a moment to think about what the best approach would be. It had to be good. The game was slowly slipping from us and if we didn't make somewhat of an impact before the end of the period then the smirks off our opponents.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Banks smiling at me. Out of everyone on the team, we at least owed it to him to snap back into it for his behalf. He's carried us all night but unfortunately, goalies cannot win on his own.
"I'm sorry boys, but if someone could please tell me where the Kings, last year's championship team, are playing, I'd greatly appreciate it." I paused for dramatic effect or whatever else you want to call it. "Rumor has it is that they have a lot of talent. They know how to skate. They know how to score. And they know how to fight. Last year they averaged 3.21 goals per game. They were second in the nation in penalty kills. Apparently they were also known for never quitting and had several come from behind victories."
The ref blew his whistle signaling that we had fifteen seconds left before we needed to take the ice.
I cleared my throat. "I don't care what we need to do to get that team back but that is the team that everyone came to see tonight. That team is the one our opponents were afraid to play against and that team is the one who will lead us to victory tonight. So boys, what is it going to be?"
A series of grunts and cheers rang out but I chose to ignore them knowing my time was limited. "It's a new game from here on out. The team that played the first fifteen minutes has been kicked out of the arena for good. From here on out, it's all Kings," I roared. If we had the time, we would have brought our hands in for a quick chant but the refs were closing in on us so we got our asses back out on the ice.
I sat back down on the bench and as soon as the puck was dropped, there was a noticeable different. We had fire, we had heat, and if it weren't for the freezers under the ice, it would have melted.
Okay, that was a lame comparison.
But ignoring that, it seemed like the game had turned in our favor. After about five minutes, the buzzer sounded, and while the score remained tied at zero, it was clear that the Kings would not go down without a fight. Come second period, it would be an entirely new ball game.
As the team skated off the ice and back into the locker rooms, Connor hung back knowing he had an interview with the local news station that was covering the game. They always talked to someone, usually whoever scored the last goal or had the biggest impact on the period, but when they were losing, or just playing poorly, he always had to answer the hard questions.
I purposely stalled while gathering my things in attempts to catch the interview. He pulled his helmet off his head, handed it over to the equipment manager and ran his hand through his damp hair in attempts to tame it for the camera. He dawned a fake smile as the reporter began her introduction. He could fool the world but he couldn't fool me. Even with his uplifting speech, he was putting on an act. He was still giving up and he was still getting beat. He thought that every word he just spoke should only be applied for his teammates.
"So I am standing alongside Connor Madison, captain of the defending champions, the Kensington Kings," the reporter began, "Connor, now after that timeout, we saw an entirely different team. What did you say to them?"
He shrugged his shoulders and ran his hand through his hair again which I knew was only out of nervousness. He had always been uneasy on camera and had this weird idea that the reporters were always out to get him and to trap him into saying something that he didn't mean. "I told them the truth," he replied, keeping his answers short and simple. "We were playing horribly and it needed to stop."
"Would you care to elaborate on that?" the reporter pressed, shoving the mic closer to his face. He was obviously not happy with the nonchalant answer.
Again Connor shrugged. "There's really nothing else to elaborate on. I just reminded them that we could do better and luckily it worked. From here on out, it's a new game. A new team."
"Thanks for your time and good luck next period," the reporter shook his hand, obviously realizing that he wasn't going to be getting anything more out of the interview. "Back to you guys upstairs."
I grabbed my medic back off the bench and headed down into the tunnel now that it wasn't blocked. Thankfully there weren't any injuries in the first, but I knew that Tom's shoulder needed icing since it had been sore lately, Jack's knee would need to be rewrapped and Bank's legs would need to be stretched in order to ensure that they wouldn't cramp up for the rest of the game. Not to mention a few other dozen bumps and bruises that would need to be attended to but that was a reason why we had a medical staff on hand. Kensington was always one to take care of its athletes and while other schools often told us it was over the top, they just wanted to protect there students in any way possible. Granted there were a lot of interns on the staff, including me, in order to stay within our allotted budget.
And since I had been around longer then the majority of the interns, the staff usually let me tend to the starters. Obviously I was always under constant observation, but they had more faith in my abilities then others. Also add the fact that the freshmen six tended to get grumpy whenever anyone came near them with anything medical they decided that I should be given the lovely task.
I glanced around the locker room and the guys were sitting around carrying on several different conversations with who ever were standing around them. Coach is a little nontraditional no matter what the score was, he gave the guys the first half of the intermission to regroup and focus on whatever they needed to. During the second half they would talk strategy, but for now, they were given a chance to breath.
Connor was standing off in the corner of the room re-taping his stick, however his eyes were glazed over and one could only guess that his mind was a million miles away. I tried my best to ignore him as I worked around the room, patching up whatever needed patching but without realizing it, I had finished all my tasks and somehow ended up in the far corner of the room.
If he noticed my presence, he made no indication and the second I was about to open my mouth, coach interrupted and asked everyone to take a seat. Connor put on that fake grin as he faced his teammates and took a seat in front of his locker.
My heart went out to him. He needed to push passed whatever was bugging him so he could finally have some peace.
Once again, it's been a while. A few notes to those of you who are still with me-
1. I was not entirely happy with this chapter. I've been sitting on it for a while before I finally decided just to put it out there.
2. I'm looking for a beta. Seriously this time to beta this and some of my other works. PM me if you are interested. I just ask that you're over 18.
3. I have yet another new story out untitled Play or Get Played. I have a bit written and I have a feeling that if you like this, you will like that as well. It's a sports story as well.
4. Check out my LJ. I ask for feedback and whatnot as well as update my progress so feel free to friend me.
I think that is it. As always, please feel free to contact me with any question/comments. I'll usually get back to you within a few days.