Summary: The Seattle Raptors lose the 2012 Stanley Cup. Witness the fallout.

Notes: These are the chronicles of the Seattle Raptors, an NHL team that exists purely in my imagination, and their 2012-2013 season. I began writing this a year and a half ago, way before the lockout, and it would have been too much work to change my timeline so the lockout does not apply here.

I have a full-time job for which I am paid, and writing is a part-time hobby for which I am not paid. Therefore updates may come in fits and starts, but my goal is to give these boys at least one season before the NHL actually puts a franchise in Seattle.

Also, when I wrote this I plucked the Devils out of thin air with no idea they'd be in the 2012 SCF. Sorry, Devils fans.

This first story is long, but there was alot of intro work to do :).

I do sometimes include real players/figures from the hockey world in this series. If you can't find a guy's name on a Google search, assume I made him up.


The final buzzer sounded throughout the Boeing Arena in Seattle, Washington, signaling the end of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the 2011-2012 hockey season, and the Seattle Raptors' and New Jersey Devils' battle for Lord Stanley's chalice.

That battle had ended considerably better for the Devils than the Raptors.

Half the arena erupted into cheers, the other half lapsed into silence. Raptors' rookie left winger Ricky Traynor dropped to his knees at his team's blue line. Kneeling there, with 18,000 people in the stands, millions more in the television audience, his team, and the Devils watching, Ricky bowed his head and stared at the scratched-up ice.

Ricky had just gotten drafted the year before out of the juniors system's Everett Silvertips. After getting assigned to Seattle's AHL affiliate the Tacoma Raptors, Ricky had gotten called up midway through the season when forward Joel Francoeur got sidelined with ACL surgery. Ricky had gotten to hop aboard for the Raptors' second half tear through the Western conference, eventually finishing second in the conference and first in their division, and their best postseason showing in two decades.

And now they'd lost the Stanley Cup.

They hadn't just lost, the wiry, curly-haired teenager thought. Seattle had held a three-games-to-one lead. And they'd blown three in a row.

How did this happen?

Ricky heard the Devils jump over their boards and rush to pile on top of their goalie and hero of the hour, Martin Brodeur. Not fair. It's just not fair. We worked so hard. We had it. The newcomer wiped at his running nose with his glove. We were one game away. Just one game. What happened?

Ricky had lost big games during his time in junior, including a crusher in the bronze medal round at the World Junior Championships. That had hurt. But this was so much worse. Ricky hadn't felt like this since his grandmother died three years ago.

Get over yourself, it's just a stupid game. Ricky sniffled and tried to get enough control to stand up. Nobody's dead. The world isn't over. Get a grip.

But the self-talk didn't work, so Ricky rested his head on his gloves and cried silently, hoping the rest of the arena was too absorbed in celebration or grief to notice.

At least one person was not. An arm slid over Ricky's shoulders and the youngster didn't have to look up to know who it was.

"Take a breath, Ricky," Hank Sheridan encouraged. "Take a breath."

It took some effort, but Ricky managed to follow his captain's direction.

"This isn't what you dream about when you're a peewee." Hank's voice sounded rough and Ricky felt a twinge in his chest. At least I'll have another chance. Hank and Ronny could be done. Hank had turned 40 in February, and Andor Ronningen, otherwise known as Ronny, would be 44 by the time the next season rolled around.

If there is a next season. The CBA expires in September.

Unable to speak, Ricky nodded and dropped his hands into his lap.

"But it's the truth," Hank went on. "You love the game, you give it your entire life, everything you have…and it's not always gonna love you back."

"I know," Ricky choked. "I mean, I thought I knew." He blinked. He couldn't even wipe his eyes with his visor on. "Now I really know."

"I know this is hard," Hank said, "but the sun will come up tomorrow. And it'll keep coming up, every day from now until October, and this season will have no bearing on next season. For us or them. You got me?"

Don't talk anymore, Hank. Please. Ricky nodded again.

"Come on." Hank gave Ricky a comforting squeeze. "On your feet. If we sit here much longer we'll become an Internet fad. They'll call it 'Traynoring' or something."

Ricky gave a pathetic chuckle as Hank gently helped him up. Unfortunately, the chuckle only made the sobs harder to stop. Great, great. Wonderful. On national television and I'm crying like a girl. "Sorry," Ricky hiccuped.

"There's nothing wrong with tears, Rick," Hank murmured, guiding Ricky over to the bench full of equally despondent Raptors. "God made them for a reason."

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Inna Mikkelsen Ronningen was, by all standards, a stunningly beautiful woman. Tall, blond, graceful and feminine even at 42, she still carried herself with the statuesque elegance she'd learned as a model half a lifetime ago.

But tonight, that statuesque elegance crumbled as she watched her husband Andor lose his third chance to hoist the Stanley Cup.

Boston, Carolina, and now here. Inna bent forward in her rinkside seat and buried her face in her hands.

A few moments later her eldest son, Ambjorn, poked his mother's shoulder. "Mom."

Inna looked up and found her husband skating toward Inna and their three boys. She wiped her eyes and tried to offer Andor a smile. At least we're right in front where he can find us.

Andor stopped in front of the glass, and Inna stood. Clad in full hockey gear, her Norwegian mountain man looked even larger than usual.

"I love you," Andor said. Even after losing hockey's greatest prize, he was unreadable as ever. His eyes weren't even wet.

Inna just nodded in return, determined not to make a fool of herself in public.

Andor pointed to the door several rows up. "Go home. Don't wait for me."

Inna nodded again.

Andor bent forward to look at the boys—16-year-old Ambjorn, 13-year-old Mikkjel, and 10-year-old Thorsen. All of them with fair skin, white-blond hair, and slate blue eyes. "The little Vikings," Sandy Garneau called them.

"Can you come see us?" Thorsen asked, his young voice cracking on the last word.

Andor shook his head and gave his sons a thumbs-up and a sad smile. Then he went back to his team.

"Come on, boys," Inna said. She couldn't get out of the Boeing Arena fast enough. "Let's go."

Is there no justice in this world?

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"Mom? Mom, are you in here?"

Katie Morrell Sheridan leaned her forehead against the door to the ladies' room stall. She had run from her seat halfway through the third period, convinced she was either going to vomit or go into preterm labor. Neither had transpired. Katie stayed in the bathroom, unable to watch as her husband's team played from behind in a Stanley Cup Final Game 7 showdown.

She could tell by the sound of the home crowd, and her second daughter's voice, that it hadn't ended in Hank's favor.

Oh, Hank. Oh, honey.

"Mom? Are you OK?" Ashley, Katie and Hank's 15-year-old, asked again.

"Yes, honey." Katie opened the door and stepped out. The second of her five (soon to be six) children stood in the doorway, red and silver ribbons tangled in her brown curls and tears running down her face. A large Pepsi blotch from the second period stained the chest of her Raptors Jersey—the #7 jersey, her father's number—and just added to the pathetic look.

"They lost, Mom." Ashley started to sniffle. "Dad lost."

"I know, Ash." Katie wrapped her daughter into a hug. "Where's Nate?"

"He's right outside," Ashley said, referring to her 13-year-old brother.

"All right." Katie exited the bathroom. "Nate, come on. We're going home. Let's not leave everyone else waiting too long." The other three children were at home, and Katie was sure her eldest, 17-year-old Donna, was quite tired of watching eight-year-old Timmy and four-year-old Charlie.

"Aren't we going to be in traffic?" Nate, considerably less tearful than his sister, asked.

"Better than being here." Katie ushered her children out of the Boeing Arena and tried to mentally prepare herself for Hank's homecoming.

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Nancy Desjardins, formerly Nancy Desjardins Garneau, had never thought she would feel sorry for her ex-husband again.

Sandy had, after all, taken the trade from Montreal to Seattle five years ago without so much as asking Nancy how she felt about it. He was so sick of being underused and overlooked as the Canadiens' backup goalie that he'd snapped up the offer from the Raptors without looking back. The next thing Nancy knew, she was three time zones away and in another country.

Seattle fit Sandy like a glove. They put him in a starting role right off the bat, something the Canadiens hadn't done in three years. Seattle noticed and utilized Sandy's talents—and he had plenty of talent, Nancy wasn't about to dispute that. Sandy and Nancy also both found the slower pace and dimmer spotlight of Seattle a relief compared to Montreal, where the Canadiens were half hockey team, half political entity. At least in Seattle, the Garneau could go out for ice cream without fear of the media and very little chance of Sandy getting recognized and/or harassed.

While Sandy enjoyed more success than ever, Nancy found herself increasingly unhappy. She'd never fit in with the team or their wives. Not for lack of trying on either end. They'd simply never clicked. Nancy, a busy interior designer, had very little in common with the other wives, most of whom stayed home. Nancy had considered quitting her job when she had Emily 11 years ago. But she didn't want to lose herself in motherhood, and she didn't want to be dependent on her husband. She wanted her own identity.

Somewhere in a part of Nancy's mind she didn't acknowledge, she wondered if that might have been part of the problem.

By the time they'd been in Seattle three years, Nancy wanted a divorce. With Seattle in the Western Conference, the road trips were more wearing and almost always involved a time change. Sandy came home more exhausted and less available. Nancy began to feel like she was doing all the "dirty work." She helped with homework, got Emily and the younger Garneau, Julianna, ready for school, made their lunches, drove them to ballet and soccer and Girl Scouts, cleaned up after them, and meted out punishment. There were days when she was surprised Sandy remembered he had children at all. However, with a lack of anywhere else to go, Nancy stayed put.

Then one day shortly after the All-Star Break this season while Sandy was at practice, a draftsman in Vancouver contacted Nancy with a job offer, obviously not knowing her life situation. He needed a subcontractor to do interior design work. It was the push Nancy needed. She now had a place to go.

Two weeks later, while Sandy was on a road trip, Nancy had hired a divorce attorney and gone to Vancouver to accept the job. She'd taken Emily and Julianna with her, leaving divorce papers on the kitchen table for Sandy to find.

Nancy knew that made her a first-class bitch. And she didn't care. Sandy had done enough to ruin their marriage since coming to Seattle; Nancy figured it was time for a little payback.

But now, as she sat in her Vancouver apartment and saw her husband on TV, sitting on the bench with his head in his hands as his team lost the Stanley Cup, Nancy definitely felt sorry for him.

"Mom?" Julianna asked. "Can we call Dad?"

Nancy blinked. "He doesn't have his phone with him, Jules."

"What if we left him a voicemail?" Nine-year-old Emily turned around and looked at her mother. "He looks so sad."

That he does. "OK. Let me get my phone."

Nancy retrieved her BlackBerry from her purse and handed it to Emily. Then she stood back and watched the Devils celebrating while the Raptors mourned.

For what it's worth, Sandy, I am sorry.

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In the parking garage at the Boeing Arena, Amy Laboissiere Cibulka shut the door to her Toyota Corolla and waited for her hands to stop shaking.

I know I'm new at this whole hockey wife thing, but that was ridiculous.

It had only been three years ago that the preschool in Winnipeg where Amy taught had won a meet-and-greet with the Jets. And Amy, an oddball Canadian who didn't know hockey from a hole in the ground, almost hadn't gone.

But she did go, and wound up spending the majority of the time talking with a player named Stanislav Cibulka who had a heavy Eastern European accent and was barely an inch taller than Amy (and two years younger, but she didn't learn that until later). "What's up with this?" Another player had asked as the event ended. "Bulk hasn't talked that much in two years."

A few days later Amy got a phone call from Stanislav, who it turned out had gone through various channels at the preschool to get her phone number and ask her out on a date. Much to her surprise, Amy grew to like the quiet, steady, thoughtful Prague native who magically transformed into the Tazmanian Devil when he got a hockey stick in his hand. Their romance hummed along smoothly until the Jets shipped Stanislav to Seattle at the end of the year.

Amy had been devastated and angry, worried that she might lose her man and upset that he didn't seem at all fazed by any of this. But as always, Stan was a step ahead. He told her one day that he didn't want to go to Seattle without her, but if she wanted to go with him he supposed they had to get married. Despite reservations from both sides, Amy and Stanislav put together a wedding in time for him to report to Seattle for training camp.

And now, they were here.

How am I going to tell him? Amy wondered, fear replacing sadness. He won't want to find out now. I should never have taken that pregnancy test. I should have waited for tomorrow. But I was so anxious to know….and I thought they would win. It would have been so great to tell him after they won. Stanley Cup and daddy all in one night?

Why did they have to lose?

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Alexandre Garneau sat in the home dressing room, numbly removing his goalie gear. If I hadn't given up those two goals…

"Sandy" as his friends called him (because if they called him Alexandre they weren't his friends anymore) kept replaying the first period in his mind. Two goals. Two goals. Sure, Gunnar had stopped the bleeding, but the damage was done. The Raptors' offense couldn't get past the Devils' goalie all night. Marty Effing Brodeur. Sandy had watched from the bench as his team, which had just put up its best postseason showing in two decades, fell like dominos.

Sandy lifted his head to observe the room. Nobody was speaking. John Harris, a rookie who'd spent seven years toiling in Tacoma and had finally made the big club for good, sat holding his sweater in his hands with his face buried in it. He might be crying. Sandy couldn't tell. All that work and this is how he gets rewarded.

Marty Effing Brodeur.

Andor Ronningen, Ronny as he was known, was packing up his gear like it was any other game. I can't believe he's going to retire having lost the Stanley Cup three times.

Have I mentioned how I hate Marty Brodeur yet?

Hank Sheridan, having removed his gloves, helmet and sweater, just stood with his forehead resting on his stall, eyes closed. What's he doing? Praying? A little late for that, Preacher, don't you think?

Would it make me a terrible person if I want God to strike down Marty Brodeur?

Sandy's eyes caught the champagne in the corner of the dressing room, still on ice, with Seattle Raptors—2012 Stanley Cup Champions embroidered on the cloth beneath.

He couldn't look, so he looked at the floor.

This was how Sandy had felt when Nancy served him divorce papers. Like the whole world had been turned upside down and the natural order of the universe flipped on its head. Sandy felt a stab of envy for the guys like Hank and Ronny who had families to go home to. Sandy had nothing but an empty condo. As much as he ached to hold his two little girls, he wouldn't see them for another week at least. It's not bad enough Nancy had to rip my family out from under me. Now we have to lose the Cup too.

"Sandy?"

Sandy looked up to find the backup goalie, Gunnar Norgaard, standing over him.

"It's not your fault," Gunnar said in his mild Swedish accent. "It isn't. People will say it, because they always blame the goalie, but don't believe it. No matter who says it." Even if it's you, Sandy heard implied.

Not trusting his voice, Sandy just nodded.

Gunnar looked over Sandy's head. "Your phone is ringing."

Still in a fog, Sandy turned around and groped in his locker for the phone. Voicemail. Huh. He numbly hit "Listen" and put the phone to his ear.

"Daddy?" It was Emily.

"Daddy, we love you." Julianna.

"And we still think you're the best goalie ever!" Emily declared.

Sandy closed his eyes against the threatening waterworks.

"Yeah, so anyone who says you're not can pound sand." Sandy would have laughed at Julianna's use of her father's favorite expression, but he knew he'd lose it.

"We'll see you soon," Julianna said. "Bye, Daddy!"

"We love you!" Emily signed off enthusiastically.

The message ended. Not daring to look up, Sandy stuck the phone back in his locker, took off the rest of his hockey gear, and put on the gray T-shirt and tan cargo shorts he'd stuffed in his locker. Then Sandy left the dressing room, entered the one-stall handicapped restroom down the hall, locked the door, and collapsed to the cold tile. The entirety of his horrible season came down on him like a ton of bricks: the pulled hip flexor that derailed most of the first half, the knee injury that had nearly ended the second half, and the divorce that had made all of it that much worse.

And now the crushing, mocking ending.

In the privacy of the vacant restroom, the Seattle Raptors' goalie covered his face with his hands and let out a year's worth of pain and heartache in bitter tears.

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If there was anything Andor Ronningen hated about his job, it was press conferences. He wasn't a great talker. Really, he was well-suited to a career where he could let his 6' 5", 250-pound bulk do the talking for him. Andor wasn't a brawler. He didn't fight a lot or dish out punishment to anyone who didn't deserve it. In 1999 he'd won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for the least penalized player in the league. He could say a lot without speaking much.

But that didn't work with the media. They needed words.

This is going to be the worst press conference ever, Andor thought. At least it's also my last.

And at least he was sharing the responsibility with Hank Sheridan. Hank was good with the media.

A reporter asked Hank something and the team captain answered while Andor zoned out. His entire body ached and he was exhausted, but he knew he wouldn't sleep tonight. And how do I know that? I've been here twice before.

Three times. I've lost the Stanley Cup three times. This was my last game. I'm going to retire having lost the Stanley Cup three times.

A gentle kick from Hank snapped Andor out of his introspection. Hank flicked his dark eyes toward the crowd, indicating that a reporter wanted Andor's attention.

Andor blinked. "Yeah," he turned his attention to the crowd of media.

A reporter in the second row shifted uncomfortably. He asked me something and I was out to lunch.

"Could you, uh, repeat the question?" Andor asked. He rubbed his hand over his playoff beard.

"Have you made a decision about retirement?" The reporter asked.

Yes,of course I have. I'm done.

"No," Andor answered.

Hank gave him a somewhat surprised look. He and Andor had discussed retirement quite a bit as the playoffs approached. Hank had turned 40 in February, Andor was approaching 44 in just a few weeks. They were both getting old to make a living having the snot beaten out of them on a nightly basis. Andor had said nothing officially, but he'd heavily hinted to Hank that he wouldn't be back next year.

"It's not...this isn't the time to make decisions like that," Andor said. His voice sounded hollow in his own ears. "I have the whole offseason; I plan to weigh all my options before making an announcement."

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William LaJeunesse had been in hockey full-time for almost 30 years, but he still looked, thought, and acted like a soldier.

LaJeunesse had ridden the West Point train to the 1978 NHL draft, getting a deferment to serve his five-year hitch in the Army. After doing his duty as an intelligence officer, LaJeunesse went to play for the Minnesota North Stars, following the team when it became the Dallas Stars and playing until a back injury cut his career short. LaJeunesse had gotten into coaching as an assistant in the Stars' minor league affiliate, later getting a call from Pat MacGregor to come be his head coach in Seattle.

That was five years ago. Today the tall, rangy, distance-running 56-year-old was pacing the halls of the Boeing Arena. Tie loosened, collar open, navy suit jacket flapping as he walked, turned, walked, and turned again, the Raptors' coach looked like a caged bear.

He felt like one, too. LaJeunesse wasn't angry with his team personally. He never could be, no matter how badly they played. He wasn't angry with himself, or his assistants…he wasn't even angry with the Devils. LaJeunesse was just angry, in general.

"Will? Have you seen Sandy?"

"No, I have not," LaJeunesse snapped at his assistant, Vince McElroy. Vince was nearly everything LaJeunesse was not: Handsome, charming, winsome, and personable. He was 45 but he didn't look or act a day over 35.

"The, um, the press is looking for him," Vince said as LaJeunesse reached the end of the hall, turned on his heel, and started to pace another lap.

"I'm not his babysitter," LaJeunesse growled. "Isn't he in the dressing room?"

"Gunnar says he took a phone call and then left the room."

"Well, maybe he's on the phone." LaJeunesse started walking back toward Vince.

"He left the phone in his bag."

LaJeunesse stopped walking. "What?"

"Gunnar says he listened to a voicemail, put the phone down, left all his stuff and walked out of the room," Vince reported.

Well, this is different. "All right, I'll find him." LaJeunesse took off down the hall.

"How?" Vince called after him.

"He left his stuff in the room," LaJeunesse said over his shoulder. "So he's still in the building."

"Do you know how big this place is?!"Vince hollered.

LaJeunesse didn't answer, too consumed in finding Sandy to think of a response.

Where would he go? LaJeunesse wondered. He had to admit Sandy's disappearance worried him. Back when LaJeunesse had pursued getting Sandy from Montreal to replace Seattle's retired starting goalie, people had warned that Sandy Garneau could be every bit as bad as he was good, professionally and personally. He could get emotional, he could lose his temper, and his mental state affected his game. "The Viper," some players and fans called him, both for his aggressive goaltending style and famously mercurial temperament. LaJeunesse knew that was part of the reason the Canadiens kept Sandy in the backup role. His personality wasn't right for that city, anyway. He was too intense and private and, well, moody for a city where the goalie's every move was tabloid fodder.

He can't have gone far. LaJeunesse stopped. He was close to the dressing room. Maybe Sandy had just gone back in. Maybe—

LaJeunesse stopped thinking and inclined his head toward to bathroom door across the hall. He could hear something. Someone was inside, crying. Crying hard.

Dear God, he's in there!

LaJeunesse tried the doorknob. It was locked. "Garneau. Sandy? Are you in there? Open up!"

A janitor came by pushing a cart full of cleaning tools. "Hey." LaJeunesse grabbed the guy's arm. "Do you have a key to this door?"

The janitor, who looked as if he hadn't had a bath since the Original Six(1) era, nodded. "I have a key to all doors," he said in some accent LaJeunesse couldn't identify. And considering how many strange accents he heard on a daily basis, that was saying something.

LaJeunesse pointed to the bathroom doorknob. "Open it!" He barked.

The janitor jumped like a buck private given an order by a four-star general and unlocked the door. LaJeunesse charged past him without so much as a thank you.

It is him. There was Sandy Garneau on the floor, slumped against the wall, sobbing into his hands.

"Garneau. Garneau." LaJeunesse knelt on the floor and placed his hand on his goalie's back. Oh, Sandy.

"LaJeunesse, you're a great officer. But you have the empathy of a brick."

That had been the assessment of LaJeunesse's first commanding officer. It wasn't an inaccurate statement. LaJeunesse had had it hammered into him at West Point that a good officer had compassion on his men. But it was an area he consistently missed in his desire to get the work done.

And boy, had he missed it here.

What was I thinking, making him play through all this? He was hurt, his wife left him. Why didn't I play Norgaard?

Sandy lifted his head, blue eyes bloodshot and tears streaking his face. "C-coach…" He swallowed. "I'm sorry."

"No, Sandy, no." LaJeunesse dropped his customary formality. "No. You have nothing to be sorry for."

"I let the team down—"

"No. No," LaJeunesse said firmly. "I let you down, Sandy, and I'm the one who's sorry. I knew what you were going through and I kept starting you anyway."

Sandy swallowed. "I should have been able to—"

"Stop," LaJeunesse admonished gently. "You weren't up to this, Sandy. It's not your fault. I could have started Gunnar in your place." If I were any kind of hockey coach, I would have. "But I didn't. I ignored what was happening to you, and I am so sorry."

Sandy dropped his head into his coach's lap and started to cry again. LaJeunesse rested on hand on Sandy's shoulder, the other on his head, and looked up to the ceiling.

What have I done?

"Coach?" Sandy sniffed after a few minutes.

"Yeah?"

"Can you stay with me for awhile?"

LaJeunesse ignored the cramping in his legs and the tingling in his feet. Some part of him felt like it was way less pain than he deserved for what he'd done to Sandy. "Sure."

Coach and player sat for a long time, LaJeunesse content to stay until Sandy could leave on his own or the arena staff kicked them out. Even after Sandy stopped crying the coach didn't move. He just stayed put, occasionally rubbing his hand up and down Sandy's back. The sounds of the Devils' celebrating were muffled by layers of cinderblock and steel, but they hurt nonetheless.

Sandy had already paid a hefty price for his coach's shortsightedness. Said coach wasn't about to leave him to begin the reconstruction process alone.

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Henry Richard Sheridan was exhausted. Physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausted.

The nearly 20-year NHL and Seattle Raptors veteran forcibly steadied his trembling hand as he reached for his car keys. His dark blue Lexus was one of the few cars left in the parking garage three hours after the game had ended.

Dear Jesus, Hank prayed. Please help me.

Hank pressed the unlock button on the fob, tossed his equipment bag in the back, and most ungracefully dropped his 6' 3" frame into the drivers' seat. Without even closing the door, he leaned his head on the headrest and closed his eyes. He'd spent the last few hours dealing with the press, assuring his family that he would be home "soon," and trying to be the steady team captain for everyone else. Now he just had to hold it together long enough to drive home, and Hank wasn't sure he could do it.

This has got to be some kind of bad dream.

Hank was aware of his phone ringing for about 30 seconds before he reached for it. Darren Foulke.

Darren had been captain of the Raptors when Hank first arrived at training camp fresh out of the University of Colorado in 1995. As the only two Americans on the team at that time, they'd sort of stuck together for warmth. Like every other rookie, Hank had almost no idea what he was actually doing in the NHL, and like every newlywed father had almost no idea what he was doing as a family man. Darren, having been down both roads, had taken Hank under his wing. He'd shown Hank how to be a better player and a better man. The two had become best friends and the Raptors' top defensive pair for seven years, until Darren retired to coach the University of Maryland Terrapins (which Hank loved to remind him were actually the Turtles, the worst hockey team mascot ever) and the Raptors appointed Hank as his successor. Several years passed before Hank found out Darren had been instrumental in that decision.

Hank answered the phone. "Hi, Darren."

"Hank," Darren's voice came from across the country. "You all right?"

No. I'm not. I'm not all right at all. "No," Hank answered. Darren wouldn't have believed a lie, anyway.

Darren sighed heavily. "I'm really sorry, man. I think I wanted this for you almost as badly as you did."

Hank felt tears fill his eyes and tried to collect himself. Darren had been on the Raptors' last Stanley Cup-winning squad in 1994. Several analysts, fans and players had predicted the Raptors had many more championships in them, but it never materialized. In the 19 years since, the Raptors had only made it to a conference final once, in 2001, and while they rarely missed the playoffs altogether they'd never advanced past the second round.

"You there?"

"Yeah," Hank rasped.

"You home yet?"

"No." Hank wiped his eyes. "In the parking lot."

"Are you OK to drive?"

"Gonna come pick me up from College Park?"

"You know I would if I could."

"Uh-huh."

"Get yourself together before you get home," Darren, still team captaining years after retirement, instructed. "Katie and the kids don't need to see you looking like you've been on a bender."

Hank's laugh turned into a rough almost-sob. "Oh, Foulkesy," he said, reverting to Darren's dressing room sobriquet. "I wish you were here."

"Hey. This isn't forever, all right? Remember? It's not. For you or them. October's coming."

Hank almost smiled. "I said that to Ricky," he said.

"You always were a smart man, Hank."

Hank sniffed. "I've gotta get home, Darren. I'll talk to you later."

"OK."

Hank pressed the "End" button and sat motionless in his car for a few more moments before shutting the door, starting the car, and heading away from the Boeing Arena.

The Raptors' captain drove numbly through the Seattle streets, wipers pushing aside the warm mid-June rain. He could see dejected fans wandering aimlessly through the streets, no doubt questioning why William LaJeunesse hadn't put Gunnar Norgaard in before the second period in Game 7 and why John Harris hadn't been able to put that nice one-timer in the net. The same questions everyone in the Raptors organization would ask themselves in a few days.

The busy streets eventually gave way to the outskirts and then to the secluded neighborhood where the Sheridan homestead sat. Hank loved the small development; there weren't many houses, it was out of the way, and everyone (mostly) left him and his family alone. He honestly wondered if some of his neighbors even knew Hank Sheridan lived within shouting distance of them.

Hank stopped the car in the driveway and got out. The kitchen light was the only one on in the house. He climbed the three steps to the wraparound porch, approached the sliding glass door, opened it, and stepped inside.

Gretzky, the Sheridans' six-month-old German Shepherd puppy, bounded through the kitchen to greet his master. Hank crouched on the floor to scratch the pup's ears and felt some of his melancholy lift. Nobody loves unconditionally like a dog.

Donna, the oldest Sheridan at nearly 18, turned from her perch at the kitchen table. She was still in her Raptors T-Shirt and red and silver hair ribbons. Tears filled her eyes as she rushed to hug Hank. "Oh, Daddy."

A red-eyed Ashley, Donna's younger sister by two years, appeared from the living room and silently joined in on the hug. One by one, the three boys—13-year-old Nate, eight-year-old Timmy, and four-year-old Charlie—emerged from the living room. Hank held them tightly for a few moments before telling them to go to bed; Dad would be in to say good night shortly.

"Where's your mom?" Hank asked Donna.

"I think she's in your room," Donna sniffed. "I really am sorry, Dad."

Hank kissed her silky smooth dark hair. "It's just a game, sweetheart."

Donna shook her head, a knowing look in her eyes. "No, it isn't."

Hank swallowed the lump in his throat. She was right.

Donna gave her father one last hug and went for the staircase. Even from behind, Hank could see her brushing at her eyes.

Hank removed his tattered University of Colorado sweatshirt—the one he'd worn through the playoffs every year since he signed with the Raptors—and headed for the master bedroom. He carefully opened the door and saw Katie sleeping, her dirty blond hair disarrayed on the pillow. Hank silently sat on the bed and bent down to kiss her.

Katie's eyes blinked open. Hank tried to smile at her, but he knew it didn't work.

"Hank." Katie sat up as fast as her rapidly expanding belly would allow and threw her arms around her husband's neck.

Hank took a long, shuddering breath as the tears he'd been valiantly holding back for the last few hours tried to break free.

"Oh, honey," Katie breathed. "Let it go. It's all right; no one else is here."

Too tired to really cry, Hank buried his face in his wife's hair and held her as tightly as he could. He inhaled her soft, feminine scent, felt the swell of her belly that carried the sixth and likely the last little Sheridan, and just let himself breathe.

.

.

.

This wasn't supposed to happen.

Stanislav Cibulka lay in bed, staring through the dark at the ceiling. It was a position he often assumed following a game. It would probably surprise a lot of fans to see Seattle's Tiny Terror looking so still and contemplative. Stanislav couldn't explain it, but somehow when he picked up a hockey stick he turned into a different person. Despite his short yet stocky 5' 6", 175-pound stature, Stanislav played like a guy twice his size. He was a well-known "pest," which basically meant he'd be an enforcer if he were six inches taller. Stan wasn't the most talented player in the NHL, or even on the Raptors, but he worked hard and he played his role with gusto.

But when the game ended, the gear was put away and the cameras were off, Stanislav Cinulka morphed back into a placid, mild-mannered Prague native who was perfectly content to let his wife do all the talking in the family.

Stanislav had gotten home hours ago and couldn't sleep for anything. He kept thinking of the time he hadn't hit the Devils' Zach Parise, which had resulted in the rival player taking a drive to the net and scoring on Sandy Garneau. Maybe I should have hit him. It wouldn't have been a penalty. And even if it had, at least he wouldn't have scored. Or maybe he would have on the power play.

Beyond the loss, something else was eating at Stanislav's mind. He'd been wondering if he should ask, since his wife seemed more unhappy about the loss than he was, but he couldn't wait any longer.

Stanislav propped himself up on his elbow and looked down at his sleeping wife. "Amy?"

Amy stirred, her crystal blue eyes fluttering open. "Stanislav? What is it?"

Never one to waste words, Stanislav asked, "Are you pregnant?"

Amy just stared at him.

"I saw the test in the trash," Stanislav explained. "Are you?"

"I didn't know if I should tell you," Amy started. "You guys lost and I wasn't sure if you'd want—"

"Amy." Stanislav loved his wife, but getting a straight answer out of her was like pulling teeth. "Yes or no. Just tell me."

Amy nodded. "I'm sorry, sweetie. I wasn't sure if you'd be in the right mindset to hear it." Sadness clouded her eyes and she reached up to caress his cheek. "I was hoping to tell you after you won and then-"

Stanislav grabbed Amy in a crushing hug. "I would rather have one baby with you," he told her, "than 10 Stanley Cups."

Amy giggled with relief. "You're going to be a daddy, Stanislav."

Daddy.Stanislav squeezed Amy tighter.

That sounded even better than "Stanley Cup Champion."