Sherry and Keat
Jimmy Sherwood wore green for most of his life. Growing up in Greenville, his uniforms were green. He played three sports for the Greenville High School Giants with hockey being his favorite. He was a good hockey player known as a team leader and "Sherry" wore a green Giant tee-shirt, sweatshirt or a green and white Giants athletic jacket nearly every day of school to promote his school pride and loyalty.
Sherwood received a partial athletic scholarship to play hockey at nearby Green College which, of course, wore the color green and were called the Greenies. Coach Conlin was an impressive mentor and motivator and Sherwood loved playing for the venerable coach who hated to lose. Sherry was a junior when the Green College hockey team won its first and only hockey championship, losing only two games all season. Sherwood was among the team's standouts and he enjoyed one of the best sports highs of his life during that championship season.
When he graduated from Green, Sherwood remained at the college landing a job in the Athletic Department and becoming one of Coach Conlin's assistants with the hockey team. That gig lasted five years but when it became clear that Coach Conlin wasn't going to move on to another program any time soon, Sherwood decided to take over the reins of the unsuccessful Green College women's hockey program which was in disarray. At 28, it was a new start for the young coach who had been groomed by the best.
Sherwood rebuilt the "Lady Green" squad into a competitive and respectable program with some excellent recruiting choices and a winning philosophy. Sherry was a cool hip coach who put on the skates and worked out with the team, participating in drills and scrimmaging with the players. Once his Lady Greens stepped onto the ice suited up in layers of equipment, including helmet, shoulder pads, elbow pads, gloves, pants, skates, shin guards and jersey it was hard to tell them apart from his former men players!
Perhaps Sherwood's best accomplishment as the Lady Green Coach was recruiting Debra Keating who was one of the best athletes of either sex Sherwood had ever seen play. It turned out she was a better person and Sherwood loved everything about her. He never forgot their first meeting. The Coach drove out to Beverly to watch Debbie in one of her teen league games (her high school didn't have a girl's hockey team). She scored four of her team's six goals and she looked fantastic. Coach took her to a Denny's after the game.
"Tell me your story," he urged.
"I fell in love with hockey when I was eight years old," the seventeen year old revealed with true passion in her voice. "My mother gave me my first pair of skates when I was six — but they were figure skates. My father loved hockey and I wanted to please him so I traded my figure skates for a pair of hockey skates. I played pond hockey because it was hard to find a girls' team. My brother let me play with him and his friends and then I joined a regional girl's team which required a lot of driving and strange ice times."
"Tell me about your game," Sherwood said.
"I like scoring," she grinned. "Forward is my best position. Hockey demands physical and mental attention. I have great balance, I see the whole ice and I know what's around me. I can stick handle control the puck with the best of them."
"Do you want to play for the Lady Greens?" The impressed Coach asked.
"I think Green College would be the perfect fit for me," she answered.
"It's the team for women who want to play," Sherwood told her.
"That's me," she said.
Sherwood awarded her a scholarship and "Keat" came to Green College in the fall. She was 5'6" and she lost ten pounds during the first week of practice burning up calories. She was stunned by the pace and demand of Sherwood's practices and the rookie went to the coach in embarrassment at the end of the first week.
"I need to get in shape and stay in shape," she said.
"That would be a good idea," Coach agreed.
Keat found a trainer to work out with twice a week, focusing on core strength and lifting weights. In time, she bulked up and became a more physical player, motivated by the reality that she wanted the Coach to be impressed with her abilities. A typical Sherwood practice lasted ninety minutes including warm ups, passing drills and game plays. Coach demanded that his players skate as hard as they could for a pre-determined number of laps around the rink.
Keat understood that she had to earn her playing time as a young freshman but her tenacity, skill dedicated, commitment, and hard work was hard to ignore that first year and as the season progressed Coach Sherwood had no choice put to put Keat out on the ice.
What impressed Sherwood the most was how much of a student of the game his young player was. Keat was constantly asking Coach questions about strategy so she could learn as much as she could and continue to develop as a player. Some of the veteran players considered her a brown nosing ass sucker for hanging around the coach so much but Keat was genuinely interested in becoming a hockey scholar and if that meant stopping by the Coach's office after a practice or game to pick his brain she didn't care how others perceived her.
Keat was the first women's player Sherwood had coached who sincerely wanted to improve in all facets of the game. Not once did he think she was flirting or trying to play him. She was simply a player who loved the game of hockey and was committed to being the best player she could become.
By sophomore year, Keating was a starting player for the Lady Green. She had proven herself to be among the best players on the roster and Sherwood had no problem giving her playing time. He liked her as a player and as a person. He wanted all twenty players on the team to be just like her. Keat was hands down his all time favorite player and person.
Coach had a steadfast rule about getting involved with his players and he kept it as professional as he could at all times. One of the reasons the program was in shambles when he took it over was because his predecessor had a reputation of being a slime ball with his younger female players and Sherwood was more than aware that image, conduct and behavior would be paramount to turning the program around and building a successful team. He wanted to be seen as a father figure and a big brother mentor, not as a sexual possibility.
Still, it was hard resisting the urges he felt as Keat's career progressed. She was a joy to be around, to watch play, to converse with, and to teach. He rarely put himself in the vulnerable position of being alone with a female player but sometimes he couldn't help himself with Keat who constantly picked his brain on hockey pointers, stories, and insights. He respected her to much as a person and a player to cross the professional coach-player boundary and he was grateful for the rapport that was unique between them.
Ironically, Sherry wasn't exactly sure of Keating's sexual orientation (not that it really mattered) which made it easier for him not to put the moves on her. He saw her around campus with another woman but he hated the stereotypes female athletes often faced and he wasn't about to be guilty of that sort of sexist chauvinism.
Keat broke her wrist late in her sophomore year and she tore her rotator cuff junior year but it was still hard to keep her off the ice even when she was injured. And when she absolutely couldn't play, she showed up for every practice and was a presence on the bench, sometimes standing in civilian clothes with Sherwood and the other coaches rallying on her teammates. Keat was an inspiring team leader and a fantastic player and her four years with the Lady Green were the best years of Sherry's stint with the school.
Sherwood was almost as sad as Keat when her stellar playing career came to an end. There were tears and farewells when the season ended and Sherwood urged Keat to focus her attention on graduation and the rest of her life.
"Nobody plays hockey forever," he reminded her.
"I wish I could," she replied.
A few days before the graduation ceremony, Keat stepped into Sherry's office. She looked terrible and Sherwood thought something horrible happened in her personal life but it turned out Keat was despondent over the loss of hockey.
"I don't know how to deal with it being over," Keat sighed as she collapsed into a chair. "I've been playing hockey since I was eight." She glanced at her cherished coach. "How did you deal with not playing anymore?" She asked.
Sherwood shrugged. "I knew it would never be the same again when I took off my jersey and untied my skates for the last time," he freely admitted, looking at her with sympathy. "Like you, I had dedicated my life to hockey. I remember roller blading in my garage when I was ten pretending it was the championship game in overtime and the puck was on my stick."
"Yeah," Keat smiled, her long black hair falling in her face.
"I watched Boston Bruin games all the time with my father," Sherwood continued. "Mostly on TV, but we'd try to get to the Garden two or three times a season. Never got tired of it. Most of my friends played hockey and I keep in contact with some of them. There's something about the game that creates bonds among players that time and distance doesn't break."
"That's true," Keat agreed.
"I was pretty lucky," Sherwood smiled "I got to be team captain in high school, I set records, I was an all-star; and I won a college championship. Those are achievements you can never duplicate or repeat."
"I know," Keat sighed. "Where do I go from here without hockey? It's defined my life. Made me different."
"Look, both of us will always miss playing hockey but what I'll always miss isn't scoring goals, big hits or back-door feeds," Sherwood told her. "What I miss the most is the locker room, the road trips, the stories, the parties, and the atmosphere created when a team is clicking on all cylinders."
Keat wiped a tear from her eye. "Yes," she agreed.
"Always remember that we did it for the love of the game," Sherwood told her. "You will always be a hockey player, Deb. We're a breed unlike any other even if we never tie up the skates again."
"Hockey taught me more about life than anything else I've ever done," Keat said. "It taught me discipline, courage, toughness, teamwork, commitment, friendship, relationships, and communication. It made me look at myself in the mirror and ask 'how far am I willing to go? How far am I willing to push for what I want?' I don't know if I'll ever experience that motivation again."
"The person who is rewarded on the ice is the person who works the hardest," Sherwood told her. "Just like in life," he added knowingly.
"Hockey was always my therapy," Keat admitted with a sigh. "One can never skate away from their problems but I could at least avoid them when I was at the rink. Stepping onto the ice is like stepping into a magic place."
"You brought that magic here," Sherwood smiled.
"When life gave me adversity, hockey was my counselor," Keat continued. "Watching my Dad dying of cancer when I was in high school wasn't easy," She said. "Most of the time I didn't know how to act or what to say. I couldn't accept what was happening to him. But I knew he loved to watch me play and that was my biggest incentive and motivation." She sucked in her breath. "But he died anyway."
"When you're on the ice nothing is wrong," Sherwood stated.
"I hated leaving the ice every time," Keat confessed. "And now I'm leaving it for good."
"We chased the dream and fell in love with the game because we knew it was part of us," Sherwood explained. "There was always a fresh sheet of ice somewhere. A net to be sniped. That first deep breathe of cold air when stepping onto the ice is a feeling that can't be topped or replaced."
"So what do I do now that it's over?" Keat desperately wanted to know.
"You remember," Sherwood advised.
"Without hockey, my life will be like an empty net," she sighed. "Without the people I've met here, my life won't be the same. After all these years it kills me to say goodbye. I've learned more about myself and about life than I could have ever imagined."
"You can keep chasing your dream, Deb," Sherwood told her. "Keep bettering yourself in whatever you do."
"I wanted to thank you for everything, Coach," Keat said as she stood, wiping another tear from her eye. "These past four years have been the best years of my life."
He wanted to take her home that night and make love to her. Comfort her. Please her. Make her happy. Be her magic. She wasn't his player anymore and there wouldn't be anything unethical if he did just that except that he would ruin the past perfectly pure four years.
"What are you going to do?" He asked.
"Go home for the summer," she revealed. "But I'll be back in the Fall to start work on my Masters."
"Oh yeah?" Sherwood asked with interest. "Why don't you coach for me then?"
"What?" She asked with disbelief. "Really?"
"Sure!" Sherwood laughed. "You'd be a great asset. You know the players. You know the game. You know my philosophy. And you'd still be around the game."
Her face lit up and she fell into the Coach with a huge hug. "Oh my God," she said happily. "I'd love to coach for you!"
"Great!" Sherwood grinned.
Keat spent the next five years working with her mentor, enjoying the long bus rides sitting by his side discussing hockey strategy, player talents and reviewing the last game and the next one. She loved coaching with Sherry and extending her hockey life even if it was behind the bench. Sherwood was thrilled to have Keat by his side nearly every day but dating one of his coaches would be almost as bad as getting involved with one of his players so The Coach kept their relationship professional and platonic even though he found himself thinking about her often.
Keat now wore her hair in a bleached yellow semi-butch style which only perpetuated Sherwood's confusion regarding her sexuality.
Keat earned her Masters in sports medicine and she stayed in Blue County coaching with the Lady Green while adjusting her work schedule as a physical trainer around her hockey commitments.
When the Athletic Director's position and Head Hockey Coaching job became available at Greenville High School, the forty-two year old Sherwood decided to leave the Lady Green program and return to his alma mater. It was tough to exit Green (and say farewell to Coach Keating after nine years together) but Sherwood couldn't pass up the opportunity to be a Giant again. Coach Conlin was still entrenched as the Green College men's hockey coach and Sherwood was convinced Coach wouldn't leave until he dropped dead, not that Sherry really cared anymore. Coaching the Lady Green Team turned out to much more rewarding and satisfying than he could have imagined and he was perfectly content to leave the school with a successful Lady Green program as his legacy.
Sherwood recommended Coach Keating as his replacement because he knew she would carry on his philosophies and styles. The school agreed and Debra Keating was the new Head Coach of the Lady Green Hockey team.
"I'll always be indebted to you, Coach," Keat told her when he left the Green College Sports Arena for the final time, handing over the reins to her with confidence and pride. "Thank you for believing in me."
"You're going to be a more influential coach than I ever was," he told her.
"That's not true," Keat insisted. "You've set the standard for years to come."
Sherry and Keat saw each other occasionally over the years. Coach Keating invited Coach Sherwood to make motivational speeches to her team and he watched some of her games when his scheduled allowed to provide her feedback about the team and her coaching techniques.
Sherry was glad he remained friends with his all time favorite player and coach and his fantasy was that Coach Conlin would finally retire, Sherwood would be named head coach of the men's team and he and Coach Keating would be reunited again on the Green Campus.
Eight years passed. The Greenville Giants were a competitive hockey team each season and Coach Keatings' Lady Greens did well too. High school coaching required more patience and grooming but Sherwood enjoyed the grind and he had no regrets about his career choices although he still thought about Coach Keating more than he should.
Sherwood was sitting in his high school office a few days into the new school year when there was a knock on his door. He looked up from his paperwork on the desk and was surprised to see Coach Keating standing in the doorway. She was in her mid thirties now and she looked great. Her hair was black again but not as long as her playing days, to her shoulders instead of her previous butch look and length. She was still muscular and Sherwood assumed she stayed in shape to be able to work out with the team. Suddenly, at fifty, Sherwood felt old.
"Debbie Keating!" Sherwood grinned, standing from his chair and walking around the desk to shake her hand but Keat gave him a hug instead.
"Hi, Coach!" She laughed. "How are you!?"
"Doing well," he said with a smile before breaking the hug and motioning for her to take a seat. "What brings you down to the minors?" He joked as he returned to his chair.
"I heard you guys are having a reunion with the championship team," she said as she took a seat across from him. "Thirty year anniversary of the big win."
"Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend," Sherry confirmed. "Dinner and speeches. Not sure how many are coming back." He peered at her. "Why?"
She grinned. "Do you think the guys would want to play my girls in an exhibition?" Keat asked hopefully.
Sherwood sat back in his chair and rubbed his chin in thought. "Interesting," he said after a few moments of consideration.
"It would be a benefit," Keat explained. "For breast cancer awareness. Plus it would give my girls a chance to compete against some stiff competitors!"
"The over the hill gang?" Sherwood smirked.
"Come on, you guys would love to kick our asses," Keat laughed. "You know guys of any age think they can beat just about any women's team that challenges them! Call it sexist, call it pride, call it determination but there's a little Bobby Riggs in most guys when it comes to beating women at anything!"
"And what's in it for you?" Sherwood asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Cancer awareness," she answered seriously. "Plus it will be good publicity for my team and it will help us prepare for the season."
"What if you lose?" Sherwood wondered.
She sat back in her chair and smiled. "We won't."
He gave her a deadpanned look.
"Coach, all of my life all I've heard is 'how good is women's hockey really?'" She groaned. "What they really mean is 'how does women's hockey compare to men's hockey?'"
"It's hard comparing the quality of teams that don't play each other or even other teams in common," Sherwood remarked.
"You've coached both," Keat said seriously. "You can do better than that."
"We couldn't judge how good Soviet men's hockey was until we watched them battle the best in the NHL to a virtual draw in the famous 8-game "Summit" series in 1972," Sherwood reminded her. "It's like trying to compare great teams from two different eras. Could Orr's Bruins beat Gretsky's Oilers? The strategic elements of the game evolve and so do the skills and conditioning levels of players."
"Do you think women's hockey can be as good as men's?" Keat asked point blank.
"Yes," Sherwood answered. "Less hitting and checking, hardly any fights, not as fast but just as much finesse and skill."
"Thank you," Keat replied.
"But it's taken the sport this long to evolve and catch up," Sherwood told her. "Twenty years ago I would have said no way could a women's hockey team compete against men. Now, I think they can."
"I do too," Keat said proudly. "On average women have better shots and on average they have much better slap shots than men did forty years ago."
"Women are in much better shape now with the year round conditioning, weight lifting and diet awareness," Sherwood added. "They're better in agility drills then they were back in my day."
"I'd say the average woman player is a better and faster skater then the previous generation too," Keat offered.
"The best women goalies today are better than male goalies who played back in the day," Sherwood said. "Goal tending has become a science more than reflex and courage. The best women today play goalie in men's leagues at the junior, college, and minor-league levels."
"And despite the high quality of women goal tenders, the skaters are able to score so they must be pretty good too," Keat reasoned.
"The strategic aspect of hockey is vastly superior now and women have mastered formations and plays," Sherwood said.
"So," Keat asked with interest. "Are you going to play us?"
Her mentor studied her for a long moment considering the offer. "You're on," he finally decided.
"Good!" She grinned, leaping out of her chair. "I'll set up all the particulars. You just get a team together."
Sherwood stood and walked around the desk to shake her hand but Keat – as she usually did whenever they saw each other – gave him a huge hug of gratitude.
"You're the best, Jim," she said warmly. "Thanks for helping me out once again."
He watched her leave the office and once again he wondered why he always let her walk away.
Sherwood was surprised at how difficult it was to get guys to play in the exhibition game. The players from the championship team were in their late forties and early fifties. Most of them hadn't picked up a stick in years. Some were out of shape and physically compromised and Sherry could only get eight guys from that team to agree to suit up again. He wasn't sure if some were afraid to lose to a women's team or if they were legitimately unable to play.
Sherwood got six guys from later Green College teams to play – guys mostly in their late thirties and early forties who still played in over 30 leagues and in pick up games and he added two high school players from his Giant team as insurance and possible ringers if necessary. The final roster consisted of sixteen players – two goalies, three centers, five defense men and six forwards.
When Coach Conlin learned of the exhibition he insisted on coaching the men's team so Sherwood began working out in earnest realizing that he would be playing some serious minutes as a player if he wasn't behind the bench as a coach. The last thing he wanted to do was embarrass himself out there!
Keat got the rink for a 2:00 game that Saturday afternoon, a few hours before the championship team reunion dinner. There was plenty of press and publicity, unexpected interest and good natured "trash talking" from both sides.
Coach Keating got her team to take the game seriously, explaining how important and symbolic it would be to beat a men's team no matter what the age of the players. Sherry's teammates were confident about their chances but half the players were out of town and while Sherry organized work outs for the local guys the team didn't skate together as a complete unit until two days before the game.
Sherry and Keat teased each other about the big game every time they bumped into each other. Some of the men wanted nothing to do with the women's team prior of the game but Sherwood and a couple of the guys visited the Lady Green practice sessions and even posed for pictures. It was, after all, a benefit game for a good cause and not a grudge match. Sherwood felt like he got his skating legs back and he was looking forward to taking the ice again in an actual competitive game twenty-nine years after he took his uniform off for the last time.
"You're looking pretty good, Coach!" Keat said a few days before the game.
"I'm feeling pretty good," he smiled. "Should be a good game."
Keat called Sherwood the night before the big game, sounding panicked and worried. "Can we talk?" She pleaded.
"The night before the big game?" He teased. "Isn't that bad luck or something?"
"I really need to talk to you," Keat told him.
Normally, they'd meet at the Greenville Tavern, a sports bar not far from the college campus but the place would be packed with fired up sports fans the night before the big game so they met at Duffy's Tavern in Hillsboro instead, an "old people's place" as Sherry once heard it referred to.
Keat was already sitting in a booth when Sherwood arrived and he slipped into the bench across from her. "What's up?" He asked, ordering a seltzer water instead of a beer on game's eve.
"What if I made a huge mistake?" Keat worried.
"About what?" Sherwood asked.
"The game!" She groaned. "What if we do lose?" she asked in a panic. "What if that wrecks our entire season? What if the team's confidence goes into the toilet and we suck all year?"
Sherwood smiled. "You have a good team."
"If we lose to the over the hill gang we'll never recover," She theorized.
"Look, you have a great goaltender," Sherwood reminded her. "That will be the key. If she's on and keeps the puck out of the net you'll be able to wear us down. You have the youth and the legs. Keep switching it up and making line changes every few minutes. Eventually our guys are going to run out of steam and you'll get some chances at our net."
"What's Conlin's plan?" Keat asked.
"Physicality and intimidation," Sherwood revealed. "I shouldn't be telling you this, of course. Keeping the onslaught going and scoring some early goals. It's a good game plan for the first ten minutes or so but we won't be able to keep it up. If you can weather the initial storm you should be okay."
"I shouldn't have arranged this game," she groaned.
"It's for a good cause," he reminded her.
"You excited?" Keat wondered, taking a sip from her beer.
"It will be fun to be on the ice again," Sherwood admitted. "I never forget the smell of the ice."
"I'll enjoy watching you play," she smiled.
"You should suit up," Sherwood said.
She sighed sadly. "I'd love to," she said. "But I'm the coach."
"I hope the level of play from both sides will be strong," Sherwood said.
"The focus will be on winning," Keat predicted. "My team's ready."
"Everybody will be keeping score," Sherwood agreed. He glanced at her over the rim of his glass for a moment. "Feel better?"
She smiled. "Well, now that you broke every ethical rule in the game and gave me the inside playbook, yeah!"
"You're a good coach, Deb," Sherwood told her. "You'll be fine."
"I should probably get going," Keat realized. "Big day tomorrow."
"What are you doing tomorrow night?" Sherwood asked without even thinking.
"Well, if we lose I'll be on suicide watch," she joked.
"Want to come to the championship dinner with me?" Sherwood asked.
Keat's face lit up. "Really?"
"Sure. I was going alone but it would be fun to share it with somebody."
"I'd like that," Keat said. She paused for a second. "Is this a date, Jim?"
"Are you with somebody?" He worried. "You don't have to go with me if there's a problem."
"No, I'm not with anybody," she assured him. "It just seems weird after all this time you'd ask me out."
"Am I asking you out?" He wondered. "I just thought you'd enjoy all the hockey talk."
"Sure, sounds fun," she said, sounding slightly disappointed.
"Why aren't you with anybody?" Sherwood asked.
She shrugged. "How come you're not?"
He sucked in his breath. "I guess I waited too long."
She nodded with understanding. "Why'd you wait?"
"I had a rule about dating players and coaches," he explained. "Professional ethics."
"Eight years is a long time," Keat told him, referring to when he left the Lady Green and would have been free to date any of his former players or coaches.
He glanced at her wondering if she knew he was talking about her.
"Maybe those rules don't apply to everybody anymore," Keat suggested as she slid out of her seat. "I'll see you tomorrow. Good luck with the game. Have fun playing again."
"Lady Green 2, Alumni 1," Sherwood predicted.
Keat smiled. "We'll see," she said, leaning over and kissing him on the cheek. "Thanks, Jim."
Sherwood went out to breakfast with a couple of the guys from the championship team. They met at the high school rink for some warm up drills and then went to the Green College rink for the big game, dressing in the visitor's locker room so the Lady Green could be the home team. They borrowed uniforms from the men's team, adding pink arm bands and strips to their helmets to recognize breast cancer awareness.
Sherwood loved being back in a locker room as a player, joking with the guys, talking hockey and preparing for a big game. Coach Conlin, in his late 60s now, was relaxed and he didn't have much to say before warm ups. Sherwood was surprised by the amount of people who showed up for the game and he smiled when he saw Coach Keating watching warm ups from the Lady Green bench.
Sherwood noticed that there was a lot of gray and bald in the locker room as the Alumni players waited to take the ice again for the big game. Coach Conlin gave an inspired speech about second chances, friendship, and middle age pride. Over in the other locker room, Coach Keating talked about equality, respect, and a chance to change attitudes.
"You beat these guys and you'll be taken seriously from now on," she said. "You're playing for every woman who was told she wasn't good enough."
The fans were fired up and in a good mood. The player introductions were exciting and fun. The guys didn't seem to be uptight at all, joking around with each other and clowning for the crowd. The Lady Green players appeared to be much more focused and serious with determined looks on their faces and Sherwood knew that Keat had gotten them in the right frame of mind for a tough game.
As planned, the Alumni Guys came out firing on all barrels and they took a 3-0 lead into the locker room after the first intermission. The Lady Green had played cautiously and a bit too defensively and the men were able to bully their way around them.
But the guys looked fatigued and weakened as they skated off the ice and Coach Keating knew the game wasn't over. Sherwood winked to Keat as he headed for the tunnel. The guys were fired up in their locker room, feeling cocky and in control. Sherry had fun in his six minutes of playing time but as one of the oldest guys out there he realized that his legs felt like rubber.
In the Lady Green locker room, a confident Coach Keating told her players to forget about the score. "We're in better shape than those guys. Keep skating hard and they'll be looking for their Viagra before the end of the second period."
That got a laugh from the team who returned to the ice fired up and ready to play. The Lady Green scored a goal four minutes into the period on a deflection. Three minutes later, an Alumni defense man stumbled allowing one of the fastest and best shooting Ladies to break away and beat the Alumni goaltender to make the game a 3-2 contest. Then, with about two minutes left in the period, The Lady Green tied the game on a power play goal and all the momentum was in their favor.
Coach Conlin was not happy with his team's performance. He benched the oldest guys for most of the third period, played the two high school kids, and changed goaltenders, determined to do everything possible to avoid a Lady Green win. It was the first time Sherwood became aware of Coach's bias and sexism when it came to women's sports, chastising his players for letting the "girls" back into the game.
"It's an exhibition, Coach," Sherwood reminded his long time mentor.
"I don't like losing exhibitions either," Conlin replied forcefully.
The auditorium was full of charged electricity for the third period. Fans of the Lady Green sensed victory while those supporting the Alumni gang saw a bunch of old men sucking wind and now placing their hopes on the two less experienced high school guys to provide some energy and endurance.
Sherwood, who had played eight minutes in the second period, was only on the ice for a couple in the third. He sat on the bench with the other older guys watching the talented Lady Green team take it to the Alumni guys. Coach Keating had some impressive players on her roster, former prep school elites who played in tough leagues. He knew most of them having watched them play during the past few years - Tracey Bell, Lexie Carpo, Karen Doyle, Meg Dixon, Michelle Stewart and her twin sister Molly, Jess Carson, Helen Day, and Josie Purington the best among them- out skated and out shot the Alumni. They also put the moves on Sherry's two high school players who looked embarrassed to be shown up by "girls."
"They're pretty good, aren't they?" Sherwood grinned as his high school player Pete Sherman took a break with a look of disbelief on his face.
"They're better than I am," he admitted with awe.
"They're older and more experienced," Coach Sherwood told his student. "You'll catch up."
The Alumni switching to a fresh (and younger) goal tender was the only reason they were still in the game. With two minutes left, The Lady Green had out shot the Alumni 13-2 in the period and most of the action was taking place in their offense zone. "Only takes one shot," The Alumni players kept screaming to the guys on the ice, imploring for a take away or break away and a chance to win the game. But the Lady Green kept the pressure on and it was clear that the Alumni guys had run out of gas.
Sherwood glanced over at Keat who stood behind the Lady Green bench with a stone face but she turned her eyes his way for the briefest of moments and nodded her confidence his way. He knew she knew the Lady Green were going to win.
With a minute to go, Keat pulled her goalie - unheard of in a tied game - to give her team an extra player on the ice, causing quite the stir in the stands - but the daring gamble paid off because with 33 seconds left Lady Green Star Karen Doyle slashed a wicked slap shot past the Alumni goal tender for a 4-3 lead that nearly blew the roof off the rink.
Now the Alumni had to pull their goaltender while Keat put hers back out there. Coach Conlin sent Sherwood out on the ice as the extra man in a last gasp effort to tie the game but Sherwood hit the post on a last second desperation shot from fifty feet out as time ran out and the Lady Green had the unbelievable win.
The women players went nuts with happy excitement for the upset win and the fans were on their feet cheering but the Lady Green were gracious and respectful when they shook the Alumni's hands, sixteen humbled guys who got outplayed and out hustled by the younger women. Both teams stayed on the ice for nearly ten minutes chatting, congratulating, analyzing and replaying the game and showing their mutual respect for one another.
Coach Keating gave Sherry a hug at center ice. "Thank you," she whispered into his ear. "This will change our program forever."
"Pulling the goal tender in a tied game?" He asked, raising his eyebrows as he broke the hug.
"None of your guys had any legs left," she said with a shrug. "Nobody would get past our defense."
"We were playing in slow motion compared to you guys," Sherwood agreed. "You've got a good team, Deb," Sherwood told her. "This might be the year."
"I'm glad I got to see you play," She smiled.
"I'm an old man," Sherwood groaned. "But you knew that when you asked us to play."
"You looked good out there just the same," she said sincerely, giving him a knowing look.
"Go celebrate with your team," Sherwood advised. "I'll pick you up at your place at six."
She nodded and disappeared into the crowd while Sherwood skated off the ice for the last time as a player.
The Lady Green's locker room was loud and rocking with twenty happy players who accomplished something that didn't happen very often. Coach Keating was never prouder of a team she had coached. Over in the Alumni locker room, players were accepting of the results even if Coach Conlin had a hard time swallowing it. These were husbands and fathers with careers and mortgages and plenty of more important concerns than an exhibition loss. Their hockey glory was long behind them and the results of this one game would not define them. They played for fun, to do Sherry a favor, and to give the Lady Green's a moment in the sun.
Some of the guys hung around for a while shooting the shit and reliving the magic of the locker room before finally taking off the uniform one last time, showering, and leaving the rink where they won a championship thirty years ago. Sherwood went home and got dressed for the reunion dinner and he showed up at Keat's townhouse promptly at six o'clock
Keat looked fantastic in a sleek tight black dress and Sherwood realized he was going to be luckiest guy in the room with her on his arm.
"Hi Coach," he smiled when she opened the door.
"Hi Coach," Keat replied with a smirk. "You're not mad at me, are you?" She worried.
"For taking advantage of me and running the over the hill gang into the dirt?" Sherwood smirked.
"I'm dedicating the season to you," Keat told him.
The reunion dinner was held in Henderson Hall on the Green Campus, named after Hank Henderson who was a legendary athlete at Green College in the 1930s. There was an intimate banquet room that sat about forty people and it was nearly full with the championship team players, coaching staff, spouses and other invited guests. The meal was delicious and the program entertaining with speeches by Coach Conlin, Team Captain Tom Walker, and Sherry - who spoke of fallen teammate Roy Farrell who died in his late thirties and was remembered as a true friend and a great player.
As Sherwood predicted, Keat was the hit of the gathering - receiving a mock Bronx cheer when she first entered the room before spending the rest of the evening talking hockey with people who knew something about the sport. Some of Sherry's former teammates razzed him about "dating" a younger woman and "the enemy" but he didn't put up much of a defense and he didn't bother correcting any misconceptions about his status with the Lady Green head coach. Keat enjoyed being in Sherry's presence and she made sure the guys knew that the only reason she was coaching the Lady Green was because Sherry believed in her, recruited her, and recommended her when he left the coaching position.
Sherwood was chatting with some of the guys when he noticed Keat smiling at him from across the room. It was at that moment when he realized that she was - and always had been - his Lady Green. Sherwood was feeling slightly let down when he escorted Keat from the gathering at the end of the evening. He knew the reunion was the last hurrah and he feared that this 'first date' with Keat might be his last.
"Would you like to come in for a nightcap?" Keat asked when Sherwood brought her home and walked her to her door.
"Sure," he replied, stepping inside after her.
Keat's townhouse was attractive and cozy and she made them a drink at the portable bar in the corner of the living room. Sherwood took a seat on the couch and took in the surroundings, including several hockey mementos strategically placed around the room.
Keat brought him his glass and sat next to him. "So," she said after they both took sips of their drinks when nothing was being said. "Here we are."
"Here we are," Sherwood agreed, not sure where she was going with the conversation and the invite.
"After all these years," she marveled. "I remember the first time I ever saw you."
"You were just a high school kid."
"You changed my life," Keats said. "And you changed it today too. You gave me a gift."
"Deb, you're the one who won the game."
"You're the one who gave us the chance," she replied, leaning in and giving him a kiss, not on the cheek as was her custom but right on the mouth.
Sherwood was surprised by her gesture and he pulled back from her lips.
"What?" She asked with concern, looking into his eyes.
"I didn't think you were interested."
"Well, guys like me," he admitted.
She studied him for a second before she understood what he was implying. "I'm not gay, Jim!" she laughed, rolling her eyes. "I'll admit there were a few times I was confused and experimented and all that, but I'm not gay."
"Oh," he said, feeling kind of stupid.
"You asshole," she groaned, punching him in the arm. "Do you mean to tell me you haven't asked me out before today because you thought I wasn't interested?"
He shrugged. "That probably explains why I'm still alone."
She laughed and fell against him. "Do you want to know why I'm still alone?"
He kissed the top of her head and held her close.
"Because I coach women's hockey," she announced. "Do you know how hard it is to find a guy who is interested in women's hockey?" She moaned. "Who gives half a shit about what I'm talking about? Who could really care about the amount of time, passion and dedication I put in to the team? Who respects what I do?"
"I know one guy," Sherwood replied.
"Me too," she said, kissing him again.
They made out on the couch like they were back in college. Sherwood couldn't believe that twenty years after he first recruited her to play for him that they had come full circle from her triumphant days as a star player through his purity codes of avoiding her as a potential love interest to coaching with her for those eight wonderful years while remaining chaste from her to nearly throwing the Alumni game to give her reputation a boost. Now here they were expressing their interest and feeling for each other and he had to laugh at his own stupidity. His purity code cheated him out of a chance with the one player (and coach) he truly cared about all these years.
"Come on, Jim," Keat said after they had exploded one another with their mouths and hands for a good while.
She took him by the hand and led him into the bedroom.
"Do you remember how the Freshmen were always assigned the nudie duty?" She asked as she closed the bedroom door behind them.
Sherwood laughed. "Yeah, the tribulations of having a man coaching a women's team."
"I remember the month it was my job," she said, leaning her back against the door as he stood in the room eyeing her. "I thought 'How noble a Coach he is that he respects our privacy that much'" she grinned. "How we had to make sure everybody was decent before summoning you into the locker room for your talks and speeches."
"I didn't want to be known as the pervert coach," Sherwood explained.
Keat walked toward her closet and opened the door. "All those years," she mused. "Hundreds of girls. You must have been tempted once or twice."
"Once or twice," Sherwood admitted.
Keat unzipped the back of her dress and she stepped out of it. Sherwood watched as she stood in her undergarments placing the dress on a hangar and then putting it on the clothes rod.
"But you never saw a Lady Green naked?"
She was standing sideways facing her clothes glancing at him with her head turned. He shook his head no as she unfastened her bra and let it fall to the closet floor, allowing Sherwood to see the side of her right breast. She peeled down her panties which also feel to the floor and Sherwood could see her buns before she turned to face him in all her beauty.
"Well, now you have," she said as she started to walk toward him.
"You'll be the only one," he promised.
She smiled with approval as she reached him. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her.
"You're a man of integrity and unbelievable patience, Jim," Keat let him know.
"You're worth the wait."
"Let's go to bed, Coach," Keat said, taking him by the hand and leading him to the bed. "Get undressed."
Later, as they lay naked under the cover together recovering from their epic lovemaking session following the epic hockey game, an exhausted Sherwood grinned happily at his Lady Green amazed that he was able to keep up with the younger woman after such a physically active day.
"What are you smirking about?" Keat asked with interest.
"I finally scored with my Lady Green," he said.
"Yes, you did," she said gamely. "You sure did tip your stick!"
He kissed her and they fell asleep together, two hockey coaches now assigned to the same team - their own.