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Rookies

In Business, Creative Writing, Culture, Entertainment, Living, Media Writing, Sports, Writing (all kinds) on February 11, 2017 at 3:00 AM

A Rookie's Story is Told by Rachel Muenz - Photo Courtesy of Stockexpert

A Rookie’s Story is Told by Rachel Muenz – Photo Courtesy of Stockexpert

By Rachel Muenz

Jo Henday, Sister:

I should be proud of you but I’m not. Not of a single shot.

Your first goal came off my stick, remember? The puck was pinned to the boards by a couple pairs of skates and there were five of us from both teams working at it in a clatter of wood. Some kid kept cross-checking me in the back – no penalty – but I fought my way through the press of jerseys and dug the puck out. I flung it towards the net because I knew you were there.

The players around me all turned to watch it flash past a white-shirt defender. Then it got to the blade of your stick and that was it.

You slapped it in so fast. Goalie had no chance. He was still staring at the kids by the boards, leaving his right side open when the puck hit mesh and the scattered audience screamed.

A sweet overtime win – tournament champions.

You hugged me first because you still didn’t care what the other boys thought. Our masks clashed together and I saw the blue curve of your mouth guard in your smile. We pointed our sticks at the ceiling and yelled, our voices bouncing back to us. The rest of the team roared and came over the boards and buried us on the ice.

We were still best friends then on a team full of enemies. They called me girlie and you wuss but they loved us then for getting that silver cup.

After that, you scored every game. I skated on my ankles but I could still pass and I always gave my best ones to you. The rest of the team talked to you more but they still hated me for being a girl.

One of the last games I ever played, I collided with that kid twice my height. My ribs crunched and I lay on the ice with my breath knocked out, groaning. You and the others made a circle around me and I let out a sob as my flat lungs refilled. They laughed down at me and so did you, so much that your mouth guard fell out. I didn’t stand up even though I could have. You were the reason I quit.

Now here I am, eleven years later, watching you put on your Rangers sweater on a stage in Montreal. You’re the number one pick in the draft and I don’t give a rotting rat’s ass.

Max Henday, Right Wing, Projected # 1 Draft Pick:

The first thing I see of Montreal is a red-brick wall full of graffiti, a chain link fence and a bunch of factories covered with grey haze. Mom says this doesn’t look very nice and Dad says this is just the outskirts of the city and Max won’t be going to the Canadiens anyway because they have the number twelve pick and anyone who lets him go as far down as number twelve would be retarded. Jo doesn’t say anything.

The car creeps forward past the white industrial smoke. The windows are closed.

My hands fiddle with themselves in my lap and I wish I had a hockey stick in them just to feel a bit more comfortable, to have something to hold onto and help me to not feel so trapped.

At the front of the hotel, a row of journalists takes our pictures when we get out of the car. The long black video cameras swivel to follow my progress to the doors. I manage a wave but duck my head so they can’t get a good look at my face.

Me and Jo share a room with twin beds next to Mom and Dad’s just like when we were seven and we’d play shinny in the hallway with mini sticks and tennis balls. If you lean to the very left of our window you can see the swollen form of the Bell Centre where tomorrow night I’ll be chosen by the New York Rangers unless they trade their draft slot to someone else.

I’m still not sure why it’s called the draft. When I was really little, before I even played hockey, I thought it meant wind and imagined all these young players getting blown away to their new teams.

It doesn’t mean wind, Max. It’s how players get chosen by the NHL. The team with the least amount of points at the end of the season gets the best young player and the team with the second least amount gets the second best junior player and so on.

Why does the best player go to the worst team?

To keep things fair.

Oh.

I hated when Dad explained things to me because he always did it in this soft sing-song voice that made me feel like the stupidest person alive. As if every four-year-old should know exactly what the draft is. Dad still tells that story to anyone we meet and I wish he would stop.

He comes in the door connecting the two rooms and turns on the TV, clicks his way to a sports channel. That guy with the square face and that bald one are arguing about if I’ll be taken first or if the Rangers will go with Kulakov, the Russian sniper. No way, Dad says. I’m not sure I care and go back to the window where Jo is now standing.

On the TV, they’re playing clips from the NHL combine where me and all the other top prospects are in nothing but shoes and shorts, jumping and lifting weights and pedaling stationary bikes with tubes coming out of our mouths. One of the anchors rants about what great oxygen uptake I had, but how teams were a little worried about my core body strength. My stomach plunges and I turn back to the streets of Montreal and wish Jo would say something, even a mean thing. Mom starts complaining about how the room smells like smoke and aren’t these supposed to be non-smoking rooms.

There’s a knock on the door later in the afternoon and it’s that scout from the Rangers, inviting me to dinner. OK, I say even though I was supposed to go out with the whole mass of my family that has come to watch me be drafted.

Jo scowls and heads off to Mom and Dad’s room.

At the dark-panelled restaurant, they tell me there’s no way they’ll trade their number one draft slot and I’m the player they’re taking. Bill Black, the general manager, pats me on the back and calls me Maxie and says that I’m the one they want to rebuild their team around, that I’ll have a crucial role in making the Rangers back into a Stanley Cup Contender. I smile and nod and shoot peas across my plate with my knife.

Dad crushes me with a hug when I tell him how the meeting went and he says we should go and buy jerseys for the whole family but Jo points out all the stores are probably closed by now. We could drive around anyway and see, he replies. Shouldn’t Max rest, asks Mom. Yeah he should, says Jo. I don’t like the way her voice sounds.

At 3 a.m., my buddy Ned from the Wolves texts me good luck and that starts a flood of messages from people I haven’t talked to in years. I let the phone vibrate on the desk and wonder what they would think if they knew why I love hockey. Jo tells me to turn the damn thing off but I know she wasn’t sleeping even before that.

Mr. Black just called my name and I’m walking down the stairs at the Bell Centre to the bare concrete where the ice has been replaced by tables full of NHL management teams, each marked by a flag, and a stage at the end. The boards have been taken down, too. There are a few cheers from the stands and I step into the pool of light and shake hands with all those men in suits. Some of them grip very hard.

I pull my first NHL jersey over my head and smile at the camera flashes with my arms around the shoulders of Mr. Black and John Reese, the head of scouting. Hockey is the only job I can see myself doing but I only got into it because Jo wanted to play. And I only stayed because of my friends.

In the mob of thirty or forty family members standing and clapping, I search for her face.

I can’t find it.

Ned Green, former OHL teammate:

I have shut myself in my room with the TV so I can have this moment all to myself. Zack is a bit upset but he understands I need to be alone. I’ll make it up to him later. Maybe take him out for wings and beer.

The blinds are down to keep the darkness in and there’s just weak blue light showing the posters on the walls. It’s only the pre-game crap but I don’t care. They’re playing footage from last year. Max weaves his way between defenders, his stick darting before him. He cranks the puck over the shoulder, between the legs, through the arm, wherever he sees light. Ten different NHL goalies and none of them can stop him. It gets my blood going and I wish I had kept playing. I sure missed him when he left the Wolves. He was in his last year, team captain, and I was just a rookie. I was lucky to make the team because I was so small.

Guys were always taking runs at me but Max would pound them if they did.

His best fight was the first one in the OHL I ever saw. It was against Guelph and this player called O’Neil had elbowed Sean in the head. Sean was short like me, the only other rookie on the team.

Max called O’Neil a dirty fucker and dropped his gloves and O’Neil threw his down too. They circled each other, the Guelph player pawing the air, testing Max but he kept his fists to his chest, just below his chin. O’Neil threw a right and Max leaned away from it and took him out with one hit. I swear to God I heard O’Neil’s neck pop when his head snapped back. He dropped to the ice and then the refs jumped forward and grabbed Max and the Guelph trainers ran to O’ Neil. He got up real slow, veering all over the ice.

Two of his teammates had to help him to the bench and then he stumbled to the dressing room.

Max skated to the penalty box with a couple trails of blood going down his hand and a spray of it in the centre of his jersey, right on the wolf’s teeth. Us on the bench drummed our sticks on the boards and the crowd screamed. It was beautiful.

He always told me to never let anyone push me around because I was small or cause I was a rookie. If anyone ever hits you dirty I’ll go to war for you man, he said. I listened and put up my best numbers ever. Goals, assists, everything.

But I was never as good at hiding things as he was. I went to college instead because I was never as brave. It’s not so bad though; me and Zack play a bit of shinny on the weekends even though he really sucks.

On the TV screen, the Rangers logo is flashing all over the ice in red white and blue and the announcer is yelling the names of the home team. When he calls his name and Max jumps onto the ice, I can’t help but clap. The light shivers on the wall.

It’s just me, hockey and Max.

Connie Henday, mother:

It always seemed to me that Max was too delicate for hockey. No mother likes saying these things, but he never seemed very athletic at first. He was a very emotional boy.

After seeing a few of his fights in junior, of course, I didn’t worry so much but it was always in the back of my mind. He spent a lot of time with the younger players but didn’t pay much attention to all those girls that hung around the rinks. They were loud and covered with makeup. I think he was scared of them.

Mostly he’d stay home and I liked that because I knew where he was and could always check up on him. He’d try to talk to Jo but they were never all that close after their first year of hockey. She was always making excuses to get out of talking to him or being with him. I don’t think she ever forgave him for laughing at her.

I still remember driving back from tournaments, Stephen at the wheel and Max and Jo slumped together in the back, asleep. She always kept her gloves on after the games because she liked how they smelled.

Max just liked being with Jo. When they woke up, they would talk about the games and all their different plays for hours until Stephen told them to be quiet with a smile on his face.

Stephen would kill him if he knew.

Will de Klerk, Defense, Philadelphia Flyers

The crowd is deafening because Henday just scored his 100th career goal. I’m pissed because I was on the ice. He faked left and I fell for it. I was so angry I broke my stick on the crossbar. The coach yelled for me and Scott to get off the ice and only let us back on for about two minutes since then because we’ve been making mistakes all night.

I feel bad because Scott just got called up from the minors. It’s his first NHL game and I wanted to make him look good. And then there’s the fact that last goal was scored by Henday.

Henday’s a great player and all that. Just his third year in the league and he already has 100 goals but I’ve heard rumours. Even players on his own team are a bit uncomfortable around him. Sure, it’s his own business but it still isn’t right.

“You’re up,” coach says.

I vault over the boards and see Henday on the ice. Just let him try to get around me this time. The Rangers win the faceoff. I back up towards our net, watching the blue sweaters speed towards me. The fans roar.

Williams has the puck on my right, but Scott bumps him and it dribbles to the side. One of our forwards could have grabbed it but somehow Henday digs it off his stick and streaks past him. His skates scratch the ice and the volume of the crowd goes up. Shit.

This time I’m ready. He’s leaning like he’s going to try moving up the middle, to my right. But I know what he’s doing. He’s going to try to squeeze between me and the boards on the left. I look to the right as if he’s fooled me. With a spray of snow, he veers to the boards. The puck wobbles and he looks down at it. You’re dead, Henday.

I charge.

The shock vibrates my shoulder as I connect with his helmet. My skates slide back a bit but I right myself. His shape disappears from the edge of my vision and there’s a long O from the crowd.

Henday is sliding face down on the ice. He comes to a stop at the end boards, his helmet tapping against them. Then a pair of gloves are in my face and I’m slammed into the glass.

Williams is shaking his gloves off, trying to take swings at me. I grab his jersey and we both fall over.

“It was a clean hit,” I shout.

“Bullshit.”

One of his punches gets me in the jaw. I roll up to my knees and slam my knuckles into his nose. I feel heat and wet on my hand. I stand up. Williams tries to get to his skates too, wiping blood on his sleeve. A ref grabs his arm and two others steer me to the penalty box.

“Get off the ice, faggot,” I say. I look over the ref’s black and white shoulder at the trainers crouched beside Henday. One of those plastic collars is around his neck. He still isn’t moving. I sit down in the penalty box and yawn. The crowd boos.

Peter Cross, fan:

Max Henday is my favourite player. I wish he played for Toronto but life’s not fair.

Uncle Josh got us tickets to see his game against the Leafs tonight and I can’t wait.

My sister Evie keeps asking if we’re there yet and it’s getting really annoying. I think I’ll go crazy if she asks one more time.

The subway shakes its way down the tracks. Our car is packed and I wanted to stand up and hold the pole like Dad and Uncle Josh but Mom made me sit down because I’ve never ridden the subway before and she thinks I might fall. I told her I’m not a girl, I don’t need to sit down and she said those young men over there are sitting down so then I guessed it was OK to.

There’s lots of people with Leafs jerseys and I’m kind of afraid because I’m wearing the Rangers one that Max signed for me. It has his number 90 and Henday on the back. I wonder if the Leafs fans will beat me up for wearing a New York Jersey. One of them, a really fat guy, keeps smirking at me. I hope he sees I brought my Leafs flag so he doesn’t come sit on me.

We’re in the green section, right at the railings where you can look down at the fans miles below. It’s too bad Uncle Josh couldn’t get us seats down there, in the platinums or golds. Words race along the video boards that curl around the stadium and the music and thousands of voices pound my ears. A girl across the aisle to my left waves a sign that says: Is your head all right, Henday? and has a picture of Max getting taken out by that goon from the Flyers.

I remember that hit from watching on TV. It looked like he was dead but Max was too tough. He came back after only a month.

Last summer, he came to my hockey camp and taught me how to raise the puck. The only reason I couldn’t before was because I hurt my arm playing my first hockey game, not because I’m a wimp. My coach was mean and yelled a lot when he tried to teach me. Max was nice though and I learned really fast from him.

“Just scoop it at first,” he said. “Kind of like you’re using a shovel.”

When I get really good, I’ll be able to just slap it and it’ll still rise but I need to practice more.

He has this one move where he spins around and then shoots the puck and I’ve been trying to do it but I can never hit the net.

Max can do any trick perfect.

When I’m twenty-one, I’m going to be just like him.

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