Dave DeSoto was sitting in the third row, center ice, watching the ice melt. It was a moment of reflection. Something of a personal tradition. Within minutes of the Snobirds hoisting the Cup, the Aud’s chillers and ice-making equipment was turned off. With the elephant doors open, the melting ice met the humid Florida air. The result was a sort of fog inside the arena. Mist condensed on nearly every surface. Glass, handrails, floors all became slick and wet. The melting ice, loaded with the coloring agent that creates the clean, white appearance of hockey rinks world-wide, looked like skim milk as it swirled and puddled near drainage grates. On the main ice surface, where just hours ago, 12 men skated and fought, danced and dodged, the red circles and lines smeared and drifted towards the open Zamboni doors. Suddenly, the melancholy silence of the rink melting away was broken by the shrill yelling of a half-dozen leaf blowers. The clean-up team had arrived. Thirteen Mexicans and Haitians in faded orange t-shirts marched around the bowl of the arena. Armed with trash bags and sticks topped with a sharp nail, they picked up any trash too large to be blown away by the leaf blowers. The Auditorium would undergo the transformation once again, from championship ice rink to trade show and concert venue. Summer was coming, and the hockey season was gone.
Bill Fox had dreamed of owning a hockey team, even before his stint as a defenseman in the NHL. He turned his good fortune as an average player in the league into a handsome sum of money. After some sound investments, including getting himself a law degree, Bill had finally accomplished his goal. He was the owner, general manager and head coach of the South Florida Snobirds—the jewel of the Sunbelt Hockey League, a low-level minor league in the Southeast. Dave was his right-hand man. Bill was the only owner in the league with any experience in professional hockey. He held a distinct advantage over the other owners in this low-budget confederation of moderately rich guys looking for something to satisfy their erotic dreams of owning a sports team.
Dave had come to West Palm Beach from Columbia, South Carolina, where he had interned for two seasons with a minor-league baseball team. He had been a fair baseball player at Irmo High School, just west of Columbia, but was never going to play at a higher level. Recognizing his own limitations, he decided not to try out for the baseball team at some Division III college, and opted instead for the University of South Carolina. He had grown up pulling for the Gamecocks—his mother and father’s alma mater. His childhood aspirations of playing professional sports had given way to his adult reality of working in sports management.
Operating a minor-league hockey team was a grind. It required long hours during the season, oftentimes without days off for weeks at a time. A fair-sized organization would typically have eight to ten full-time employees, plus a large complement of seasonal employees. The South Florida Snobirds were a horribly understaffed organization. Bill had managed to keep his office operating budget bare-boned, so he could offer larger contracts to the players. By owning and operating the team, in addition to coaching it, he effectively eliminated three or four front-office positions. With Dave as the Assistant General Manager, he was able to concentrate his attention on hockey matters and leave everything else in the young executive’s hands. Any matter not directly connected to hockey fell to Dave. Office management, advertising sales, ticket sales, contract management, gameday operations- it all was handled by Dave.
And Dave had managed to bring in a squad of volunteers, interns and a couple of paid, seasonal temps to operate the office during the season. He had masterfully taken control of operations and consequently become Bill’s indispensable right hand. Now, with several seasons under their belts, the duo worked virtually autonomously. Bill had every confidence that Dave would have everything ready on every gameday. And Dave knew Bill had the budgets in order and the product on the ice playing at a high level.
The demands of the hockey season often meant that both men had little social life. Nearly all of their human contact from late September through late March was somehow related to the Snobirds. Dave had lived alone since moving to Florida and had not really made many friends. If he did go out, he did so with the players from the team. Meeting women was difficult enough, given his schedule, but hanging with professional athletes didn’t really help much. The kind of women the lot of foreign athletes in their early twenties attracted wasn’t the kind of woman Dave was interested in. That’s what made finding Taylor last year such an anomaly. She was the needle in a haystack. The relationship had grown through the last off-season, and somehow, she never lost interest—never wavered as Dave plowed through another season.