While I was acting like it was no big deal I was shitting myself. I was a journeyman minor league player and I had never, and I mean never, played in the National League. I told the kid it was no different, I lied. I was still shitting bricks when we walked in the door, the whole first line of the Storm.
“Great, glad you are all together, we have some rooms for you in the hotel for later, but we have to get you acclimated as soon as possible. Eric and Barry if you would follow me I will lead you to the locker room where you can meet the guys and get changed. Jack, alternate captain Lebroise will be here in a minute to escort you, here he comes now.” The energetic man said as I turned to see Pierre LeBroise heading toward us.
I heard the others walk away but my focus was on the man coming toward me. He was as big as me if not a bit bigger and he looked like a man you didn’t mess with. I was a fan of the game and knew he was our first line Right Defenseman and probably the best overall player left on the team. So yeah, I was shitting bricks again.”
“Jack,” he asked with a French accent and a raised eyebrow.
“Yes sir, Mr. Lebroise.” I said holding out my hand.
“Just call me Frenchie, everyone does, follow me.” He said and then he led us in a different direction from where the other two guys went. I knew I was gaping; I had never been in the stadium before, even as a fan, so this was all knew to me.
He led me to a set of double doors that said restricted access and pushed them open and we went up two flights of stairs. We got to the top and we were in actual office space. I followed him down a long hallway till we came to a conference room and we entered and there were two other people there.
I recognized both immediately, the first was Coach Braun, Coach of the Buffalo Blizzard and the second was Coach Sorensen, my former coach at Springfield, who immediately jumped up as I came into the room.
“Jack, it’s good to see you.” He said shaking my hand like there was no tomorrow.
“You too sir, I don’t understand, have I been traded back?” I mean it didn’t seem like it but hell, who knew in this league.
Coach Braun laughed and so did everyone else in the room. I smiled because it seemed like that’s what I should do.
“Actually Jack, it’s me who has been traded. Upon your recommendation they thought I would be the perfect assistant coach to work with all the new talent coming onto the team.” He explained.
“Oh, that makes sense, you are the best skill coach I have ever worked with and you do seem to find ways to bring out the best in guys, so congratulations.” I said meaning every word.
“Please everyone have a seat.” Coach Braun said and we all did. “Jack, your whole line has been brought up, why?”
He didn’t act like he was questioning the decision it was more like he wanted my take on things. “Easy, we need to give the fans hope, and we need to make the kid look good so we can sell seats for next year. The team is a business and fans are the customers, we have to sell the kid to them.”
“See. That is why I like older players they get it.” Braun said and Sorensen just nodded. “So what do you have to do to make that possible?”
“First, I protect the kid. Second I put him in place to score, third and most important I think of the kid first and myself or Cussman last.” I said thinking I had it all right.
“That is why even as they get older we still need to be here,” Coach said and the other two guys both laughed. “Jack, we need your line to score. I don’t care if the kid gets the goal or one of you other guys do, so don’t pass up an opportunity if it’s there.”
I nodded; I could see that, a point for the kid on an assist was just as good.
“As far as protection goes, yeah, look out for the kid, but let Frenchie take care of the fights if need be. The kid needs you on his line to feel comfortable and I don’t want him to lose that.” Coach said and I could see that but I wasn’t going to back down from a fight either.
“Jack,” Franchie said from beside me. “I will take care of retribution.”
The way he said it left no room for doubt. I nodded at him trusting him.
“Jack,” Coach Sorensen got my attention. “You’ve been playing better than I have ever seen you, what’s changed?”
“I found that goal or need you told me to find. I have a purpose.” I said nonchalantly. Of course now my mind was thinking of Maddie. Damn I already missed her.
“I’m glad son,” he said smiling and I smiled back.
“Frenchie, get Jack down there and suited up. We got some fans that need hope.” Couch Braun finished. We all got up and Coach looked at Frenchie and said “What do you think?”
Frenchie nodded. I didn’t know if that was acceptance over me but it seemed positive so I wasn’t going to ask.
I was glued to the big screen television in the owner’s box in Syracuse getting ready to watch the Blizzard play. There were a lot of us here and we were all looking to see if our recent call ups got much playing time or if they would be fourth liners.
The Blizzard were playing the Georgia Yellow Jackets tonight and the only positive was that Yellow Jackets were a bubble team so they would be looking to win and should take the game to us.
I know you would think that was bad, but if our guys had a good game no one would take it away from them. I was hoping something happened tonight to give us all hope. Mom and Dad were at the game and I hoped Eric played well for them.
The first lines came out and I was a little disappointed to see our guys weren’t there but I knew they were recent call ups so that wouldn’t have happened anyway. I was just really hoping for third line duties, but even fourth line and penalty kill would be something.
The first minute went with neither team even getting a shot and our guys went for a line change. My breath caught as Jack came over the wall. Damn he was a good looking man, and my breath went away. Eric followed along with Cussman and the game, at that point, really began for me.
First period was over and the score was still zero for both sides. Jack had sprung Eric for a breakaway but the goalie snagged his top shelf shot with a great save. I smiled to myself, welcome to the big leagues Eric.
The second period started and it was getting nasty right from the get go. Some would call it chippy, I would call it dangerous. My brother and Eric were out there and I had no illusions that my brother wasn’t big enough to stand a good hard check from one of their bigger linemen.
Jack did it again, he broke a pass of the sideboard and fed Eric so it was a breakaway. Eric was heading straight at the goalie, he faked top shelf and then dropped it five hole and into the goal. He scored, my brother scored. The room was screaming and I sat dumbstruck watching the television.
The entire blizzard line was congratulating Eric, except Jack, where was Jack. There he was. He went after the puck. Jack had the puck and skated to the bench and handed it to our trainer before joining the group in line for the fist bump.
Everyone in the room back in Syracuse was smiling and saying things to me about Eric and I smiled and nodded. I watched as the camera showed the bench and Jack kept knocking his shoulder into Eric. They were both smiling and the feeling, you know the one, it is like a flutter that happens when all is right just overtook me.
I was smiling and I think I had tears flowing down my face at the same time. My brother and the man I loved had both just scored their first National Cup point. No one could ever take this from them.
I had no problem giving up the puck for the kid; he got the goal, for me it was an assist, my first, but a goal, that was huge. Coach was calling for a change and it was our rotation again. Before we could go out one of the Yellow Jackets went off sides.
We replaced and the kid was in for the face off. I heard the Yellow Jacket player saying something to him, I hoped it was congratulation but I didn’t see that as the game was getting physical. The kid moved his stick way early and got thrown out of the face off.
It looked like he tried getting thrown out so I had a feeling something was going on. Cussman headed for the circle since that was his role but I waved him to my spot and I took it.
“Oh look another fucking rookie. Are you going to be a pussy like your buddy?” He began as soon as I got in.
“Actually I was thinking about dropping you on the ice and then laughing my ass off.” I said giving his shit right back to him.
“Think you got what it takes rook?”
“Want to find out?” I asked just watching his eyes.
“Gentlemen, are we playing hockey or not.” The ref asked and I waited for my opponent to decide.
“Drop the puck,” he said watching the ice now. I got the puck to Cussman and he fired a pass way out in front of Eric. I was heading toward center ice when something got me from behind and I went sprawling. I smiled as I hit the ice because I was going to get the bastard after all, but when I jumped up it was too late. Frenchey had already dropped him and was standing over him and looking pleased with himself.
He saw me look at him and he smiled and skated toward the penalty box. We were on the power play with two guys thrown into the box and only one of ours, Interference was the two minute call.
I headed for the bench but Coach waved us back out and sent a defenseman out to run point. It was an odd formation with three forwards and two defensemen but we were a team in transition.
The puck was passed around the outside and Cussman ran the ice behind the boards and I settled myself in front of the goal trying to play the screen. I had a big body so it was probably better for me to do it anyway even though we had never had a practice with this formation it seemed to feel right.
Eric slapped a shot that was going wide so I threw my body into it and the puck hit the ice right in front of me. I slapped at it with my stick and it hit a skate and came back and I slapped again and was ready to slap again when it wasn’t there anymore. The red light was on. I scored. Holy shit I scored.