Authors: Fran Hurcomb
“Whoa! They're not bad,” said Geraldine. “I wasn't really expecting that.”
“They probably can't stickhandle,” added Sam, a bit miffed that she appeared to be wrong about them.
Personally, I had the feeling that they could probably stickhandle as well as they could skate.
An hour or so later, I screwed up my courage and skated over to the girls, who by now had attracted a large following of boys, all acting crazy and showing off for them.
“Hi, Jess. I didn't know you were a hockey player.” “Yeah, I like to play. You too?”
“Yeah, we all do. These are my sisters, Michelle and Fancy.”
The Smithers girls were all blond with sparkling blue eyes. Daisy wore glasses, and Fancy had braces. Michelle, who was a year or two older than me, appeared to be perfect. As I looked at them all together, I realized that part of the reason I felt shy around them was that they were so beautiful. I felt like a troll in comparison.
Before I could think of anything intelligent to say, Fancy said, “You're a pretty good skater.”
“Thanks. So are you.”
Daisy broke into a loud laugh. “Boy, we sure are polite.”
We all grinned at once. These girls were okay. If they wanted to play girls' hockey, they could be just what we needed.
“What position do you play?” I finally asked when the laughter died down.
“Well,” she replied, “I usually played center at home, but I can play wing too. I really suck at defense.”
“Me too. Whenever I play defense, the other team scores right away. Are you going to play here?” I asked.
“I'm not sure what we're going to do here yet. What kind of hockey have you got?”
“Well, we've got the usual minor hockey teams, you know: Atoms, Peewees, Bantams, Midgets, but just one team of each so we usually have to travel to play other teams.”
“No girls' teams?” asked Michelle.
“No, there are only a few girls who actually play.” I paused, trying to think about how to bring up the meeting. Finally, I just blurted it out. “But we're having a meeting on Monday night at my mom's cafÃ©, to see if anyone's interested in girls' hockey. You should come.”
By now Sam and Geraldine had skated over as well and stood staring at the girls. I introduced them quickly. Smiles were exchanged, and then Daisy continued. “Yeah, that might be cool. We'll ask our parents about it.”
“Great. Well, see you later. At school probably. Bye.” And off we skated, aware that our every stride was being watched.
The cafÃ© was packed. All five tables were full, as was the counter. The cafÃ© isn't much, really. Once upon a time it had been the priests' residence for the old church school. My Dad bought it from the church and tore out a lot of the inside walls downstairs. He fixed up the upstairs and made us an apartment there, with stairs going up the outside at the back of the building. It may not be fancy, but it's home.
The cafÃ© itself is kind of plain, but it has matching curtains and tablecloths, old photographs on the walls and good food. A counter with stools runs across the front of the room, separating it from the kitchen. What more does a place like Fort Desperation need? It's pretty popular, and Mom is busy most of the time.
“Coffee's on the house” announced Mom in a loud voice that could barely be heard over the hubbub. We were almost killed in the stampede to the counter. I guess free coffee is hard to find these days.
Sam and Geraldine and I surveyed the situation. The Smithers girls were there, with both parents. Their dad was hugeâabout six foot sixâwith regulation short hair and a kind of watchful look about him. Their mom, on the other hand, was tiny. The girls looked a lot like her.
Alyssa and Heather, who played Peewee, were there too, with their parents. The Graham twins, Opal and Ruby, had come with their mom. Two of the Beaulieu girls, who were in grade five and six, were sitting alone in a corner, trying hard to be invisible. I guess when you come from a family as big as theirs, you get used to being invisible. There were several other girls that I recognized but didn't really know, with one or the other of their parents as well. Sitting alone in another corner was our community recreation director, Tara Richardson. She had arrived in the spring and had spent the summer trying to organize baseball and swimming lessons, without much success. So far, I counted fifteen girls, including me, Sam and Ger. This was scary!
Mom cleared her throat really loud, stared at me for a long moment and said, “I guess we should start talking about this hockey thing so we can get done real fast.” There were nods of approval, and then everyone just stared at her. Finally, Mrs. Smithers broke the silence.
“What exactly did you have in mind for the girls?” she asked.
Mom looked at me again before answering.
“Well, actually, I didn't have anything in particular in mind at all. I just asked around to see if anyone was interested in girls' hockey, and here we are.”
I couldn't stand feeling guilty anymore. I stood up. “My name's Jess, and I've been playing hockey with the boys for five years. So have my friends, Sam and Geraldine.” I gestured to them in the hope that they would help me out. They were both busy examining the floorboards.
“We were just thinking it would be fun to have a girls' team in town so that maybe we could travel somewhere to a tournament or something. They have girls' hockey in lots of places now.”
“Our girls played in Newfoundland,” said Mrs. Smithers. “It was great, wasn't it, girls?” They all
nodded in unison. “The town we lived in was small, so all of the girls played on one team, and at the end of the year they traveled to St. John's for a tournament. It was a great trip.” She beamed at her audience. Then she sat down. Another dead silence.
Finally a man asked, “What would we need to get going?”
“Well,” replied Mom, who actually knew a lot more about hockey than she let on, “a coach would be good. A bit of equipment for those who don't have any would be nice too. Maybe someone to put in a good word for us so that we could get some free ice time.”
“Maybe I could be some help there.” Everyone turned around to see who was talking. It was Tara Richardson. She smiled in an embarrassed way and continued. “I could talk to the Band Council about free ice time. They'd probably be happy to see something like this getting started. And maybe if we asked around, we could come up with some used equipment that the older kids have outgrown.” There were murmurs of agreement from around the room.
“Yeah, but where are we going to find a coach? There's no way Joe can coach any more teams. He's got his hands full now.”
Joe was Joe Savage, a teacher at the school. He'd been coaching all four teams since he came here years ago, and he really did have his hands full.
There was a long silence while we all thought about that one. Then, finally, “I've got it,” one of the dads said. “Curtis Beaulieu.”
Slowly, all the heads in the room nodded and then turned in unison to the back corner, where our eyes locked on the two small Beaulieu girls. They had that wide-eyed look of rabbits caught in the garden.
“What do you think, Sarah?” my mom asked gently. “Would your Uncle Curtis coach?” Sarah, the older of the two, swallowed and then looked at her sister, Lucy, for moral support. Nothing but terror there.
In the quietest voice possible, Sarah finally spoke. “Uncle, he's pretty busy. He works at the diamond mine. And he don't like people much.” Her sister nodded. There was another silence while everyone thought about Curtis Beaulieu.
Anyone who'd lived in Fort Desperation for any length of time knew Curtis Beaulieu's story. I'd heard it tons of times. About the time that I was born, Curtis Beaulieu had been the best young hockey player in
the North. He moved out to Alberta to play Midget A and finish high school. As soon as he was old enough, he was drafted by the Calgary Flames. To us, and to most northerners, he was a heroâan example of what could happen if you worked hard enough, even if you did live at the end of a gravel road north of absolutely everywhere. And then, only three years into his amazing career, a high stick caught him in the eye and ended his career.
After that the story gets a bit vague, but eventually, he came home. He had totally changed from a happy, outgoing young man into a bitter recluse. It's true that you hardly ever see him in town. I think he works at the mine two weeks in, two weeks out, so that accounts for some of it. Once in a while I see him drive by in a big, new pickup truck. He built a small house on the edge of town, near the riverbank, and in the summer we sometimes see him out in his boat, but he's always alone. We've never seen him play hockey.
Sam's dad, William Blackduck, spoke up. “We used to hang out together, a long time ago. I guess I could try asking him. But I don't know. Like the girls said, he don't like people much no more.” Heads nodded in agreement.
“Well,” my mom said, “I guess until we get a coach, that's about as far as we can go. I have a piece of paper here, so how about if every girl puts her name and phone number on it, so at least we know who's interested.”
The meeting ended. Fourteen girls had signed upâenough for a team. Now all we needed was a coach.
The week dragged on. Nothing too exciting was happening at school. It was still clear and cold, so the pond was busy after school with lots of skaters. A couple of the dads rigged up a spotlight on a tree and powered it with a generator. About nine o'clock every night, someone's dad would come and shut the generator off, load it into his truck and that would be that, unless there was a full moon.
Thursday night after the generator went home, I was warming up in the cafÃ© with a hot chocolate when Curtis Beaulieu strolled in. I was so surprised to see him that I just stared. Finally he asked, “Is your mom here?” I didn't even know he knew who we were.
“Sure. I'll go get her.”
Mom was in the kitchen shutting things down.
“Curtis Beaulieu is here,” I told her. For some reason, I felt I should be whispering. “He wants to talk to you.”
“Oh,” she said in a strange voice. She dried her hands on a towel, undid her apron and walked out into the front.
“Hi, Curtis. Would you like a coffee?”
“No, thanks,” he said. While he stood there, I had a chance to look at him. I had overheard my mom and her friends talking about him one day and saying he was “cute.” Maybe he was, for an old guy. He had to be at least thirty.
“William told me about your girls' hockey idea. I just wanted to let you know that I can't coach. I didn't want you to get the wrong idea.” He must have read the disappointment on our faces, because he quickly continued. “I'm too busy. I'm at the mine for two weeks every month, so there's no way.”
“How about when you're in town?” asked Mom. “All we need is a little help to get started. It wouldn't be much.”
His face clouded over, and his eyes narrowed. He probably hadn't expected to have to argue his way out of this. He obviously didn't know my mom.
“No, it's not something I want to do. I'm busy.” He stood there for a moment; then he started to turn away.
“Curtis Beaulieu,” Mom said in the voice that usually meant I was in trouble. “A lot of people spent a lot of time with you when you were young, to help your dreams come true. You should remember that.”
“A lot of good those dreams did me,” he replied with a scowl.
Mom paused and looked at him carefully. “I'm sorry about the way things worked out for you, but it's not all bad. You've still got a good education, a good job and the respect of a lot of people. You know, to this town, you're still a hero, nhl or no nhl. So remember that. It wouldn't hurt you to give the girls a hand for a few hours now and again.” She was glaring at him now, defying him to answer back. He got a kind of confused look in his eyes, and then he simply turned and left the cafÃ©.
“Well, I guess I blew that. Oh well, there's bound to be someone else,” Mom said, with a long sigh.
“I don't think you blew it, Mom. I think he did.”
She gave me a huge hug and said, “Thanks, sweetie.”
At school the next day, I told Sam and Geraldine and the Smithers girls about the encounter at the cafÃ©.
“There must be something that we can do,” said Daisy. “There must be someone else in this town who knows about hockey.”
“My dad is a real expert on hockey,” said Sam. “Only problem is, he can't skate.”
“Yeah, I expect there are a lot of those kinds of hockey experts around. We need someone who can actually play the game.”
“What if we just went out by ourselves and started playing?” I suggested. “We all know enough to run a few drills and stuff like that. At least that's better than doing nothing.”
Everyone nodded in agreement; it was a lot better than doing nothing. We decided that we would each phone two other girls on the list and meet at the pond Saturday morning. We agreed to get to the pond by
about ten o'clock, to beat the rush. Everyone was going to bring all the pucks they could find so we could practice all at once. It still hadn't snowed, so at least we didn't have to worry about shoveling. Girls' hockey was about to begin.
By ten fifteen there were nine of us laced up and ready to go. We had the rink all to ourselves. Then the Graham twins arrivedâwith their figure skates.
“You can't play hockey on those,” said Sam with a nasty frown. “You'll trip and kill yourselves.”
“It's all we've got,” they replied. “We brought sticks though. And a puck.”
Michelle got things rolling. “Okay. Three laps around the pond to warm up.” Off we went, building up speed as we warmed up. The morning was crisp and coldâabout minus twentyâso we had to keep moving if we didn't want to freeze.