Authors: Fran Hurcomb
Compared to the hockey players, the twins had a funny choppy way of skating, although they could pretty well keep up with everyone. The big surprise came when Michelle shouted out, “Three laps
backward.” The twins picked up speed and passed everyone with their figure-skating crossovers. It didn't help everyone's mood when Opal launched herself into some sort of fancy jump.
“That's not hockey,” screamed Geraldine. “You can't do that in hockey.” She smacked her stick on the ice and scowled.
“Sorry,” Opal smirked. “I couldn't resist. I won't do it again.”
Michelle called everyone over to the middle of the ice. “Okay,” she said. “We can all skate. But those figure skates will have to go if you actually want to play hockey. Does anyone have any extra skates at home?”
After a moment, little Sarah Beaulieu piped up. “We got some boxes with hockey stuff in the shed. I think Uncle used to send equipment home for my brothers when he played down south.”
“That would be great. Do you think we could look at the stuff?”
“I'll ask my mom. She'd probably be glad to get rid of it.”
Before practice was over, two more girls, Denise and Morgan, showed up. They had never played
hockey, but they could sort of skate. We certainly had enough bodies for a team, but what did we do next?
By eleven thirty we were cold. The Beaulieu girls agreed to ask their mom about the equipment and to try and bring the boxes to the pond on Sunday. We all agreed to be back at the pond the next morning for our second practice. So far so good. Michelle and I were doing our best to keep the practices going, but we really needed someone who was older and had more experience. It felt good to be out there, anyway.
As we were unlacing, the guys from the Bantam team arrived.
“What's happening?” asked Jasper McKay.
Suddenly I felt embarrassed. They would laugh at the whole idea of a girls' team. “Oh, just, you know, skating,” I said as coolly as possible.
“You girls playing hockey?”
“Yeah. Sort of.”
“You any good?”
“We will be after we practice for a while,” replied Daisy. She looked right at him with a big smile. “We'll challenge you to a game after a few practices.”
The boys burst into laughter. Finally, Michael Greyeyes managed to stop laughing long enough to reply, “Okay. It's a date.”
And then they were gone. Showing off as usual. Skating as fast as they could and snapping passes back and forth.
“Daisy. Why did you say that?” asked Sam. “They'll kill us.”
“Oh well. I just couldn't resist. They're so cocky. It'll give them something to think about anyway.”
I felt more embarrassed than ever. I should have been out there with the guys, not practicing with a bunch of girls who hardly knew what they were doing. I must be crazy.
The next morning we showed up at the pond and started lacing up. It seemed as though some of our enthusiasm was gone. Even Daisy was quiet. The twins arrived with their figure skates and asked about Sarah and the mysterious boxes in the shed.
“No sign of her yet.”
“She probably couldn't find them. You know how sheds are. They're probably way at the back.”
“Yeah,” replied Daisy, kind of sadly. “I've been thinking about equipment. You know, you need a ton of stuff to start hockey. I mean, we're okay. We brought our stuff with us from Newfoundland, and I expect you have your old stuff, but it will be really expensive to buy new equipment for the girls just starting out.”
She gestured to the twins and the three other new girls who were hopping around, trying to keep warm. “Maybe this idea won't work out too well.”
I knew what she meant. Most people in Fort Desperation don't have a lot of money to spare for things like hockey equipment.
I looked up at the ring of solemn faces surrounding me. “Well, let's not give up just yet,” I said, with more enthusiasm than I felt. “We'll all freeze to death if we don't get moving. Let's go.” And we were off, skating around the pond, practicing our stickhandling.
After a few minutes I looked up to see a black pickup truck making its way through the playground toward the pond. It was a new truck, one that I didn't recognize. It stopped right behind the log benches where we changed. Then I saw Sarah waving and smiling. She leapt out of the truck as soon as it stopped and raced over to us.
“I got the stuff,” she said, jumping up and down with excitement. “There's lots of it. Mom told Uncle to help me bring it here. Come on!”
We followed her to the edge of the pond, where her Uncle Curtis was unloading box after box of equipment. Five boxes in all! Without saying anything,
we tore open the first box. Skates, shin guards, gloves, helmets. It was all there!
We all stood back in amazement and then looked up at Curtis, who still had the last box in his arms. “Dig in, girls,” he said with a grin. “This stuff has been sitting in the shed since the boys outgrew it. In fact, some of it looks like it was never used at all.”
“Are there any size-six skates in there?”
“Well,” he said, “let's take a look.” And that was it. Within seconds, there was equipment all over the snow. It was amazing. There were even some old hockey sweaters.
“Was this yours?” I asked him. I was holding up a bright red jersey with a wolf on the front and the number 12 on the back.
He laughed softly, and shook his head slowly. “Wow. I'd forgotten all about that. Yeah, that was my jersey from my first Junior team in Alberta. The Lethbridge Wolves. Boy, that was a long time ago.” He smiled and continued to look at the jersey.
“Here are some size sixes,” came a voice from the other side of the huddle of girls. “Try these, Opal.” Opal sat on the bench and undid her figure skates. She stared at the hockey skates like she had never seen
such bizarre things before. Slowly she eased her foot into one skate. A look of complete amazement came over her face.
“I can wiggle my toes,” she yelled. “I've never been able to wiggle my toes in skates before!”
Meanwhile her sister, Ruby, was making a similar discovery. They tightened up their new skates and stood up. Skating without picks was going to be a strange experience for them. The rest of us lined up to watch. This was going to be good.
“Here, better put these on, just in case,” said Curtis, handing them each a helmet. He helped them snap the helmets on, and they wiggled their heads around trying to get used to the feeling.
“Actually, you should all be wearing your helmets, even out here,” said Curtis quietly. We all looked at him and nodded. His eye injury had happened in a practice, when he and his teammates were just fooling around. He didn't have to say anything more. I had brought my helmet along out of habit, but hadn't put it on because there was no coach to tell me to do it. There were more than enough helmets in the boxes, so after some experimenting, we were all set.
Opal and Ruby looked at their new skates, at each other and then at the ice.
“Well, let's go,” said Ruby. And she walked out onto the ice. She took two steps and fell to her knees. “Ow. This is going to be hard. Everything feels weird.” We all shouted encouragement and tried to explain how to skate on hockey skates. Up and down the twins went. I had to give them credit: They were stubborn.
All of a sudden, a new voice joined in. “Here,” said Curtis, who had put on a pair of old skates while we were concentrating on the twins. “Like this,” he said pushing his skate to the side with a powerful thrust.
We all stood there, perfectly quiet, and watched while he demonstrated the mechanics of skating in hockey skates to the twins. He made it look so easy.
The next hour was a whirlwind of excitement. The new girls were getting used to wearing equipment, while those of us who had played before helped them with useful suggestions like “Shin guards go under the socks.” Turns out there were actually enough old sweaters and socks in the boxes for everyone. A lot of time was spent on color coordination.
“I'm not wearing orange socks with this red jersey,” said Opal. “It totally clashes.”
Curtis listened to these conversations with a strange look in his eyes. When a taker for the orange socks was finally found (it was Sarah, who was wearing a black jersey with what appeared to be a moose in a Santa costume on the front), he finally burst out laughing.
“You girls are too much.” He laughed and shook his head. “How about three final laps around the pond and we'll call it a day.” As we took off, I wondered if we might have found our coach.
It felt really good to see everyone dressed in hockey gear. It seemed as though our skating had improved one hundred percent. Even the twins were getting the hang of the hockey skates, although they still moved sort of strangely and spent a lot of time on their knees. When we all skated over to the benches to take our skates off, Sarah quietly spoke up.
“Uncle, are you going to be our coach?”
All conversation stopped, mid-sentence. It was kind of like putting a DVD on pause.
He smiled. “Well, I guess I could if you want me. Iâ” He couldn't get another word out before Sarah and her little sister Lucy threw themselves on him. A cheer went up from the whole group. We were a team!
Curtis drove me home with all of the extra equipment. We'd still have to try on the underneath stuff somewhere warm. He helped me carry the boxes into the cafÃ©.
“Hmmm,” said Mom.
“What have we got here?”
“Equipment. Tons of it. Sarah found it in their shed.”
Mom looked at Curtis, like she was waiting for more. He smiled and added, “Just a bunch of old stuff I sent home years ago. They tried some of it out. I think it will fit. We need somewhere to leave the rest of it until they can try it on.” Curtis smiled at Mom and continued. “I thought about what you said the other day, and you were right. A lot of people did help me out
when I was starting. I guess it's my turn. Only problem will be that I'm away half the time. We'll have to find somebody else to help out too.”
Mom beamed at Curtis and looked like she might hug him right then and there. No, Mom, no! Luckily she heard my silent plea.
“Well, we'll tackle that problem next. Thanks, Curtis. This is just great. You can leave the boxes over there, under the stairs, and the girls can come here to try stuff on.”
Curtis grinned and turned to leave. “Will you girls be there after school tomorrow?”
“Sure,” I replied. “I'll let everyone know.”
After he was gone, Mom seemed unusually quiet. Instead of peppering me with questions like she usually did, she just stared blankly at the door. Finally, she came back to reality and smiled at me.
“I was pretty sure Curtis would come through. He was always a good guy. Your dad coached him for years, you know. He always knew Curtis had what it took to go places. Your dad was the one who convinced him to try playing hockey down south, and he was devastated when Curtis got hurt. I think he always felt responsible. If he hadn't encouraged Curtis to leave, Curtis would
probably still have his sight in both eyes.” Mom looked so sad that I just had to hug her. I felt sad too. I missed Dad so much. Three years is a long time to think about someone every day.
“If Dad was still here, I'll bet he would have coached us,” I blurted out, as tears filled my eyes. It still hurt to talk about him.
“Yes, I'll bet he would have,” replied Mom softly.
Overnight the weather warmed up, and the clouds rolled in. Soon there would be snow. Well, we had been lucky for almost two weeks. Let the shoveling begin.
As I walked to school, Michael Greyeyes fell in step with me.
“Hi.” We weren't the greatest conversationalists.
“I hear the Zamboni is broken. They've had to order parts,” he said after a while.
“Oh no. Not again!” This seemed to happen every year. It was bad enough that we had to wait until it was cold enough to make natural ice. Now we'd probably miss valuable ice time waiting for parts, yet again.
“How's your team coming?” asked Michael.
“Great. Curtis Beaulieu is going to coach us, at least when he's in town.”
“Wow. How did you manage that?”
“Well, his nieces, Sarah and Lucy, are on the team. Plus, my mom kind of guilted him into it.”
“So how many players you got?”
“Well,” I said, counting in my head, “about fifteen or so that are showing up right now.”
“Who's in goal?”
Goal? Good question.
“Nobody so far.” We hadn't even thought about that. Without a goalie, we weren't much of a hockey team.
“You know, I was thinking,” said Michael. “My sister Alice might give it a try.”
Alice Greyeyes? She was famous! She was the best soccer goalie ever. She even made the Arctic Winter Games team last year and went all the way to Alaska to play. She won mvp on the team.
“Can she skate?”
There was a long pause. “Well, not really. You know. She skates a few times every fall on the pond and then a few more times in the arena. I guess she can stand up okay, but I don't think she can move very fast.”
“Do you really think she'd be interested?”
“No idea. Why don't you ask her?”
Gulp. Alice was in grade nine. How much time would she have for a bunch of lowly middle schoolers? For that matter, how much time would she have for hockey?
“I guess I could try. But I don't know her.”
“Alice won't bite, you know. She's actually okay, for an older sister. She's really into training and stuff, so maybe you could push the fitness angle.”
“Okay,” I said, very hesitantly. “I guess I could try.”
We walked through the school's front doors and into the colorful chaos that was Chief Hardisty School. If I was going to talk to Alice, I was going to need backup. Notes were passed, and at lunchtime, the entire team met in the lunchroom.