Authors: Fran Hurcomb
“So I had this idea. Well, actually, Michael Greyeyes had this idea. He thinks that maybe his sister, Alice, would play goal for us.” Stunned silence. It was almost too much to consider.
“But does she know anything about hockey? Can she skate? Why would she do that?” Questions flew around the group.
Finally I took the lead. “Well, we could at least ask her, I suppose. She can only say no.”
“Yeah,” came the group reply.
“When are we going to do this?” asked Opal.
“Well,” said Sam, who was braver than the rest of us, “we're all here now. Let's go find her.” Off we marched, down the halls to the gym, where we hoped she'd be hanging out.
All fifteen of us tried to march through the gym doors at once, so our mission began to look like some kind of slapstick comedy. We finally stumbled through the doors and into the gym. There she was, with her soccer team, kicking a ball around. Everything ground to a halt while we stood there, staring. Finally, one of the other soccer players said, “Yeah?” and Sam, our fearless spokesperson, sprang into action.
“Alice, could we talk to you for a second?” Alice looked up, staring. She looked a lot like Michael, except prettier. She bounced a soccer ball off her knee. “Me? Why?”
“Uh, we, uh, just, uhâ¦” Sam suddenly seemed at a loss for words. We all stood there, afraid to open our mouths. After what seemed like an hour, Sam tried
again. “We're, uh, the girls' hockey team. We, uh, don't have a goalie. We thought maybe you'd like to try it out. You wanna be our goalie?” She smiled a sickly smile and held her breath.
Alice looked at us like we were all crazy. “Me? I can't play hockey. I can barely skate. Can't you find a real goalie? I mean, why me?”
Another silence. And then Sarah's small voice piped up from the back. “Because you're the best, and we need the best.” Alice burst out laughing.
“Are you that bad?”
“Yes,” replied Sam, “but we have potential. And maybe we can go on a road trip.” Ahhhh, the magic words. I sometimes think if it weren't for road trips, most of us wouldn't actually bother with organized sports. But that's one of the good things about living far away from absolutely everythingâ¦any road trip is just about guaranteed to be a good one. Even Hay River, population three thousand, sounds exciting to kids like us, living without so much as a movie theater in their community.
“Butâ¦okay, I'll have to think about it. But I warn you, I can't skate. I'll probably have to be propped up. Do you have any equipment?” We all started to talk
at once. Somebody's brother had this, someone else's had that.
“We'll come up with equipment if you'll just come out once or twice and try it out. We promise not to bug you if you decide not to do it after that,” said Sam. She was certainly sounding grown-up all of a sudden.
“Well, okay,” agreed Alice, still shaking her head in surprise. “I'll try anything once.”
Alice agreed to meet us after school two days later. We had two days to find equipment.
The snow started about 1:00 pm. Big gentle flakes drifted down from the heavy gray sky. It was beautiful. Without snow, winter just didn't feel right. It would be at least six months before we saw the ground again. This made me a little sad, but the beauty of it all quickly erased any sad thoughts from my brain. Of course, now we'd have to start shoveling the rink. This would really separate the hockey players from the couch potatoes.
Sure enough, the snow came downâ¦and downâ¦and down. The snowmobilers in town were thrilled. You were taking your life in your hands walking down the street. It sometimes seemed as though every crazy teenager in town had the use of a very hot snow machine. They went roaring up and down the streets and trails until about midnight. Of course, people complained about it nonstop, but it was hard to do anything about them because they were too fast for the bylaw officers to catch. Besides that, they were all dressed like Darth Vader, with black plastic helmets, black visors and black clothing. Everyone looked exactly the same.
My mom says that when snowmobiles first arrived in Fort Desperation they were really useful. They replaced dog teams as the best type of winter transportation. They were great for hauling wood, breaking trail and generally getting trappers and hunters around in the bush. Now they're basically just very expensive toys, and I don't like them. Too noisy and smelly. Too dangerous.
Anyway, it was snowing so heavily that we had to take a day off practice. There was no way we could ever shovel fast enough to keep ahead of the snow. That was actually a good thing, because it gave us time to get our equipment organized. The girls all came to the cafÃ©, and we got everybody sorted out with equipment. We also got a few donations from older brothers. The biggest surprise came from the Graham twins, who staggered into the cafÃ© dragging a huge duffel bag.
“What have you got in there, a body?” asked Sam.
“You'll never believe this,” said Ruby. “Our dimwit brother was once a goalie!” And with that, they dumped a pile of equipment onto the floor. The smell was awful, but it looked like everything a goalie would ever need was there.
My mom's customers were getting used to the cafÃ© being hockey central. Some of them had been quite useful in helping us figure out which bits of equipment
were which. Black Mike, an old truck driver who wasn't even black, looked at our goalie gear. “Boy, this stuff is old. Looks like something I might have wore.”
“You were a goalie? No way,” said Sam with her usual tact.
“Sure. Back in Yellowknife, years ago. Played for the Giant Grizzlies. Course we didn't use helmets, them days. Or a face mask. Sissy stuff. See this scar?” He pointed to a nasty-looking scar that cut one eyebrow in half. “Slapshot. Game against Con. Played the whole last period with my eye swole right shut.” He grinned a mainly toothless grin, chuckled and went back to his coffee. Sarah and the twins pulled faces when his back was turned. Black Mike was a cafÃ© regular, so I was used to him, but I guess other people thought he was a bit weird.
While we surveyed the pile, the door opened again and out of the whirling snow came Tara, the rec coordinator.
“Wow,” she said, brushing off her hood and clapping her mitts free of snow. “Some storm.” She came over to admire our pile of stuff. “Where did you get all of this?” she asked, obviously impressed.
“Oh, here and there,” replied Sam, attempting to be cool.
We didn't really know Tara very well yet. She had moved to Fort Desperation in the spring and had worked hard all summer to keep us kids occupied and out of trouble. She organized baseball tournaments, swimming lessons and soccer clinics. There were camping trips, canoeing lessons and craft nights. There was only one problem. In the summer, northerners, kids especially, like to stay up half the night and sleep half the day. Since it's light all the time, it doesn't really matter when you sleep, so anything that's scheduled or organized doesn't work very well. The summer is our free time after a long dark winter, and we're sure not going to ruin it with lessons!
Winter, however, is another thing. The days are short and the cold is sometimes really extreme. Of course, from my point of view, the whole reason for winter is to play hockey, so once the arena is operating, cold and darkness aren't huge problems.
“Good news about ice time,” said Tara. “You'll be able to get ice at least three times a week, just like the boys, once the arena opens. Isn't that great?”
“Yeah. If the arena ever opens,” said Geraldine, who was busy trying on shoulder pads.
“Well,” replied Tara, “from what I could understand, they've ordered the parts they need for the Zamboni and they should be here next month. Are you girls still practicing on the pond?”
“Yeah, except all of this snow is going to slow things down quite a bit,” replied Sam.
“Yes, I suppose it will,” said Tara solemnly. Her face suddenly lit up. “Well, I'll see you all later,” she said as she hurried out the door.
“Wonder what she's up to?” mused Sam.
“Maybe she's going to start a craft class to make Zamboni parts,” Ger giggled. That got a good laugh from everyone as we continued to sort through the smelly bags of equipment.
The snow finally stopped overnight. At lunchtime, we all agreed to bring shovels with us after school. There looked to be about six inches of the fluffy stuff on the ground. This was going to be brutal.
As I walked to the pond after school, the sun was dipping below the trees and the sky glowed pink and blue. In the distance, I could hear a motor. Sounded like a generator or a chainsaw on steroids. As I got closer, I could tell that the sound was coming from the pond. In the distance, I could see a small figure in red. The air over the pond looked thick, like it was in the middle of a snowstorm. I slowly began to see that the small red figure was pushing something back and forth on the pond. A snowblower! Someone was using a snowblower on the pond! I raced down to the edge and dropped my gear. Small stakes had been placed around the edge of the area that was being cleared. There, in the middle of the pond, covered in snow and frost, was Tara. Because of the noise of the machine, she hadn't heard me arrive. Slowly and methodically, she pushed the snowblower down the length of the ice surface that she had marked out. When she reached the end, she paused before turning around. She looked up for a moment, saw me and waved.
“I'm almost done,” she called above the roar of the machine. She turned and headed down the far side of the rink. That's what it wasâa rink! Our pond had
become a real rink. Now it had edges. It looked almost the same size as the rink in the arena. Wow! She must have been at it all day.
I quickly laced up my skates and headed out with my shovel to clear the last little bit of snow off the surface. While I whizzed back and forth with my shovel, the others arrived. They were all as amazed as I was and quickly hit the ice to help. Tara finished the far edge and pushed the machine over to the benches. She shut it off and sat down.
“Whew,” she said. “I'm glad that's done. There was a lot of snow.” She was covered in snow and frost. Even her eyelashes were heavy with tiny snowballs.
“Yikes,” screamed Sam, when she got close enough to see Tara better. “A bushman. Or maybe I should say bushwoman.”
Tara growled a not very convincing growl and shook herself. Snow flew all over us. Behind us, a pickup truck pulled up and stopped. Curtis hopped out and strolled over.
“Wow. Now that's a rink,” he said. He looked at Tara, trying to see who was under the layers of snow and frost. “Looks like you might be responsible for this,” he laughed.
Tara smiled shyly and nodded.
Sam, with her newfound maturity, jumped to the rescue.
“This is Tara, the new rec director,” she said to Curtis. “This is Curtis, our coach,” she explained to Tara.
Curtis and Tara smiled at each other and then quickly looked away. Weird! Maybe Tara thought Curtis was cute too.
“This is great,” said Curtis finally. “Thanks a lot. Saved the girls a lot of shoveling.”
“Oh, that's okay,” replied Tara. “It was kind of fun. I borrowed the snowblower from the hamlet garage. Might as well put it to good use. I even brought my skates. Do you mind if I take a spin around while you practice?”
“Go ahead,” replied Curtis. “I mean, it is your rink!”
Tara laughed. “It's not mine! It's for everyone. That even includes boys,” she added with a grin.
“Oh no.” We all groaned.
“Oh yes,” she said. “It's for anyone who spends a bit of time cleaning it occasionally.”
“Fair enough,” said Curtis. “Okay, girls, let's get some of that fancy equipment on and we'll run a few drills.”
We had just started into our drills when a snow machine with two people on it came roaring across the playground toward us. It braked to a halt by the benches and shut down. The figure on the back took off its helmet. It was Alice Greyeyes! In all the excitement of the new rink, we had completely forgotten that she was coming. The driver, her boyfriend, Cory, removed his helmet as well and scowled at us. Alice walked slowly over to the bench, a pair of skates slung over her shoulder.
“It's Alice,” yelled Lucy. “Uncle, our new goalie is here.”
Lucy was so excited that she completely wiped out as she raced toward Alice. She slid across the ice on her stomach and stopped right by Alice's feet. “Hi.” She grinned.
“Hi, yourself,” replied Alice.
“Are you going to put on your equipment?” asked Lucy.
“Well, I don't know quite what I'm supposed to do,” replied Alice.
“Oh,” said Lucy gravely. “Well, Uncle will know. He's our coach,” she said with obvious pride.
On cue Curtis skated over, smiling. “I'm Curtis Beaulieu. I guess I'm the coach. At least for the next few days.”
Alice introduced herself. “The girls asked me if I'd try out to be their goalie,” she explained.
“Are you usually a goalie?”
“Actually, I'm a soccer goalie. I don't know anything about hockey.”
“Oh,” said Curtis with a nod. “Well, do you want to give it a try?”
“I guess I could,” Alice replied.
“Can you skate?”
“Not very well. I can stand up, but that's about it.” “Okay. Well, why don't you put on your skates and grab a helmet and a stick, and we'll get you skating a bit to start with.” Curtis smiled at her, and then he skated back to the center of the rink. “Come on, girls. It's going to be dark soon. Let's get going.”
The rest of the week passed in a blur: school, hockey, school, hockey. Having Curtis as a coach had given everyone a major lift. He had us doing drills we had never tried before. We were improving every day, especially the new girls. The biggest surprise had to be the twins. They still skated sort of funny, but Curtis had quickly noticed somethingâthey were great going backward. Nobody, not even the Smithers girls, could keep up with them. According to Curtis, they were going to be the core of our defense.