Authors: Fran Hurcomb
“I know what you mean. It sort of makes me want to go out and check back, but the last thing we need now is a penalty.”
We had worked on power plays a bit in our last practice. The Smithers girls made up the offensive line, while Opal and Ruby stayed on defense. We took the puck straight into their zone and set up a passing pattern with Michelle, who was the biggest and strongest, in front of their net. After about a solid minute of passing, Ruby sent the puck across to Fancy, who fired it at the net. Michelle stuck out her stick and tipped it up into the air, over the goalie's glove. It was 2â2!
The crowd erupted in cheers. By now, all of our families were sitting together and getting kind of rowdy. The little Beaulieu kids were waving a piece of cardboard with “Go girls” written on it. Not too original, but that was okay. One by one they started clapping until they were all in unison, clapping and stomping and hollering. Wow. It was all for us!
Between the second and third periods there was a longer break so that the Zamboni could clean the ice.
This was really big time. We went to the dressing room and flopped on the benches. I looked around as everyone took off their helmets. Hair was dripping wet, faces red. There was no doubt about it, we were playing hard.
The door burst open, and Mrs. Smithers and my mom came in with a tray of cut-up oranges. We grabbed them thirstily. “Way to go, girls. You're awesome,” said Mrs. Smithers. We were all talking at once, eating oranges and laughing. Curtis and Tara walked into the dressing room too.
“Okay, girls, settle down. This isn't over yet. Those boys don't want to lose, so you're going to have to keep up the pressure. Can you do it?”
The room erupted in a loud roar. Can we do it? Of course we could. We left the room feeling much different than we had an hour before.
The boys started the third period with a huge burst of energy. Their center slipped around our defense and raced in alone on Alice. He deked left and tried to tuck a backhand past her. Alice did the splits and trapped the puck under her pad. What a save! The crowd went wild again.
Back and forth we went. The boys were tired, but they sure weren't going to give up. With less than a minute to go, Sarah snuck around Trevor, their last defenseman, and headed toward the net. Knowing he was beaten, Trevor stuck out his stick and tripped her. Sarah fell flat on her face, the puck slowly gliding into the goalie's glove. The referee's shrill whistle sounded almost before Sarah hit the ice.
“Penalty shot,” chanted the crowd. “Penalty shot.” Sarah got slowly to her feet and looked at the referee. As Trevor headed to the penalty box, the ref called Sarah over and talked to her. Then they skated together to center ice and he put the puck down. Curtis signaled a time out to the ref. We all headed over to the bench and made room for Sarah in front of Curtis.
“Penalty shot,” she said, looking absolutely terrified.
“That's great, Sarah. Don't worry. I know you can beat him. He's weak on his stick side. Have you noticed that?”
Sarah shook her head slowly. She was one of our youngest and smallest players. For her age, she was probably also our best player. She seemed to have
a knack for sneaking and stickhandling around much bigger players, and, although she didn't shoot very hard, she was pretty accurate.
Curtis smiled gently at his little niece. “Take a deep breath and then stare at the goalie for a while, just to make him more nervous. Take your time, and go when you're ready. There's no rush. Try to raise it high on his stick side. He'll probably go down, thinking you can't raise it, so you'll just have to fool him. Can you do that?” With a weak smile, she nodded her head and slowly turned and skated, all alone, to center ice. We all stood along the boards by the bench, watching and waiting. She looked so small. The crowd was dead quiet.
Sarah stood at center ice, staring at the goalie for what seemed a very long time. Then, she stood up a little straighter, looked down at the puck, up again at the goalie and started to skate. She took the puck with her stick and began to pick up speed. She never took her eyes off the goalie.
It all seemed to happen in slow motion. Sarah headed to the right, swerved suddenly to the left and then at the last second pivoted back to the right and fired a shot, right into the top corner of the net.
She threw her arms into the air, and we mobbed her. The crowd went wild. The Peewee goalie slammed his stick against the goalpost. The score was 3â2 with forty-three seconds to go.
Sarah skated wildly to the bench and threw herself at Curtis.
“Uncle, Uncle, I did like you said. I did like you said.”
Curtis gave her a big hug. “You sure did, Sarah. It was perfect.”
My line was on now. The Peewees dumped the puck into our end and pulled their goalie. They were going with six skaters. Desperation time. They were moving the puck quickly, trying to set up for a good shot. Alice fended off two weak shots, and then Opal snagged a rebound and started moving. I headed down the ice as fast as I could skate, looking back quickly and calling her name. She saw me and fired the puck to center ice.
The two defenders were moving fast too, and they came at me one on each side as I snagged the pass. I think we kind of had a three-way collision at the blue line. Anyway, we all went down in a pile. Funny thing was, I guess I pushed the puck as I fell. It just kept going, slowly, toward the net. Everyone was screaming “The puck, the puck!” The crowd was on its feet, roaring. The defensemen scrambled up and took off after it, but they were too late. The puck sort of drib-bled into the net and the buzzer went. It was over.
Our whole team roared onto the ice and jumped on me. I thought I was going to suffocate. Then we all went and jumped on Alice till she screamed to let her up. In the stands, our families were just about as happy, but I don't think anyone got piled on. We shook hands, and Joe, the other coach, congratulated us on a hard-fought game. We were pretty proud. We had had our little miracle.
Everyone went to the cafÃ© after the game for a celebration, and Curtis ordered “hot chocolate for the house.” He'd seemed much happier lately. We liked to think it was because of us, but actually, I think it was because of Tara. They were spending a lot of time together, even away from the arena.
“Ladies. I have an announcement. Listen up.” Curtis stood on a chair at the counter so he could see everyone. “We've found a girls' tournament to go to, if you're interested.” If we were interested! Who was he kidding? We burst into applause. A road trip! It's what we had dreamed of, right from the start.
“Grande Prairie is hosting a girl's tourney in February, and they have a mixed-age category that
would fit us perfectly. Interested?” We cheered and carried on for a few minutes. Grande Prairie. Not exactly Edmonton, but what the heck. It had a movie theater, a swimming pool, a shopping mall and restaurants. It would be great.
“Okay. Well, I'll take that as a âyes.' We'll have to do a bit of fund-raising. A few of the mothers have agreed to organize a bus, but you'll have to come up with some money for hotel rooms and meals.”
After that, we really got serious. We practiced every day after school and played two games a week against the Peewees. The scores were getting closer all the time, even when we had the same number of players. We were even starting to talk about challenging the Bantams, but that could wait until after Grande Prairie.
When Curtis was away, Tara ran things and did a really good job. She had certainly learned a lot about hockey in a few months. We held two bingo nights in the community hall and raised almost two thousand dollars. We also had a bake sale at the church and were
busy selling raffle tickets wherever we could. First prize was two hundred dollars worth of free gas from Dave's Gas Bar. Dave had become our number-one fan. Cory had to work for him after school until the sharpening machine was paid for, and it turned out that he was a good worker, so Dave had hired him permanently. I began to think that maybe Cory wasn't quite as bad a guy as we had thought. I mean, he had to have a few good qualities for someone as great as Alice to go out with him, right?
The week before our big trip, Curtis, Dave and Cory came into our dressing room before practice, carrying three large boxes.
“Ladies, we've got something special for you,” Curtis said. Dave broke open a box and pulled out something red. A hockey jersey. “Hope you like them,” said Dave, holding one up. “If you're going to a tournament, we figured you needed to look good.”
The front of the jersey read
Dave's Gas Bar Super Sleuths
. In the middle was a magnifying glass like
Sherlock Holmes used. On the back was the number 8 and the name
. “Guess this one's yours, Jess,” Dave said, handing it to me. I was speechless. It was beautiful.
When we finally calmed down, Sam had the brains to say, “Thanks, Dave.”
“Oh, don't thank me. Cory had a lot to do with this too. It was his idea, and he helped pay for them.”
We were stunned. Cory?
Cory looked really embarrassed, but finally he spoke up.
“I just wanted to say I'm sorry for scaring you. I shouldn't have done that. I was being really stupid.” He paused. “Aliceâ¦” We all turned to stare at poor Alice, who was suddenly very pale. “I'm really sorry. For everything.” Then he grinned. “Anyway, good luck in Grande Prairie. You're going to kick butt.” He turned and walked out the door.
We were all quiet for a minute. Nobody knew quite what to say. Then Tara, who had been digging around in the box, held out a jersey to Alice and said, “Here you go.” Alice's face brightened as she held up the jersey and admired the big number 1 on the back.
“Cool,” she said.
At our last practice before Grande Prairie, Curtis said it was time to pick our team captain and two assistant captains. He explained that the captain should be someone with good leadership skills who would stay calm under pressure. The captain was the only person on the team allowed to talk to the ref if there were any questions on the ice. Curtis thought that we were old enough to pick our own captain and assistants, so he handed out little pieces of paper and pencils to everyone so we could write the name of the player we thought would make the best captain. I voted for Sam.
After the practice, Curtis and Tara came into the dressing room for a quick last-minute talk about the tournament and what to expect. There were five teams entered in our division. It would be a pretty high level of hockey, but he said we were ready for it.
In his hand, he held three pieces of black clothâ¦ a capital
and two capital
s. With a big smile, he handed the
to me and said, “You'd better sew this on your jersey before we leave, Jess.” I was the captain! Everyone cheered loudly, and then he handed the
s to Sam and Daisy. More cheering. I couldn't believe it. I'd never been the captain of anything before, but I knew I could do it, especially with Sam and Daisy for backup.
So here we are, on the bus. It's almost full, what with fifteen players, two coaches and about twenty chaperones, who say they're coming to cheer us on. I think a lot of them are more interested in shopping than hockey, but what the heck. It's going to be great. It might be minus forty outside, but inside the bus the heater is blasting and it's cozy. We've got our blankets, pillows, junk food, Mp3 players and great movies for the dvd player. In twelve hours we'll be in Grande Prairie. We don't really know what to expect, but that's okay. We'll deal with it. Just a few months ago, this was only a dream, and now it's really happening. The Fort Desperation Super Sleuths are going places, so look out, world!
Fran Hurcomb arrived in the Northwest Territories in 1975 and immediately succumbed to the spell of the North. She lived on a trapline, ran sled dogs for almost twenty years, built and lived on a houseboat and has been a professional photographer for over twenty years. Her first children's book was published in 1999, followed by two northern pictorial histories
Fran lives in Yellowknife with her husband, hockey-playing daughter and several pets.