As head referee Steve Kowalski got ready to drop the puck, Bill Woodward, the center for the Cougars and Dennis Sharp, Norberry’s center positioned themselves for the opening face off of the game. At the drop of the puck the Knights center won the face-off and passed the puck back to defenseman Lyle Gaines. Gaines careened the puck off the boards in the direction of right winger Dale Hanson. Hanson turned on a burst of speed that moved him about fifteen feet from Maplewood’s goal. As Dale Hanson wound up for a blazing slap-shot, Eric Coswell, the Cougar’s star defenseman, moved in front of the goal to move Knights right winger Taylor King out of the crease area. Coswell was attempting to give his goalie, Rick Miller, a clear view of the upcoming shot. Unfortunately, Dale Hanson’s shot ricocheted off Eric Coswell’s shin pad causing the puck to take a change of direction.
The puck landed up in the bottom right corner of the Cougar’s net. Rick Miller had been screened on the shot and didn’t have any chance of stopping the puck that changed direction.
Only thirteen seconds of the first period had elapsed and the Cougars were down one to zero. Rick went for a short skate out of his net to regain his composure before returning to mentally prepare himself for the next face-off.
The same two centers lined up for the next face-off. Although Rick knew the first goal was not his fault, he felt his stomach muscles start to tighten like a knotted and twisted rope. The Knight’s center Noel Lamare won the face-off draw and immediately passed the puck to right winger Peter Stafford. Peter wound up for a one timer and put all of his two hundred pounds into his shot. He got excellent wood on the shot and Rick Miller didn’t even see the puck as it entered the right top corner of his net. Rick turned around in disbelief. This was the first time in his career he ever let in a goal taken from center ice.
The score was now 2 to 0 for the Norberry Knights and Rick began to panic. He wondered if he was still rusty after almost four weeks out of action. He also wondered if the concussion he suffered was now slowing down his reflexes. Rick knew how important this game was to his team and he didn’t want to be the player responsible for losing the game. He skated towards the Cougars bench, “Hey Brad. You can pull me and put Miles in goal.”
“What are you talking about? Get back in your net and do your job!” Brad Keenan yelled back at him. With an angry shake of his head Rick skated back to the goal. “How could Coach Keenan put me through this humiliation?” Rick thought.
The Maplewood Cougars bench almost visibly sagged after the second disastrous goal was scored on them. When Rick Miller got back in his net, he could hear the boos and cat calls coming from the Norberry Knights fans,
“Hey Miller, you suck! You couldn’t stop a beach ball.”
The laughing and derision only caused Rick’s anger to well up inside him. He was positively seething when the puck was dropped for the next face-off.
The face-off was won again by the Norberry Knights. The Knights set up a precision pass play that caused a two -on-one situation. This was a play that they had obviously been practicing for a long time. Fortunately, Rick read the play perfectly and stacked his pads to make an amazing save. The Knights bench just shook their heads in disbelief. The save that Rick had just made was nearly impossible. Eric Coswell skated over to Rick and tapped him on his pads.
“You still got it old man. Now we are going to start giving you some protection.”
What Eric just said seemed like empty words as the Knights won yet another face-off and dumped the puck into the Cougars end of the ice. Taylor King, Norberry’s left winger, was the first man to recover the puck. He quickly passed the puck back to Rob Janson, a powerful Norberry defenseman who was setting up to take a wicked slap-shot from the point. All three Knights forwards positioned themselves to block Rick’s view of the oncoming shot. Rick skated a few feet ahead and used his hands to maneuver a Knights winger out of the way. As Taylor King let his blistering slap-shot go, Rick had a small opening to see the puck coming towards the net. Rick dropped to his knees and caught the low shot in his trapper. As there was so much traffic in front of his net, Rick held on to the puck for a face off.