Coach Brad Keenan got to the St. Vital Arena about ten minutes after Hadley arrived. He, too, needed to deliver a powerful, inspirational speech to his team. Two of his top players, injured goalie, Rick Miller and suspended defenseman, Eric Coswell would not be playing tonight. The Maplewood Cougars were not only going to miss the incredible skill set of his two top players, but also their maturity and leadership abilities. He knew that his team would not be approaching tonight’s game with a strong sense of confidence. They had all seen how their backup goalie, Miles Myers had performed in yesterday morning’s practice. They watched dejectedly as Miles let in one soft goal after another.
Brad recalled how he became so exasperated that he did something that he very rarely did. He called out one of his players publicly. Brad remembered his exact words as he verbally stripped down his young, relatively inexperienced, second string goaltender.
“Do you have any idea how much is riding on tomorrow night’s game? We desperately need a win. I know you’re not Rick Miller, but the team is counting on you to step up to the plate and make everyone forget that we don’t have the services of Rick Miller tomorrow.”
As soon as the team finished practice and arrived back at the dressing room, Brad asked Miles if he could have a word with him in the coach’s office.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you, Miles. It’s not your fault that Rick Miller won’t be able to play tomorrow. To tell you the truth, I’ve been under a ton of stress lately and this morning I let it get the best of me. I just ask that you give the team your best effort tomorrow night.”
“Thanks Coach. I know I played shitty this morning. I’ve been under a lot of stress myself. Besides knowing that I need to replace Ricky, my dad has really been on my case. You see, I bought a used car that I fell in love with yesterday. My dad was not impressed that I used up a good chunk of my college tuition savings to pay for the car. Don’t worry coach. I’m going to play my best game ever tomorrow.”
Norberry Knights coach, Jeff Hadley, arrived at the St.Vital Arena about ninety minutes before the start of the rematch between his team and the Maplewood Cougars. Jeff was a tall, thin man in his mid-twenties. This was his third season as head coach of the Norberry Knights juvenile hockey team. Coach Hadley was nervously pacing the rubber matted floor of the St. Vital Arena’s visitors’ dressing room. The room reeked from the stale sweat that the midget hockey team that had occupied the dressing room fifteen minutes previously left behind.
Jeff would stop pacing periodically, sit down on the players bench and would jot down some notes for the message that he wanted to deliver to his team before they started to arrive in the dressing room. Coach Hadley felt a tinge of guilt as he remembered that it was his idea to ask Glenn Davidson to viciously attack Maplewood’s star goalie, Rick Miller.
Jeff attended his local Baptist church occasionally. but he struggled a great deal with his relationship to God. Hadley was a true believer in Jesus Christ and the Bible, but Jeff would be the first to admit that his walk with the Lord left a lot to be desired in certain areas of his life. Jeff’s wife, Hillary, was very disturbed by her husband’s frequent spiritual lapses, but she had no idea of how inwardly tortured the love of her life really was.
Nobody had to tell Jeff Hadley that he lived a lifestyle of which his pastor and his wife’s friends did not approve. When his wife was not around, Jeff would often drop F bombs and assorted other profanities. He would often think to himself:
“Most of the Christians I know are a bunch of gossipy, backstabbing hypocrites. They should take their own moral inventories as it says in step five of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Why are they so concerned about my spiritual condition? I don’t judge their lifestyles. What gives them the right to judge me?
Hell, I live in a tough world. My critics think that it’s easy to have to convince husbands and fathers to buy enough life insurance to provide for their families. Do these people think it’s easy to produce a winning hockey team every year? Man, if those people only knew how much stress I carry around inside, day in and day out, I hope they would have the common decency to ease up on me. So what if I induce some might players to resort to using dirty tactics to win important hockey games? It’s a hard, competitive world we live in. I just try to prepare my players for real life.”
Eulogy for a Dearly Loved Brother (Part Two)
My brother, Allan Duncan Stewart was a very special person. He made giving generously to charity a priority in both his life and his death. Allan is probably the most courageous man I have ever known.
He struggled with a chronic progressive disease known as myotonic dystrophy. Allan also had to live most of his life with a severe visual impairment. He had been declared legally blind.
Although Allan was by nature a quiet reserved man, he was very appreciative of the visitors he received while residing in St. Boniface Hospital, Concordia Hospital and Deer Lodge Centre.
My brother Neil, my wife Martha, Allan’s wife Cora and my goddaughter Shandy all visited Allan at these medical facilities.
Up until his last week on earth Allan’s oral communication was very good. Allan enjoyed a lively conversation and especially liked to talk about sports. He was an ardent fan of both the Winnipeg Jets and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. While he was at Deer Lodge Centre Allan liked to watch all the games on television.
It was the Saturday morning after the big hockey team party. Misty awoke in her bedroom in time to see the sun shining through the blinds. Misty gave herself a push and managed to make it to the kitchen. Right now her most immediate need was for strong coffee and a couple of aspirin. Misty proceeded to set up the coffee percolator. She filled a large glass with water. Her next step was the bathroom medicine cabinet to find a bottle of aspirin.
Misty definitely had a hangover. Although she felt uncomfortable with the hockey wives she had at least made peace with Linda Saunders. The problem was that this was not Misty’s type of party. This was not her crowd. She loved Rick, but this was not her scene. It was obvious that she hated being a hockey wife and was praying that Rick would retire from hockey after this season. The truth was that Misty missed California and the whole hippy scene. As much as she loved Rick, she dreamed about moving back to California in a year or two. Maybe she could talk her father into moving with her, or maybe Rick could be persuaded to come to California with her. After taking two aspirins, Misty’s coffee maker finished percolating. Misty made herself a Tim Horton’s coffee and added two packets of Sugar Twin and a shot of Southern Pecan coffee whitener to the mix. Although her head was still throbbing, Misty lit up a Sweet Caporal cigarette and propped herself upon Lloyd’s tattered, light blue coach. Misty was just starting to slump over onto the cushions at the end of the couch, when she heard loud pounding on her back door.
Getting off the couch slowly and painfully, Misty made it to the back door. When she opened the door she was shocked to see Gypsy smiling back at her. It was snowing and snowflakes were covering Gypsy’s long, burgundy coat. He was wearing a black Oakland Raiders toque and black leather gloves.
“Hey, beautiful. Long time no see,” were the first words out of Gypsy’s mouth.
“Gypsy? What are you doing here? I thought I’d never see you again,” Misty said.
“Why don’t you get dressed, put out your cigarette and come with me for breakfast at Perkins restaurant?” Gypsy asked.
“I’d love to, but my dad is still sleeping. When he wakes up, he won’t know where I am,” Misty answered.
“Just write Lloyd a note and leave it by the coffee percolator. Only don’t write that you’ve gone out for breakfast with me.”
“What should I say on the note?” Misty asked.
“Tell them that your boyfriend is taking you out for breakfast. You have a boyfriend, don’t you?”
“Yeah. His name is Rick Miller. You met him already. He was the guy with Sasha at the rock festival last summer,” Misty answered.
Gypsy started to laugh, “You stole your boyfriend from your sister?”
“Not so loud, Gypsy. You’ll wake up my dad,” Misty said as she reached into the clothes closet for her white down filled parka.
The Maplewood Cougars walked very slowly back to their dressing room. Many of the players could barely hold up their heads. When they arrived in their dressing room, the players sat down on the benches next to the equipment stalls No one said a word. It was as if the life had been drained right out of them.
After a few minutes of painful silence, Miles Myers entered the Maplewood Cougars’ dressing room. As he had removed his Norberry Knights jersey, his shoulder pads and chest protector were now visible. He looked cautiously around the room and said, “Sorry guys, Coach Keenan told me to play my best, so I did. Rick that last goal was not your fault. It was a real tough one, but you played it right all the way. Brian Williams just made a lucky shot.”
“Thanks Miles. You played great. Don’t apologize. You just did your job the way Coach told you to. I think that tonight was your best game all season. The team can rest assured during the off-season that next year they will have a great starting goalie,” Rick said as he unclasped the buckle on his left leg pad.
Coach Brad Keenan spoke next, “Thank you Rick. I couldn’t agree with you more. Miles was exceptionally good in goal tonight. Now I have a message for all you guys. I’m proud of each and everyone of you. No one expected you to play as well as you did this year. You worked hard and played your hearts out for me. We now know what it feels like to be a winning team. I can guarantee each and every one of you, that by this time next year, we will not only beat the Norberry Knights, we will also make the playoffs. And you can take that to the bank. You guys all gained invaluable experience this year and changed your attitudes from being a losing team to that of being a winning team,” Brian Keenan said. The Maplewood Cougars said in unison, “Thank you coach. You did a great job coaching us this year.” The team had all agreed to say this before the game started.
You could feel the heaviness leave the room and a steam of positivity come in. Their hockey season was over, but the Maplewood Cougars could leave the dressing room with their heads held high. The players were all expecting great things to happen t next season.
Rick felt badly about letting in the last goal of the season, but knew that this was not a bad way of going out. He had been one of the Maplewood Cougars bright lights for three years now and he was leaving knowing that he had done a great job for his team. He was leaving with only one regret, that his team did not win the city championship. When Rick left the dressing room for the final time Misty ran right up to him and jumped into his arms while wrapping her legs around him. This happened so fast that Rick dropped his heavy equipment bag on the ground.
Misty had tears running down her cheeks and just clung to Rick. “I’m so proud of you Rick and I love you so much.”
While still clutched in Misty’s embrace, Rick could see Miles and Linda Saunders walking up to them.
“You guys should get a room,” Miles joked.
Upon hearing this, Misty let go of Rick and turned around to see who was talking to them. “Hey,” she said still wiping the tears from her eyes.
“Now it’s time for me to give you some Kleenex, Misty,” Linda said.
“I just want to thank you Rick for all the help you gave me this season. I really appreciate it,” Miles said.
“You are very welcome Miles. With you as the new starting goalie for next year, I know that I’m leaving the team in good hands.”
The four young people then walked towards the arena parking lot, gave each other a long hug and got into their cars.
One of the Norberry’s defensemen Phil Regent skated over to Miles to have a brief chat,
“Look Myers. This is how it’s going to go. Me and the rest of the team are going to supply you with all of the protection you are going to need. We are going to keep the puck in Maplewood’s end for as much of the game as we can. When Maplewood does get possession we are going to really lay on the body and check them hard. We’ll ride them hard right along the boards. When your team does get a chance for a shot on goal, we’ll do our best to block it. Any shots that do get through us, I expect you to stop them. Any questions?”
“No, I want to win this game for you guys. I’ve got a lot on the line. I need to prove to myself, my coach and the rest of the Cougars that I’m a better goalie than Rick Miller is. The emotion of fear transformed into rage within Miles Myers. He was sick and tired of standing in the shadow of Rick Miller.
“That’s exactly what I want to hear!” Phil Regent said as he slapped Miles Myers on the pads and skated up the ice to await the upcoming face off.
The fourth line grinders had done their job, just not in the way coach Brad Keenan had expected. They changed the tempo of the game, not by roughing up the Norberry Knights, but by taking out their starting goaltender. Brad could now go back to his original game plan, to out skate and out score the Norberry Knights. If the fans and the Norberry Knights were surprised that Brad Keenan would agree to allowing his opposition to use his backup goalie, Brad thought it was a flash of brilliance. He was confident that Miles would not be able to handle the offensive onslaught of the Maplewood Cougars. After all, Miles’ own team knew Miles’ weaknesses better than the Norberry Knights. They could utilize the weaknesses in Miles’s playing style that they had observed during their countless practise sessions.
Norberrry’s coach, Jeff Hadley, likewise, had little confidence in Miles Myers’ goaltending skills and felt that his decision had been a good one even if the original idea came from his assistant coach, Bill White. He felt that borrowing a second string backup goalie was a much better situation, than being forced to make one of his players who had no experience playing goal, put on the pads. Jeff knew his players well.
They would step up their game to meet the new challenge in front of them. The Knights would love to show their fans that they could beat the Maplewood Cougars, even without their starting goalie.
Both teams put their scoring lines out after the brief intermission had ended. Brad Keenan strategy was to score three or four quick goals that would put the game away for them. The score clock now indicated there was thirteen minutes minutes and forty-five seconds left to go in the third period.
Both teams played to a level that they had not demonstrated so far this season. Once the game resumed, the Norberry Knights first line put great offensive pressure on Maplewood. The Knights passed the puck around with amazing accuracy and were able to get an array of dangerous shots at the Cougar’s net. Rick stopped every shot during a three -minute flurry of enemy attack. He made some stops that caused the crowd to gasp with amazement.
The rest of the Cougar players knew that Rick was the one player who was keeping them in the game. After the three- minute rally was over, Coach Keenan decided to send out his fourth line. Brad knew that he needed to give his two scoring lines a rest and after all, it was the fourth line that had scored the Cougars’ only goal. Norberry’s coach was hesitant to take his top scoring line off, but he knew that they needed a rest.
Just before the next face off, Brad Keenan called for a time out. He quickly signalled for his third line to get off the ice, while sending out his best scoring line. Maplewood’s coach took the gamble as his team just needed one goal to get the lead. By the time Jeff Hadley saw what Brad had done, it was too late for him to change his lines again.
Energized by Rick’s great goaltending, Maplewood won the face off and their center, Bill Woodward made a very accurate pass to left winger Joe Palec. Joe fired a hard snapshot that hit the crossbar of Norberry’s net. Miles Myers was shaken up by the shot but was just happy it wasn’t a goal. At that point Miles tapped into all his anger and frustration. He made some dazzling saves. No one had ever seen him play this well. One player suggested that he was playing way over his head. Cougar defenseman, Eric Coswell told a teammate sitting next to him on the players’ bench that if Miles could play for them like he was playing for the Knights they could have two strong goalies going into the play offs.
Jeff Hadley’s strategy was to keep his third line on the ice for about a minute and then returned to his scoring line.
The two respective grinder lines went at each other with a fury. Each team’s lines did not want to be responsible for costing their team the game. Both teams didn’t hesitate to lay on the body and it was very obvious they were both playing a defensive game. Just as the two teams were about to make a line change, Garry Means, Maplewood’s third line center, took a high slap shot that hit the screen behind Norberry’s net. The puck bounced right off the fencing and hit Miles Meyers in the back of his right shoulder. A startled Miles Myers quickly turned around to see the puck just behind his goal. While just trying to clear the puck for a line change, Garry Means had managed to score his second goal in the hockey game. The score was now tied at two goals apiece with just two minutes to go on the score clock.
The Maplewood Cougars just needed one more goal to win the game. Coach Keenan decided to leave his fourth line out on the ice for the last two minutes to try to hold on to the tie and force the game into overtime.
Once regulation time had ended, he would draw up a plan for his team to score the winning goal during the sudden-death overtime.
Coach Jeff Hadley saw what was happening and decided to send out his best scoring line.
He figured that his team could score a quick goal to end the game during regulation time.
The Cougars fourth line did their coach proud. During an offensive onslaught by the Norberry Knights, the Cougars grinder line kept the Knights forwards closely in check, shooting the puck over center ice to kill off some time. The Cougars defensemen also dropped to the ice the to block shots from the point on three occasions.
With thirty seconds left to go in the game the Cougars had a defensive breakdown, and Norberry center Brian Williams had a clear breakaway in front of him.
Rick Miller slowly moved out of his crease times until he was within a few feet of Brian Williams. Rick quickly dropped to the ice in an attempt to stop Brian’s wrist shot. Williams managed to shoot the puck through a small opening between Rick’s pads. Rick Miller turned his head in time to see the pick slowly dribble over the goal line. This turned out to be the game winning goal.
Coach Brad Keenan assembled his team in the visitors’ dressing room. Here’s the situation. boys. Norberry’s backup goalie has a bad case of the flu and won’t be able to play for Norberry tonight. I’ve met with Norberry’s coach, Jeff Hadley, and we have worked out a deal. Miles Myers will finish the game in goal for Norberry. In exchange we get guaranteed home ice advantage in the playoffs,” Coach Brad Keenan explained.
The Maplewood Cougars looked at each other as if they couldn’t believe what they had just heard.
Coach Keenan and spoke directly to Miles Myers, “Miles, this is a great opportunity for you. I have assured Norberry’s coach that you will play to the best of your ability. The better you play during the rest of tonight’s game, the higher you will arise in my estimation.”
Brad then turned to address the rest of his team, “Now I want you to get this straight guys. Miles is not a traitor to his team. He’s helping us get home game advantage during the playoffs and believe me the playoffs is where we’re headed. Now were only down by one goal, so let’s go out on the ice and win this thing!”
When the two teams returned to the ice Miles Myers was roughing up the crease with his goalie skates. He was in Norberry’s goal wearing number thirty in a Knight’s red and white sweater.