It was Wednesday afternoon and Rick decided to skip his economics class that afternoon. Over the summer he went to the library and got a copy of the slim, brown, grade twelve economics textbook and read it all the way through in a couple of sittings. As Rick had already read several books from the library on politics and modern history, he found the concepts in the economics textbook easy for him to understand. Rick thought that missing one economics class was not going to impede his learning. He had a big game tonight against the Norberry Knights and Rick felt that he needed the afternoon to get himself both mentally and physically prepared for the game.
Rick had read about how some very successful professional hockey players prepare for their games. Rick knew that a great deal of the preparation for a game was mental and this meant ‘psyching yourself up’. He lay down on his bed, closed his eyes and visualized making great saves in the upcoming game. Rick would do this for about twenty minute before he walked down to the basement to do some warm -up exercises.
His routine started with some light stretching movements. Rick would then climb up on his stationary exercise bike and pedal at a moderate speed for about twenty minutes. After his bike ride, Rick moved to the spot on the carpet where he kept his free weights. He would then do some light resistance training. After following this routine with a five- minute break, Rick picked up a light green tennis ball. He used his right hand to whack the tennis ball against the cement wall in his basement. As soon as the ball rebounded off the wall Rick would catch it with his left hand. He completed this exercise in two five minute intervals.
Rick used an old towel to wipe off the perspiration while he jogged upstairs to the kitchen to make himself a corned beef sandwich and a glass of milk. After his lunch Rick got into bed and took a forty-five-minute nap.
Upon arising from a restful nap, Rick started to think about the importance of tonight’s hockey game. Rick’s team, the Cougars had gotten off to a shaky start to the season. So far, they had played five games in which they won one, lost three and tied one. This was the worst season start for the Cougars during the last ten years. Rick was trying to figure out why this was happening.
One reason was that only a few players returned from last year’s team. Most of the veteran players were now ineligible to play due to their ages. The majority of this year’s team were younger and frankly, were not as talented as the veteran players the team had lost. Rick knew that he would really need to step up his game this year to make his team competitive. Once again as he had done the last few years, his coach was trying to split the workload between his two goalies by platooning them.
The other goalie was two years younger than Rick. His name was Miles Meyers. Miles was shorter and didn’t have the big build that Rick has, but he was a very acrobatic young goalie. While studying Miles’s play. Rick concluded that Miles would be a top notch goalie with a few more years of experience under his belt.
The Cougars were scheduled to play the Norberry Knights that evening. Before getting his gear ready for the game, Rick thought about giving Misty a call to see if she would like to come with him to watch the game.Tonight, Rick was scheduled to start in goal as it was an away game. It worked out that Rick would play most of the away games and Miles would work the majority of home games. For some reason, Rick liked this arrangement as he found that he preferred to play in different rinks. He seemed to get more pumped up when he knew that at least one side of the arena would ‘boo’ him. Like a professional wrestler, Rick enjoyed ‘drawing heat’ from the opposition’s fans.
As Rick did not know how Misty would respond to his invitation, he was more than a little nervous when he picked up the phone.
“Hi, Misty. It’s Rick,”
“You think that I don’t recognize my new boyfriend’s voice by now?” asked Misty.
“I love the sound of ‘my new boyfriend’,” Rick said.
“It sounds like you are falling in love.”
“I already have,” replied Rick.
“So what’s on your mind?” Misty asked.
“I’ve got a hockey game and I want to know if you would like to come with me.”
“That’s right. I’m dating a jock. I’ve never done that before. Sure, let’s go for it. I’ve never even been to a hockey game before.”
“You’ll love it. Good, fast paced action. Can you be ready by five-thirty?”
“I think I can manage that. I’m kind of looking forward to watching you play hockey,” Misty answered.
Rick picked Misty up precisely at five-thirty. Misty was dressed in a slightly faded red UCLA sweatshirt and was ready to go. When they arrived at the St. Vital Arena a few of Rick’s teammates and their girlfriends were just getting out of their cars. Eric Coswell, one of the Cougars defensemen was the first to greet Rick. Eric was wiry and a bit small for a defenseman, but he was very strong and was very effective in keeping opposing players out of Rick’s crease.
“Are you all ready for an epic battle tonight, Rick, my man? Hey, who’s the beautiful young lady beside you?” Eric asked.
“I just got out of my car and you’ve already fired two questions at me. Which one do you want me to answer first?” Rick replied while smiling at Eric.
Tonight Rick was feeling really good. He had often dreamed about a time when he would have a female to show off to his teammates. It had not been easy being the only player on his team not to have a girlfriend.
“Yes, I’m psyched for the game and this is my neighbour, Misty,” Rick said. He was positively beaming by this point.
“Actually we’re more than just neighbours, Eric. Rick’s my new boyfriend,” Misty said proudly.
“Yeah, sorry Misty. I should have said that you are my girlfriend,” Rick said sheepishly.
“You’re forgiven dear. I hear that Rick’s a really good goalie,” Misty said.
“You heard right. I would go so far as to say that Rick’s the best goalie in the league,” Eric said.
Rick blushed and said, “We better get in the arena. I need to find Misty a seat in the stands and you and I need to get dressed for the game.”
“Please excuse Eric’s poor manners,” said a shapely young female with sparkling green eyes and beautiful auburn hair that was impatiently standing by Eric’s side.
“Sorry, Rick’s already met Susan, but I don’t know if you two girls know each other,” Eric said.
“I know Misty from school. She’s in my biology class. Unfortunately, we’ve never really talked before today,” Susan said.
“Hi Susan. I’m sorry I haven’t talked to you yet. I’m a bit shy and I’m still new to Maplewood,” Misty said.
“Well, that’s all going to change tonight. Rick, you won’t have to take Misty to the stands. I got you covered. I’m going to get us a couple of coffees from the concession stand and then I’ll introduce her to the rest of the ‘hockey wives,’” Susan said.
As Rick and Eric entered the visitors dressing room all the talk was about the girl that Rick brought to the game. A few seconds later the Cougars coach Brad Kennan returned from the washroom.
“Listen up you guys. I know you’re curious, but don’t ask Rick any questions about his new female friend. Wait until the game is over. You guys all realize the importance of tonight’s game. I need Rick and the rest of you guys to place all your concentration on the game for the next ninety minutes and nothing else. Most of all, I don’t want Rick distracted by anything. I need him to be completely focused on the game.
As I’ve told you guys before, I’m not happy with the way we’ve started off this season. I also know that you’ve heard a lot of talk from some of our fans. They’ve been saying that this year’s team is too young and doesn’t have the talent that previous year’s teams had. Yes, we are probably the youngest team in a few years, but that doesn’t bother me. Our youngest players will pick up on experience as the season progresses. I want you players to forget about the naysayers and to start to think positively. I believe in you guys and believe that we will be a force to be reckoned with this season.”
The Cougars started getting dressed for the game. Every player followed a different routine in putting on their hockey gear. For Rick, the most important component of getting prepared had already been done at home. Rick was meticulous in making sure that every item of his goalie equipment was placed in his duffle bag before he left home. Rick would double check a few minutes later to make sure that he hadn’t missed anything while he was packing up his duffle bag.
One of the last pieces of equipment that Rick put on was his hockey sweater. When the Cougars played on the road they always wore their white sweaters with brown and gold trim. Rick always preferred the road jersey with his name and the number one on the back.
As he was tonight’s starting goalie for the Cougars, he was the first to lead his teammates from the visitor’s dressing room to the ice. Rick had placed two pucks in his trapper glove for the five- minute warm up. He always felt a tremendous rush of adrenaline surge through him as he led his team out to the ice.
Four weeks had passed and Rick had begun practising with his team again. His lightening sharp reflexes had returned and he felt good about his performance during practise. Coach Brad Keenan was hoping to have Rick start in goal in the upcoming make-up game against the Norberry Knights.
Although life was looking up for Rick Miller, the same could not be said for the Maplewood Cougars. They had lost all but one game with Miles Myers as their starting goaltender. Rick had given Miles some good pointers, but Miles was still too inexperienced to play at a winning level in this league. The young goalie had the potential and the talent and time was on his side, but for the rest of this season, the Cougars only chance of capturing a play-off berth was with Rick Miller playing goal in every game.
The evening of the make-up game had arrived. In the Cougars’ dressing room, their head coach was pacing nervously back and forth as he addressed his team.
“I don’t have to say it. You all know how much tonight’s game means. We have to win it in order to retain any mathematical hope of making the play-offs this year. Even a tie won’t save us. We have to win tonight.”
After Rick Miller was released from the hospital, Brad Keenan gave him a phone call. “So what did you decide about playing hockey this year Rick?”
“I’m going to take the recommended three weeks off, Coach and then will play it by ear from there,” Rick answered.
“Are you sure that you shouldn’t just take the rest of the season off?” Brad asked.
“No. I don’t want to do that Coach. We still have a good chance of making a run for the playoffs this season.
“Yes, we do,” the coach said. “I’m just hoping that the rest of the team puts their full support behind Miles Meyers during the next three weeks or however long your recovery takes. They don’t seem to have much confidence in Miles right now.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it Coach. I’ll be coming to watch all the games. While I’m there, I’ll encourage the players to backup Miles. In fact, I’ll insist upon it. I’ll also be in the dressing room between periods to give Miles advice if he starts to struggle,” Rick said.
“I knew that I could count on you Rick. You are definitely a team player.”
Rick attended and participated in two more private training sessions with Brent Peterson and Coach Reynolds. Rick had absorbed a lot of new strategies to help his individual play. On a Thursday night following his last practice Rick saw his newly acquired skills start to pay off. The Cougars were playing a team from the north end of the city. The Cougar’s opponents were ranked very close to the Cougars in the league standings. Northwood’s strategy for the game was to intimidate the Cougars with a punishing physical confrontation. The Northwood Raiders did everything in their power to engage the Cougar players into fights. They hacked, slashed, tripped and tried every illegal tactic to draw the Cougars off their game. The Cougars were a relatively small hockey team that was not known for physically aggressive play on the ice. The Cougars really had only one player that was a scoring threat and a Raiders player managed to engage him in a fight during the first period that led to his expulsion from the game.
By the start of the second period Northwood had the Cougars on the run. The smaller team was by now totally intimidated and their one scoring threat was out of the game. The Cougars now did not believe that they could win this game. Their revised goal was to get out of this arena alive. The game officials appeared to have been bought off by the Northwood Raiders. They refused to call penalties on even the most egregious infractions. Several of the Cougars white road jerseys now displayed blood stains.
Amazingly, after all this mayhem the game was still scoreless going into the third period. The reason was the outstanding play of Rick Miller in goal. Rick stopped shots from every conceivable angle including three breakaways. This heroic effort by the Cougars goalie caused Northwood to become frustrated and dispirited. It was as if Rick’s superb play had drained the fight right out of the Raiders.
The Cougars capitalized on some late game lackadaisical play by Northwood and sored two quick goals. With time running out the Raider’s coach chose to pull their goalie in order to acquire a sixth attacker. This strategy backfired when the Cougars scored an empty net insurance goal.
At the final buzzer the Cougar players left the bench and mobbed Rick. They knew who won the game for them.
It took Mike O’Grady almost five days to complete his model of Ogopogo. He took this assignment very seriously. For Mike, this was not just paid work. It was a test of his artistic abilities. It had been a long time since had been able to fully use his creative skills.
Mike received a phone call from Jack Kimberley.
“Hi, Mike. How’s your little project coming?”
“I just finished putting the finishing touches on it this morning. I usually don’t get up before ten, but I felt very motivated to get the job done,” Mike said.
“How did it go with the work crew I hired to work with you?” Jack inquired.
“Very well. Without their help I wouldn’t have been able to get the job done on time. Those kids were super. When are you going to come around to see the finished project?”
“Can I come over right now? I’m dying to have a look at your work.”
In less than twenty minutes Jack Kimberley arrived at Mike O’Grady’s door. As soon as Jack stepped into Mike’s apartment he looked straight at the replica of Ogopogo.
Jack’s face beamed with astonishment and pleasure.
“This is unbelievable, Mike! If I didn’t know better I would think that you caught a live Ogopogo and put it in your apartment.”
“I must admit I’m very proud of my work. As soon as I got started on the project I just knew it was going to be a masterpiece. I just kind of went into another dimension while I was building it and the ideas to make it awesome just kept flowing.”
Mike’s creation was indeed awesome. His model was built to a perfect scale and the paint job was incredible. Mike had used a variety of paints to give the model a blend of different shades of green. Everything from the head, neck, body, flippers and tail were done exceedingly well.
“I can’t wait to give our decoy Ogopogo her first swim on the lake. Here’s my plan. I’m going to rent a long flatbed truck and hire some more men to carry your Ogopogo out to the truck. I’m planning on arranging this for around two AM. Ideally, I don’t want anyone to see us moving the model. I realise that even in the wee hours of the morning someone may catch sight of us. I’m also going to buy the largest bed sheets and blankets that I can find. Come to think of it, I know a painter who will have plenty of drop clothes that I can borrow,” Jack said.
“What will we say if we run into somebody and they ask us what’s underneath all that covering?” Mike asked.
“I can’t see a problem if that situation arises. We’ll just telling them that we’re moving some very expensive, antique furniture that we’ll be selling to a dealer.”
“I have to hand it to you Jack. You sure know how to cover all your bases,” Mike said.
“Plan A goes into action as soon as we get the model loaded on the truck in the wee hours of tomorrow morning. After we get our wooden friend onto the truck we’re going to take it out to a very secluded part of the lake. The place I have in mind has a lot of trees, bushes and other vegetation surrounding it. Due to the early hour of the day it will be very dark and it is doubtful that anyone will see us unloading our treasure from the truck. Just in case, however, we will keep a close lookout for any potential bystanders.
I will hire a couple of guys I know that you have powerful portable lighting devices and know how to use them. I will also take along some high grade flashlights so that we don’t stumble on our way to the path to the lake,” Jack said.
“So you’re planning to take some pictures of my replica in the lake?” Mike asked.
“Yes, but only clear, crisp photos. I know that you have some high end video equipment in your apartment, Mike. You are going to be our official photographer and camera man,” Jack answered. “Don’t worry. You will be handsomely rewarded for your efforts.”
“I’m very willing to help you with this project, Jack, but with my health challenges and mobility issues I don’t know how I’m going to be able to get down to the shore of the lake,” Mike said, with a feeling of embarrassment and shame that only the disabled know.
“I’m always a step ahead of you Mike. You are this project’s artist and audio visual technician, but I am the project manager. I’ve thought of everything. I hired three huge body builder guys I recruited at a local fitness club. If worst comes to worst, these men can carry you down to the lake. I’m also bringing along a very sturdy wheel chair I bought at a medical supply store. With the help of my four strong lads we may be able to get you down to the lake front by means of the wheel chair,” Jack said.
“I have to hand it to you, Jack. You are a brilliant planner and tactician,” said Mike who was greatly in awe of his friend’s skill set.
“You sure must want to make a fool of Blake Riley. You aren’t sparing any effort or expense to make your little scam work,” Mike said.
“You are one hundred percent right about that,” Jack replied.
Chapter One Hundred Sixty –Three:
Blake Riley was sitting alone in a chair on the main deck of his ship. There was a refreshing breeze coming off the water and Blake was enjoying watching the beautiful scenery on the shore line. The boat was now passing the forested area of Lake Okanagan.
The natural beauty had put Blake into a thoughtful mood. He was starting to re-evaluate his whole life. He had come to the unsettling conclusion, that up to this point, he had lived his life very selfishly. It dawned on him that he didn’t have any real friends. For most of his life he had only made acquaintances with people that he thought could further his own ambitions. Yes, Blake had an impoverished upbringing. Yes, he had felt unwanted and had been abused by those close to him. He asked himself whether or not this was a good enough reason to turn his back on humanity and to live only for himself. Had his extravagant and hedonistic lifestyle brought him any real, lasting satisfaction? Blake concluded that it had not.
He started to think about the way he had mistreated Jack Kimberly. Now that he had a few days of getting to know Jack Kimberly, he found that he had enjoyed Jack’s company very much. Blake had never really experienced the pleasure of bonding with another human being.
Blake also started to think about Dr. Lionel Phelge. He felt honoured to be in the company of such a renowned academic and scientist. He felt grateful for the mutual respect that Lionel had shown him.
Blake Riley was filled with self –loathing when he caught himself coming up with schemes to get the two live Ogopogos away from the rest of the crew. He had enjoyed working as part of a team and working toward a common goal. Blake had determined that from this day forward he would live his life differently.