“Don’t make this about him.” Mark told himself.
He glanced over and saw Trevor, his one time best friend, lining up to take the face off against Flynn.
“We can still win this.” Mark thought. “Just this one time.”
Mark and Trevor had known each other since first grade when their fathers had first laced up their skates and pushed them out on the ice on one of many a pre-dawn winter practice. They had played together for eight years though the different levels and travel teams, tournaments and summer leagues. They had bonded on the ice, sharing a passion for the game that some people seem to develop organically, without the prodding of their parents or coaches. Off the ice they spent a great deal of time together, if it wasn’t traveling to some out of town tournament it was a birthday party or summer vacations at Trevor’s family cottage at the lake.
All that changed in eight grade. Trevor and Mark both grew about four inches that year but Trevor’s whole body seemed to grow along with it. He had broad shoulders and thick lean limbs. Mark was simply the same kid but four inches taller.
Then Trevor’s father got him an unofficial tryout for St. John’s Prep, a school as famous for it’s athletics as it was for academics. It was never said out loud but it was rumored that St. John’s gave “scholarships” to desirable students. These students would in turn help St. John’s raise their test scores and the profile of their athletic departments thus aiding in future recruitment. Mark would go to Fairmont High School, the local public school that had a hockey program, but nothing approaching the level of St. John’s.
“Dammit!” Trevor took the draw from Flynn like Flynn hadn’t even moved. Trevor tapped it back to one of the behemoth defensemen at his own blue line.
“Flynn, wake up!” Mark yelled as he turned his head to look for the winger he was supposed to pick up. Got him, now move with him. Check for the puck. Flynn had gone into fore-check but as soon as he got close the St. John’s defenseman snapped a pass on to Trevor’s stick as he was cutting back across center ice towards Mark. Mark released his check knowing that Phelps, his defenseman, would pick him up and cautiously moved towards Trevor. He had seen up close in practice too many times how Trevor could make somebody look bad with a head fake or a burst of speed.
Trevor seemed to measure this and as he crossed the blue line he slipped a back hand pass to the opposite wing, where his teammate had snuck into a gap between Clark and Puccio. The St.John’s winger slipped the puck around the boards in behind the net where Phelps had left him to watch the front of the net. The St. John’s player faked to his left than turned around to his right.
“No.” That slight move had drawn Phelps to the right of the Hawk’s net to stop the pass. Mark saw what was developing and started heading to the front of the net. It was too late. The St. John’s winger came out the other side and found Trevor, who had shaken off the other defense man. Trevor fired the puck over Smitty’s glove.
The light. The horn. These games were played at a neutral sight but this really seemed like a road game. Most of the crowd was dressed in St. John’s Crimson and Gold. Mark looked up at the scoreboard, they were down three to one with nine minutes left in the third period. Not that they were expected to beat the mighty St. John’s Crusaders but they had kept it close until now.
The summer after eighth grade both Mark and Trevor lobbied Mark’s father to send him to St. John’s. In the end it was Mark’s mother who told him quietly that his father was worried that he would be getting laid off from work and that the family wouldn’t be able to afford it. As young as he was Mark knew that it was something the old man wouldn’t say out loud. He had always supported and encouraged Mark. His father had been to more practices, games, tournaments and other hockey related things than Mark could even begin to count. He also had a way of prodding Mark without going overboard. He was always positive and seemed to sense when Mark needed a break.
At first Trevor hated St John’s Prep. He referred to it as St. Snob’s and hung out with Mark and some of the other neighborhood kids. But that all changed when hockey practice started in November. Both boys got deeply involved with their respective teams and they lost touch until the spring. That summer they didn’t spend as much time together as in the past. Trevor had new friends inviting him places. Mark knew he couldn’t be angry, Trevor had always been popular and didn’t expect him to totally forget his new teammates over summer break. But things had definitely shifted.
7:52 left and Baker makes it three to two with a wrist shot from the left faceoff circle. “We can still do this.” Mark thought to himself, energized again.
The next three years the boys saw each other less and less. Mark made varsity his sophomore year at Fairmont and each year led the team in assists and ice time. After his junior year coach Jensen quit due to illness and his assistant coach Maguire took over. The team struggled the first half of this season and finally broke even in the last week. This was not how Mark pictured his senior year ending up.
Trevor made varsity his freshman year and by sophomore year he was already being noticed by colleges and even a few junior teams in Canada. He had grown to about six feet tall and easily weighed about one-hundred seventy pounds. He had great hands and could skate circles around most of his contemporaries.
Three minutes left. Mark’s line is up next. He lifts up his helmet and wipes the sweat from his brow. Tap on the shoulder, change on the fly. Over the boards, tracking the play down in the St. John’s end. Stay calm, be patient. A mistake now will wind up in the Fairmont net.
Wait for it. The St. John’s defenseman makes a long outlet pass to the far side. Mark has seen this play before. When Flynn moves over to check the St. John’s player Mark moves to the gap between the wing and the other defenseman moving up to take the pass.
Mark has timed it perfectly and intercepts the pass. Have to accelerate and hope that Flynn and Clark are with him. Just one defenseman back and he is cheating over towards Mark. Yes, he hears a stick slap the ice and out of the corner of his eye he sees Clark rushing up on his left. Now, to fake the shot and pass or shoot...wait ...Mark’s stick is lifted from behind and the puck is gone. He turns around to see Trevor picking up speed, heading in the other direction. Mark puts his head down and skates as hard as he can to get back in the play. Trevor and his line mates are weaving through the neutral zone and cross the Fairmont blue line with an crisp give and go. Mark is flying now. Trevor is on the right wing now with the puck and Puccio is frozen between Trevor and his line mate barreling towards the front of the net. Mark can see Trevor luring Puccio into committing towards him. “Pooch, man in front!” Smitty the goalie is yelling. Mark is almost there.
Puccio tentatively moves towards Trevor who in turn moves closer to the boards. Puccio commits all the way and Trevor slips the puck past him toward the front of the net.
Mark is right on top of the play, so close but too late. Trevor has his back to him and is watching the path of his pass to his teammate. Suddenly Mark is consumed by frustration and he can almost feel himself leave his body. Going full speed he leaves his feet and slams into Trevor from behind, elbow up, knocking Trevor heavily into the boards. Trevor crumples to the ice. Mark stands over his friend, for a moment feeling and hearing nothing.
Then all hell breaks loose. The Referee closest too him blows his whistle. Suddenly Mark feels himself cross-checked violently from the side knocking him over. He is laying on his side and there is someone on top of him pressing his stick onto Mark’s helmet pressing it down onto the ice. Then players from both teams pile on. More whistles, the crowd finally realizing what they just saw actually happened is screaming and booing.
It takes the officials several minutes to untangle the mess. When mark finally comes up for air, his helmet is gone and he can feel scratches on his neck, the St. John’s trainer and coach are on the ice attending to Trevor who seems not to have moved at all since he went down.
Mark is pulled away by the linesman, more to protect him from retaliation than anything. As they head to the bench the St. John’s fans are screaming and starting to throw things on the ice. Near the boards he sees Trevor’s dad and looks away but not before noticing that Trevor’s dad is looking past him to where his own son is lying motionless on the ice.
Mark knows he is alone now. His teammates jumped into the fray to stop him from being killed but now he knows none of them or his coach can look at him. Not a word is spoken to him as he goes out through the gate at the back of the bench. Something strikes him in the head, a plastic bottle, but he keeps going. He can barely see now, his eyes full of tears.
All it took was a split second for the worst in him to come out and to do something terrible to somebody who had once been as close as a brother. Where did it come from Mark wondered. he suddenly feels ill and throws up into a garbage can by the locker room door. He walks over to his locker and slumps down onto the chair, completely drained, and wonders about what other demons might be living inside him.
© 2014 David Coleman