“Now shooting for the Wizards, number 12, Barry Gates.”
The sound of the announcement echoed through the arena. There was a burst of applause.
He stepped off the bench and slowly skated towards center ice. He felt the grind of his skate blades biting into the ice. He let his eyes rest totally on the puck. With a great effort of will he kept his eyes off the crowd in the stands.
He pivoted and drove his weight into the ice. The blade of his skate scraped across the ice. A small cloud of ice crystals appeared in his path. And, he stopped in front of the puck.
The linesman glided up to him.
“OK,” the man said in an almost monotone litany. “Once you touch the puck, you have to keep it in motion towards the goal. You cannot go behind the goal, and there are no rebounds. If you lose possession of the puck, your attempt is over. Any questions?”
Barry shook his head.
“Then, good luck,” the official said, and skated towards the boards.
For the first time, Barry lifted his gaze from the puck. He tried to forget that he had to score. He enjoyed shootouts—usually. The Scorpions had scored on their last attempt. To keep the Wizards alive, Gates had to score. His nerves were alive with electricity. He took a deep breath and lifted his gaze from the ice.
Now, he focused his eyes on the net, and the goalie. Why did it have to be Nichols?
He knew the Scorpions net minder well. They were old friends. They had shared several training camps together.
Their two teams had faced each other four times this season. Each team had won a game, and there had been two ties. But, this game would not be ending in a tie. The Championship game had to have a winner.
He let his gaze drift to the referee standing by the goal. The whistle rose to his lips.
Diana Nichols swatted her leg pad. It was habit. Before the start of every period, before every face-off, she swatted her pads. Part of it was reassurance. But, mostly, it was just to do something.
She watched the shooter leave the bench. She watched him stop at center, and receive instructions from the linesman. She felt the presence of the referee move up to the goal crease.
“Stay in your crease until the shooter touches the puck,” the man said quickly. After that, you may move out on him. OK?”
She nodded. But, her gaze never left the shooter. Gates, she thought. Why did it have to be Gates? She remembered him from high school. He hadn’t been much of a scorer then. But, he had possessed a deft touch with the puck. They had even been friends. Over the years they had helped each other with their game.
And, now, the CHL championship was on the line. It saddened her to know that good friends would have reason to hate each other after this.
The sharp blast of the whistle ripped the air, shattering the silence.
Barry lazily stepped forward. The blade of the stick hit the puck, bouncing ahead and right. With a quick crossover and the almost invisible flick of his stick, the puck was on the blade of his stick. He quickly gathered speed.
As he crossed the blue line, he began to move the puck. Side to side. The front to back on the right. Side to side, again. At the hash marks, he quickly drew his stick back. The goalie sank into her crouch.
Diana sank deeper into her crouch as the puck came across the blueline. With practiced care, she watched his eyes. The stick came up for a shot. She sank deeper into her crouch again, coiling herself inside, preparing for his next move.
His eyes were focused on her chest. She knew this wasn’t the real shot. She drifted slightly to the right, giving him an opening..
Barry let the puck slip slightly behind him. Instantly, he brought his stick down and whirled a 360 degree turn. The puck left his stick blade before he finished his turn. And, it was perfectly aimed. He knew his friend’s weaknesses.
The spring inside of her uncoiled. With lightning speed, Diana moved back across the crease. Her back skate bit hard in the ice. Her front leg shot across the goalmouth. The glove hand came up to cover the top of the net—her arm close to the leg.
She felt the puck carom off the edge of her glove. She tried to reach out farther she slid to a halt. Her heart to stop beating.
He watched the puck glance off her glove. His heart surged. A huge grin prepared to cover his face.
The sound of the puck ricocheting off the left post froze the blood in Diana’s veins.
“THUD!” The puck bounced harmlessly off the boards.
Instantly, she popped up to her feet and raised her stick in the air. The crowd roared.
Barry stood silently in front of the crease. He dipped his head in silent salute of his friend and slowly skated towards the bench. The deafening roar of the crowd followed him. He heard the sound of the Scorpions racing onto the ice behind him to congratulate their goalie.
The Wizards were silently gathered on the ice in front of the bench. They were waiting for the awards to be over. Barry looked at their faces. None of them wanted to be there. No one looked back at him. He felt the coldness. Barry knew it was nothing personal. It was the hurt of losing. But, it made him hurt all the more.
Barry Gates snapped bolt upright in bed. He was covered in a cold sweat. He glanced at the clock.
An hour from now, he would have to get out of bed and begin preparing himself for the afternoon game. He looked across the room at his teammate, sleeping soundly. Barry fought down the urge to throw something.