TUESDAY: The Puck

BY MARY CUDNEY

Copyright is held by the author.

WALKING ON the rubber mat, the boy behind the black wire mask reaches the closed gate and stretching up on tiptoes peaks over the scuffed boards. A bold, black outline of a penguin holding a hockey stick skates across his sky-blue hockey shirt. He goes back to his dressing room only to appear two more times.

On his third appearance, the wide gate leading to the ice opens. Stepping towards the opened space, the boy blowing white clouds with every breath exclaims,” Oh, I forgot my stick!”

He races away and then once again returns from the dressing room, stick clutched firmly in his gloved hand. The boy follows his teammates onto the crisp, white ice. To warm up, he skates around the ice with the rest of the hockey players.

The referee blows the whistle. The boy glides to the net. He drops into the butterfly position, pads wide and flat to the surface. Awkwardly, he stands.

The huge net dwarfs him as he skates inside to look up at the white cross patch netting. His clear, plastic neck guard bounces on his chest as he skates from end to end of the net opening. He strikes his goalie stick against the fire engine red crossbar and then skates out to face his opponents.

Suddenly, there is a break away. As the puck slides towards him he sprawls on the ice gathering it under his blocker and glove like a penguin father protecting his chick. He makes the save. A teammate knocks his stick against the goalie’s pad in salute. For a moment, the goalie stands quite still.

One of his teammates scores a goal and he does a little victory skate around his net.

He gets ready for the next face-off. He settles his mouthguard and struggles to adjust his stick, juggling it into place. Holding up his square blocker daring anyone to shoot at him, he waits.

A puck is shot from center ice. Blocked by the players in front of him the goalie fails to see it coming. And his defensemen glare at it as it slides by them into the net.

Through the wire mask you can see the red flush on his cheeks. Wisps of wavy brown hair stick out from the back of his night black helmet. A thin layer of snow covers the front of his jersey, caused by the fall onto the puck he stopped.

He stands at the corner of the net and watches, waiting for the face-off whistle to blow.

Gliding his skates forward inch by inch he tries to stop the clever puck that slides in slow motion right between his legs. The arena erupts in joy for the player who has scored.

The goalie twists his waist around to stare behind expecting to see the winning goal.  His body folds down in defeat and he rests his helmet on the cold ice. There he sees the puck caught in his goalie pad. The referee waives his arms in and out. No goal.

Shootout. Whichever team scores first wins. The goalie readies himself. Examines the boy pacing in front of him. Skating slowly from mid ice picking up speed. The opposing team skater shoots. He catches the puck in his glove. After a little skate around the net, he settles back into position as he watches his teammate skate toward the other team’s goalie.

The Penguin shoots. He scores. There is a stockpile on the goalie.

He shakes himself off and skates to the open gate.

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