BtB: All About The GamebyEdge23©
"And now," the loud voice overhead said. "YOUR RABID BADGERS!" To say the arena went nuts was an understatement. Championship Semi-Finals against the Pythons, our archrivals, at home? 'Nuts' was the understatement of the century.
"At center, number twenty-nine," the announcer said. As he got to his pause, 'Smooth Criminal' by Alien Ant Farm started blaring over the speakers, the crowd pounding on the glass. "Craig 'The Hammer' Millard!"
The crowd cheered, as our home crowd always did. Craig skated out to center ice where he started his 'Smooth Criminal' dance. He started to Moonwalk and then spun on the points of his blades, everyone laughing, which was the idea.
The next song started and it was 'Fuel' by Metallica. "At left wing, number seven, 'The Man' Kyle Peterman!"
Half of the crowd got to their feet, mostly the women because Kyle was hot. We all knew it and so did they. The girls were screaming as if the Backstreet Boys had just skated out there. He had his head up and skated out next to Craig quickly. Kyle was the type of guy who just wanted to get the game started.
"At right wing, number ten!" This time 'Party Till You Puke' by Andrew W. K. started playing and out skated our smallest member. "'The Little Guy' Bubba McDowell!"
The girls kept yelling because they thought Bubba was cute. He was small, maybe five foot six at best but everyone thought he was younger, just based on his size. He skated out and took a quick lap around our end of the ice, smacking the glass back as he went, revving the fans up even more.
The arena got quiet got semi-quiet as the next introductions began, the lights in the arena lowering most of the way. Our logo, the Rabid Badger, started to spin slowly in front of our entrance as the defense was about to be announced. Just as Luke was making his way to the entrance position, Ashley stopped me.
"Ash," I said quickly. "What are you doing down here?"
"Will, I need to tell you something before you go out on the ice."
"Well, make it quick, baby. I have a game to play."
She looked down for a second and looked back up. Before she could say anything, Luke's intro started.
"On defense, number seventy-seven!" The entire crowd jumped to their feet as 'Boom!' by P.O.D. hit. On the overhead screen, every time the band yelled 'Boom!' was a picture of Luke putting some unfortunate forward into the boards or on his ass. "'Big' Luke Purcell!"
Luke skated out and bumped fists with the other guys and then skating back to the blue line, which he always held like it was a castle under attack.
Ashley looked at me again. "Baby, you know I never want to hurt you."
"Ashley," I said quickly. "You either need to tell me or save it."
"You remember when we had that little split up a year or so ago, before Becca came to live with us?"
I nodded, my stomach dropping out from under me.
"Well, while we were split, I kind of..." That was as far as she got before Josh's music started.
"Also on defense, number forty-four!" 'Danger Zone' by Kenny Loggins started blaring and Josh hit the ice like a lightning bolt, bumping fists with the other guys, his helmet under his arm, showing off his Mohawk. He moved to center ice and, as usual, started jawing at the other team, trying to incite a fight before the game even started. The lights went completely down in the arena and there was no noise to be heard. I was up next.
"Will, I slept with Mike Stevenson." She gave me a quick kiss, a tear rolling down her cheek, and turned and ran back to Becca, who was standing fifteen feet away. I couldn't think of anything to say, I was so angry. I grabbed the phone on the wall, almost ripping it off, calling up to the booth to have my song changed.
"Bobby," I said quietly, talking to our audio guy. "Godsmack." That was all I said and slammed the phone back down, looking back and seeing that Ashley and Becca we already gone. I hit the gorilla position and waited for the first notes, thinking about what Ashley said.
A year or so ago, Ashley and I had 'issues.' All married couples do. It ended up in an argument and us splitting for about two weeks. We went to counseling, patched everything up and got back together. Things have been great since then. Until now.
I looked out at the ice and saw number nineteen of the Pythons skating around. Mike Stevenson. Great all around player. He could shoot and he could pass and he wasn't afraid to mix it up in the zone with the other teams defense.
'I Stand Alone' by Godsmack hit the speakers and the team turned and looked at me, only a small spotlight shining on the doorway. I took one step out onto the ice, head down, trying to control my breathing. This was no time to lose it.
I skated slowly out to center ice, my team backing up slightly. They knew I only used that song when I was angry. When they got to 'I stand alone' in the lyrics, I raised my stick above my head, sending the crowd into a deafening roar. I turned and looked at Stevenson who was skating in circles about fifteen feet away and got his attention, waving him over.
"Look, you cock sucking son of a bitch," I said, barely containing my anger. "You come into my crease tonight and you are the one who's going to be fucked. You get me?"
I skated away before he had a chance to say anything. My team gathered around me as I skated back, forming a circle. Kyle grabbed my jersey right under my chin.
"Dude!" He had to yell because the fans and the music were so loud. "Are you okay?" All I did was nod. Kyle looked at me for several seconds and nodded back, releasing my jersey.
"And in goal! Wearing number eighteen! He is The Wildebeest! Willis Mayer!"
I threw both hands into the air and waved the crowd into an even higher frenzy. I thought the glass was going to come out of the boards. I settled into the goal and stretched out, thinking about what Ashley had said. All I could do was shake my head.
I turned my head and saw Ashley and Becca sitting in their customary seats, front row against the glass and on either side of the red line. Ashley made the gesture that she always made before the game, her index and pinky fingers up and her thumb off to the side, saying 'I Love You.' I snarled under my mask and looked at her for a moment. I then remembered that I love this woman and put my glove to my heart, my way of signaling back.
Luke and Josh skated up to me just before the drop to discuss last minute strategy. The Pythons had a good power play unit, so we were talking about how to handle their odd man rush.
"Guys, listen," I said. "If Mike Stevenson, number nineteen, breaks into our zone with the puck, let him go. He's fucking mine tonight."
Josh and Luke looked at each other. Usually, I would tell them to bang up anybody who came in. "You sure," Josh asked. Again, all I did was nod. They looked at each other again and Luke, one of our assistant captains, shrugged. He didn't talk a lot but Josh knew to trust him, just like Luke trusted me.
The theme from 'Mortal Kombat' began to play as Craig and the Python's center, Jack McMannis, laid their sticks on the ice. The lights came back up and I looked over the ice. Craig was in the dot, Kyle to his left, Bubba to his right. Luke was playing left defense, Josh on the right. I saw Stevenson on the other side of Kyle and waved my glove at him with the 'just bring it' motion. He blinked at me a couple of times and shook his head.
The puck dropped and Craig managed to pull it back, shoveling a quick pass out to Bubba on the right boards. Bubba started up, passing back to Craig who launched it at the Python's goal, a mere eight seconds into the game. The loud noise of vulcanized rubber bouncing off of the metal crossbar of the net rang throughout the arena, followed by the 'Ohhhhh!' of the crowd. That was our tactic. Shoot early, shoot often.
The puck was corralled by the Python's defenseman and shuttled up to Stevenson, who looked in my direction and passed the puck up to McMannis, who brought it quickly over the red line. He shuffled neatly around Craig, only to get a nice shot from Josh, who was late getting back to the zone. Worked out well enough, I guess.
Luke gathered the puck and passed it up to Bubba, who ducked low against the board to dodge a check by the Python's left wing, Tim Lindgren. Bubba raced into their zone and shot from the top of the circle. This one was knocked aside by their goalie, Robby Knight. He was good. In fact, we were probably to two best goalies in the league, hence our being here. Too bad we were in the same conference. I'd love to go against him in the finals.
Their defense passed it up again and McMannis was in the process of trying to work it over to Lindgren when Bubba got called for obstruction. Two minute minor. No worries.
They set up the face off in our zone, in the circle to my right. I took a second to grab a drink of water and look at Ashley again, touching my glove to my heart. The puck dropped and I lost sight of it as Craig hit the ice. I barely saw the pass out of the circle and only out of the corner of my eye did I see Stevenson one-time it toward the open half of the net. I flashed the leather and felt the reassuring smack as I dropped to cover the puck. I looked at him and smirked.
They set up for the face off to my left this time, Kyle opting to take the drop instead of Craig. I glanced up and saw one minute and thirty eight seconds left in the penalty. Kyle took the puck and slung it back to Josh who worked it behind the net, bringing it out to my right and passed it up to Luke, who was now on the right wing. When we killed penalties, one of our defensemen moved to the wing. We figured one defenseman and me were enough. Luke was moving fast, shouldering Lindgren out of his way. He got to the circle and unloaded the hardest slapshot measured in the league, watching as Knight moved backwards slightly when it hit him in the middle of the chest and bouncing off, Craig dashing in front to snatch the lose puck and passing back as he got hit, Kyle with the wrister up top...SCORE!
"Goal! Scored short handed by number seven, Kyle Peterman!"
The arena was so loud; I thought the roof was going to collapse. Kyle skated back to our zone, being congratulated by the others. I pointed my stick at him and he grinned, skating back for a half-hug and fist bump. It wasn't any time to get cocky, though. Bubba had forty-six seconds left on his penalty.
The ref got everyone back to center ice for the face off. I could tell that my guys were getting tired, so no matter the pressure, I was covering the puck, end of story. It didn't take long for me to do that. The Pythons blitzed us and Josh was the only one back. It was an odd man rush at three on one. McMannis, Lindgren and Stevenson all broke through at the same time, and Josh, remembering what I said and playing off to the right of the net between the center and left wing.
McMannis got a soft pass over to Lindgren who caught it and shot it quickly. I half-butterflied to my left and the puck his me square in the chest, dropping to the ice, where I could sense rather than see Stevenson moving in for the rebound. I dove for the puck as he was just beyond the crease, so I slapped my glove on the puck and ran my shoulder into the side of his leg. He hit the ground hard. When the ref came over, I simply said he was in the crease and that I was protecting the puck. It had been close, so there was really no room for argument on Stevenson's part.
The play had run all but six seconds off of Bubba's penalty. I could tell he was itching to get out. He was standing up in the box, waiting at the door. They set up to my right again and dropped the puck, McMannis pulling it back and whistling a high wrist shot that I got the glove on and tipped it up and off of the crossbar. Bubba came racing out of the penalty box and Luke moved back to defense. He shoved the puck off to Josh, who in turn passed it to Bubba, who sped into the neutral zone, keeping one step ahead of Lindgren.
Bubba skated deep into the Python zone and centered it back to Craig, who passed back to Josh. Josh shot the puck hard but wide of the net and it slammed into the boards, Kyle and Craig racing back to get it, getting tangled up with the opposing defense. Craig dug out the puck and zipped it to Bubba who shot it, Knight catching it in the glove, stopping play.
Almost five minutes into the first period and we were finally allowed a shift change, bringing out our second line. Our first line was pretty much our only scoring line, accounting for almost ninety percent of our scoring. It wasn't a balanced attack, but it had gotten us this far.
Kyle's little half-brothers, Tony and Mikey Partridge, were the main offense on our second line, Tony having nine goals and Mikey having seven. Tony was a fast right wing who could shoot from anywhere, where as Mikey was our left wing and our second like tank. We called him 'Turbo Mikey' because he was fast and never stopped moving. All the rest of our goals were from our first line, including the two defensemen. Scott Carl was our second line center. He was tall and rangy, giving him good reach, but hampering him when it came time to get physical.
Matt Mussman and Scotty Lehman were our defensemen. They were tough and fought hard against the other team, but they were undersized. And we only carried two lines of defensemen. If someone went down, Craig moved to defense and we moved someone else to center. We just didn't have enough people. Heaven forbid I get hurt. That meant Josh coming to play goal, Craig moving to D and God knew whom to center or wing.
Scott got the puck on the drop and moved it over to Mikey who checked the Python's left wing, still holding the puck, and moving in to the offensive zone. He skated to the center of the circle and passed it back to Scott. Scott faked the shot and passed it to Tony, a wicked wrist shot coming up and barely catching the post and bouncing wide. Knight had been butterflied in front of Scott, giving Tony a mostly open net. He just hadn't put it in. It happened.
The Pythons corralled the puck and began an assault on our zone, bringing their defensemen to the tops of the circles, three yards inside the blue line. If Mikey or Tony got a hold of the puck, they were going to breakaway on Knight. I had no doubt that Knight could stop them if they did, though. His save percentage was slightly better than mine. They'd have to have a miracle to score one-on-one.
I followed the puck easily, Scott and Matt shifting so that I wasn't screened as the Pythons moved the puck. They were trying to entice the defense to come after it, but no one bit. Finally, Tony, of course, went after the puck. He was impulsive that way. If he just controlled himself, he could make his way to first line. He was just not disciplined enough. But in doing so, he gave the Pythons the space they needed to have their left wing to collapse into the slot, a quick pass leading to a quick shot that I barely managed to knock aside to my left. It hit Matt in the skate and bounced back, heading for the net. I was off balance and going the wrong way. I poked at it with my stick as I moved away from the puck, only just pushing it outside the goal.
The Pythons rushed the net against Matt and Scotty, Mikey getting involved, and there was a goalmouth scramble. I was playing by pure reflex since I couldn't get a good look at the puck. I felt it hit my pads twice and my blocker once. I kept trying to poke it out of the crease, but someone kept knocking it back in. I caught just a glimpse of it as it ricocheted off of my facemask and fell almost straight down. I fell on it, getting sticks in the back. The ref blew the whistle after what felt like a full minute, signaling a stoppage. I think I stayed like that for half a minute before standing back up.
I looked to the stands as the lines changed, seven and a half minutes left in the period. Ashley and Becca were standing and looking at me intently, trying to make sure I was okay. I tapped my glove against my heart and Ashley smiled, both of them sitting back down.
The first period ended with us holding out one to zero lead. The only other incident of the period was Stevenson hitting me in the head with his stick as he skated through the crease during a Pythons powerplay, Josh getting called for roughing. I was pissed and was about to kick his ass but Kyle grabbed my jersey and held me back. He yelled at me and told me we didn't need a five-minute major for fighting, even if the guy was a dickhead. I got it under control enough to make it through the rest of the period. Barely. Then we hit the locker room.
As soon as I stepped into the locker room, everyone looked at me. Kyle started off by saying that I was playing angry and that wasn't good. Josh chimed in by saying that my defensive strategy was stupid. Everyone agreed, except Luke, who said nothing. Everyone started jumping about my play, not caring that I had kept the Pythons scoreless for the first twenty minutes. I argued back, anger fueling my fight. Finally, it was Luke who said quietly, "What did he do?"
Everyone stopped and looked at him. He was staring at me. Suddenly, I felt ashamed of everything. My anger. My play. Being vindictive. Everything. I sighed and sat down on the bench. They all waited quietly until I told them exactly what Ashley had told me. Luke walked over to me and put his hand on my shoulder. "He fucked you. Now we fuck him." I nodded and stood up, everyone gearing up for the second period.
The second went quickly, the Pythons evening the score with some sloppy play by our defense, mostly Scotty. He played shooter instead of passer on a break, which left me open for the shot. I got the blocker on it, just not enough. It stayed that way until we came out for the third.
Four minutes into the third period, the Pythons dumped the puck into our zone for a line change. It landed against the back boards and Luke dug it out and passed up to Kyle, who was streaking toward the other zone, trying to take advantage of the missing line. The pass was intercepted though. It was Stevenson, who had raced from the bench to cut off the pass. Luke was out of position and Josh had already started skating for center ice. It was just him and me.
This was one of those times where time seemed to slow down. Every movement was exaggerated. The puck moved in slow motion as Stevenson came through my left hand circle and slapped it. The problem was that I was moving in slow motion, too. My glove wasn't going to get there in time. I was going to let him beat us.
In my mind, I saw him in our bed with Ashley, moving against her naked body and making her moan his name. She said he was the best she had ever had. She said she loved him. That was enough.
I roared and moved the glove faster than should have been possible, snapping up a puck that should have hit nothing but net. Even Stevenson stopped and looked at me, clearly just as in awe of my speed as I was. I stared at my glove, not sure I knew what had happened. Luke skated up and put his hand on my head. I looked at him and he grinned. "Now, he's fucked." I grinned back and settled into the groove I had been missing the entire first two periods. I had no doubt we were going to win. Regulation ended with a one to one tie. That left overtime.
We sent out our four-man penalty kill team. Kyle and Mikey up front, Craig and Luke in the back. They could stop shots and make them on the same shift. Two defensemen I didn't know, McMannis and Stevenson came out for the Pythons. Kyle lined up at center, Craig at right wing. McMannis was at center and Stevenson was moving to right wing for the Pythons.
I settled into the crease and was getting set when Stevenson skated over to where Ashley was sitting and tapped on the glass, smiling at her. She glared at him and made a 'go away' motion, Becca moving to stand between Ashley and the glass, putting herself in his way. I started out of the crease, vision red, when Luke grabbed me again. "Don't. We don't need to be a man down." I tried to pull lose of his grip, but he was too strong. He grabbed my facemask and jerked my head around. "HEY! Get a-fucking-hold of yourself! Either that or go sit the fuck down and watch from the bench when we lose!" I took a deep breath and tried to unclench my jaw. I took another and let it out slowly. "Good," he said. "Now just block it when he shoots it. Show him you're better than he is." I nodded and picked up my stick from where I dropped it. Stevenson looked at me and smirked. I was going to kill him.