[Published in 2001 – read reviews]
The saviour was supposed to come in the form of a skinny kid from a town with a long French name. That’s what I had been told. After three seasons so miserable 2-1 defeats became bearable and shootout losses downright success stories, it was also what I needed to hear. Not only had the Kildare Kougars obtained a supreme talent, but we were going to win because of it. Make the playoffs, get on a roll, maybe even, you know, catch a break here or there, and, who knows after that, right?
Okay, so I was getting ahead of myself, but who wouldn’t have?
“Scott, things are going to be different now,” said the team’s new owners. “We can finally get this town a winner and you that scholarship.”
And there was more. No more month-long losing streaks, they had sold me. No more getting used to teammates only to see them traded away. No more disrespect. And I bought into it, all of it, no matter if it was true; it was the hope I was after. That’s what I told Grandpa Joe, and he understood. I knew he would. For both of us, the truth could wait. In tiny Kildare, Ontario, life, as my teammates and I knew it, was about to change.
The previous year we had won just ten of fifty-six games. Think of that: ten of fifty-six. So many players came and went, and the losing streaks dragged on so long that by the end of it I felt I had endured a career. Still, after three humiliating seasons as a Kougar, I returned for more; in uniform again, preparing for a new season. Lured back, with hope and promise as the bait, to that parochial little town in the heart of the Ottawa Valley.
But I felt conned when Dion Marcelle, the keeper of much of that promise, arrived at training camp. Swiftly, like a slap, the phenom managed to sully expectations before even one practice. He had no confidence, much less an aura of greatness. Tall and gangly, he kept his head hung low, hiding his pimply face, acting more like a nerd than a talent. On the ice, he would stumble when he tried to turn a corner and was so slow he barely stayed ahead of the fully equipped goaltenders, limited because they strained to contain their laughter. It wasn’t long before he began to pant, taking deep, heaving breaths and blowing out frosty air as if allergic to it. A supposedly speedy centre with a wicked shot, Marcelle had moved to Kildare with his family from rural Quebec because “of undisclosed personal reasons,” as the paper reported. The Kougars, believing the scouting reports that oozed with praise for him, immediately brought him in to foster change on our Junior A team that needed lots of it. Unfortunately, Marcelle displayed no traces of being a star, let alone a salve. After finishing my laps, I brushed my black hair out of my eyes, wiped sweat from my face and leaned against the boards, shaking my head at the sight of him lagging behind the other players, only a handful of whom showed signs of skill themselves. It wasn’t long before I had company.
In my daze, I didn’t notice Brendan Kowalczek, my best friend and our best player, gliding toward me. He was bent over with his stick resting across his knees until he whacked me on the shin with it: a hockey player’s hello.
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