“…and if we clean up our positioning in the D-Zone, we have a shot at pullin this one out.” Coach Harrison turned on his heel and the team followed him back out to the ice for the final period. Their team had netted a goal in the second, but still trailed by two. Play was even throughout the entire middle period; both teams battling back and forth with solid opportunities in both ends of the ice. Brookes’ offensive performance was on point and his line had applied pressure nearly every shift. It was frustrating that even with all that work in the offensive zone, his line wasn’t the one to find the back of the net. Brookes knew it was his time to step up.
As the game progressed, it was apparent that everyone on the team felt more and more anxious every time their shift ended. The dwindling number of opportunities was unfortunately causing sloppiness with the puck; even Brookes was clearly rushing shots instead of properly employing Coach’s strategy. Then, out of nowhere, the puck squirted out from a scrum along the boards in the neutral zone – right onto Brookes’ stick. It was so unexpected that his mind had to catch up to his muscle memory-driven legs which were already pumping him down ice. One man to beat: a defenseman who was matching him stride for stride. This was exactly the moment he’d been waiting for…
As they neared the top of the circles, he could see the defenseman closing the distance between them. In that instant, it was as clear as day to Brookes that the opposing player was going to try and body him off the puck. He’d been dealing with extra physical play all game and it was obvious that this kid was going to try and check him – hard. Anticipating this, and using his small stature to his advantage, Brookes abruptly veered towards him, ducking under the hit and toe-dragging the puck around the now wildly flailing defenseman. He had worked on this move hundreds of times in practice, but more than that, this was the move he pictured whenever he began to daydream. And his execution was as smooth as butter – leaving only the goalie between him and the back of the net.
Brookes kept his head up as he skated closer and closer to the net, searching for any minute movement of the goalie. Even a fraction of an inch could give him the edge he needed to sneak the puck past. The goaltender gave him nothing, tracking his every step. A deke it is then, Brookes thought; now in too tight for a proper snapshot. Forehand, backhand, forehand – it felt like he had the puck on a string. At the last possible moment, Brookes flicked the puck up towards the top corner of the net…watching it rotate seemingly in slow-motion. Then a flash of leather as the goalie sprawled out and unbelievably gloved the puck clean out of the air! He couldn’t process what his eyes just saw. It was an impossible save. “That one’ll make my highlight reel,” the goaltender winked at him.
Morale was low as the team boarded the bus. The final score ended up being a 4-1 loss, with the opposing team grabbing an empty netter late in the third. Contrary to what Brookes expected, Coach Harrison wasn’t in a foul mood when he addressed the team. “The scoreboard doesn’t tell the truth of that game, gentlemen. I was looking for heart in this opener, and heart is what I saw.” He went on about how fundamentals and strategy are much easier to teach than effort and attitude. Seemed like lip-service to Brookes. He could see his own scowling reflection as he stared out the window, trying unsuccessfully to stop thinking about his breakaway. “…not to mention my optimism regarding our squad’s potential.” His ears perked up at this. “Not naming names, but I think we all recognize the tenacity our underclassmen are bringing to this team. I’m excited to see what’s to come…”