The guy with the puck was only a few feet in front me. I pumped my legs harder, my skates slicing over the ice. Swish, swish, swish, swish, BAM! I got my shoulder low and rammed him into the boards, taking the puck with one easy move and sending a pass to my winger.
"All right, Jason!" I heard my coach cheer.
My legs were burning. I gulped down air as I circled back into our defensive zone. The ref stopped play. Coach rattled the gate, the signal for a line change. I skated up and clomped over to our bench.
"Nice," he said appreciatively, clapping a hand on my shoulder. "Beautiful check, Jase."
I was still breathing hard. Sweat dripped in my eyes. I yanked off my glove and loosened my hockey mask enough to wipe my forehead, then I fastened the mask again. Calgary Minor Hockey Regulations. No player can take off his helmet or his visor during a game, even for a second.
Hockey has too many rules, if you ask me. If I didn't love the game so much, I wouldn't be here. They make you remember everything. Equipment, penalties, strategies, you name it. But I guess that's partly why it's so much funit's not easy, you know? So you feel awesome when you do really great.
"Okay, Jason. We're down by one. I need you to keep number 20 covered, you got it? Don't let him score."
"Right." I stood up as one of our defencemen skated into the player's bench. I scrambled out onto the ice, pivoted and skated backwards into position, so I could I keep an eye on the puck, which was in the offensive zone. Sure enough, number twenty picked it up and began dodging past our forwards. He was fast, with a quick, clean wrist shot. I had to get to him before he got close enough to take the shot. I closed in on him near centre ice. He wheeled to the side, trying to get past me, but not so close to the boards that I could check him. Smart guy. I tried to force him closer, but he turned on the jets and I couldn't quite catch him. Checking from behind is about the worst thing you can do in hockeyyou can injure someone pretty badly doing thatso I poured on the speed got alongside him in time to prevent the shot. We screamed full blast into the corner, and that's when I got my chance.
Wham! I crunched him into the boards, stole the puck and left him lying there in a heap.
"Boo! Boo! Get that goon outta here! This isn't the WWF, ref!" I heard someone shouting from the Northridge bleacher.
But the ref shook his head. The check was clean. The Southglen parents cheered.
I skated around our goal and sizzled a pass up to Luke, our centre. He took off like a rocket. What a breakaway! Luke deked out the goalie and fired a shot. It slid through the goalie's legs. The buzzer sounded a few seconds later. Game over.
Luke skated back and gave me a high-five. "Great D, Jase." He pulled off his helmet as we stepped into our box and wiped the sweat off his face. His hair stood up in damp, brown spikes.
"Sweet goal," I said. I sat down on the bench. I heard some of the parents still muttering about that last check, and someone's dad was talking furiously to the Northridge coach and gesturing toward our team. Unconcerned, I reached for my water bottle. I get that stuff all the time.
See, I'm pretty big for a guy in PeeWee. I'm thirteen. If the new age categories had come down this year, I'd already be in Bantam. Even then, I'd still be one of the bigger guys. Parents on the other teams don't like me much, because I'm always clobbering their kids. I've already had about five complaints this season about how I'm too big and aggressive to play PeeWee and I should've been moved up. But I can't help being bigger, and my coach likes hard-hitting defencehe keeps telling me to go for it. Besides, I'm still the right age for PeeWee, no matter what those parents say.
"Great game, everyone," Coach congratulated us. "Nice plays, excellent defensive coverage. We could've lost this one, but you pulled one out of the hat, boys."
There was a general muttering of thanks, but everyone knew that Coach was talking mostly to me and Luke. The two of us seem to be the players he counts on most to get a winor in this case, a tie. Luke's our top-scorer and Coach depends on me to take out the opposition. I like playing defence, but sometimes I think it must be fun to score the goals. It would be nice to be the good guy, for a change.