He breathed in the icy air. It filled up his body until he was full. His muscles ached and he was weary. All he wanted to do was rest. He grabbed his L-shaped stick and firmly planted it on the frosty ground. It was the same stick that his father gave him at his deathbed. He heard his father speak those same words whenever he fell .“Get up!”
He pulled himself up and raised his visor. His vision was still hazy but he heard it all. He heard the whistle blow. He heard the smashing of plastic and the grunts of every punch. He heard the chants of the crowd. They repeated his name in unison. Such synchronization must have meant practice, but this was not rehearsed. No, it was the unity of the hearts of many.
“Penalty!” the man in striped black and white announced.
The fallen player jersey had a large number ninety-nine printed at the back. Fresh from his fall, he skated to the center of the rink. His legs felt like lead and his knees turned to jelly. He looked up at the scoreboard and it reminded him of the remaining time. Not much left.
The referee dropped a small black disc in front of him. Like many others before him, this puck could be his friend or foe. It was up to him to decide.
He gripped his father’s hockey stick and tapped the ice twice on either side of the puck for luck. He hoped that it would work this one time.
He started his short strides and balanced the puck a few inches in front of him. He was at the half-way mark of the rink. It would be so easy to smash the puck into the goal. Surely such a small object would fit in the net with ease. But he knew that a slight error, whether his shot was too strong or too weak. If his aim was off by a millimeter. That error in judgment could vilify him.
He reached the quarter mark. The goalie of the opposing team crouched low and spread out his arms. On his right was his hockey stick. On his left was a battered glove. What may have seemed a century of attempts could not break the will of his opponent. Number ninety-nine could not fathom how this attempt would be any different.
Who would win this battle of nerves? He clearly felt the pressure. He wished that he could see through the mask of the goalie and watch the quiver in his eyes. Maybe then he would not feel all alone, maybe then he would have a companion.
Number ninety-nine pushed the puck to the left, the force was a little too great and the little disc veered away from him.
“Friend or foe?”
“Friend or foe?”
“Friend or foe?”
He pushed his body after the puck. The goalie broke off his line and chased the little disc.
Number ninety-nine had only one chance. Would he be the hero or the villain?
“Now!” His father’s voice whispered in his head.
“Dive for it now!” Number ninety-nine hesitated and propelled his body with another stride.
“Son! He is wide open…hit it now!” Number ninety-nine noticed the opening between the goalie’s legs. The puck seemed an inch too far.
The goalie raced closer.
Number ninety-nine dove forward and flicked his wrist. The hockey stick and extension of himself stretched as far as it could go. From his angle it seemed too short. The goalie had arrived.
He had no brakes and number ninety-nine slid across the ice.
He remembered his little childhood home. He would hold his father’s hand as they trudged through the snow to a little frozen pond.
All they brought with them where two hockey sticks and a puck. Everyday his father would say “Never hesitate.”
He hesitated, this one time when it all counted he hesitated.
“When the chance comes take it!” Those were the last words his father ever said to him as his father handed over the hockey stick which rested a meter away from him.
The siren rang loudly. It rang through number ninety-nine’s ears. He pushed himself on his knees and removed his helmet. The stadium was quiet, not a sound could be heard. The chanting that bellowed in unison stopped.
Tears rolled down his eyes. “Dad.” He muttered.
This was the moment when the names of heroes would be etched on the timeless stone of people’s hearts.
“Son.” His father spoke.
This was the moment that his father always spoke of, the moment of glory, the moment of immortality.
“Look at me son.”
Number ninety-nine looked up at the ceiling and wiped his tears.
“Son this is your moment.”
“Goal!” The announcer screamed.
The chants resumed and number ninety-nine was surrounded by his team-mates. They ruffled his hair, shook his arm and hugged him tight.
“And they have won the Stanley Cup!” the announcer continued.
“No dad. This is your moment.”