Page 5 of The Keeper

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Oh. My. God.

And people wonder why I don’t want to see my family all that often.


hot-sh!t goalie from montreal


We’re all lined up on the ice in our practice gear, leaning on our sticks while Coach goes through a long list of housekeeping items. Everything from the parental “Clean up after yourselves in the locker room” to the more motivational “I defy anyone who thinks they can get through our first-line this season.”

I’m standing at the edge of the group, and nobody has paid me much attention so far, not even while we were suiting up. Evan gave a nod, but that was about it.

Coach changes all that, though. He says, “You all know Manny is recuperating nicely after his car accident. I think most of you have been over to see him in the rehab facility, and I know he really appreciates that. He’s got about three weeks of inpatient time left before he can head home, and then probably twelve weeks of outpatient therapy after that.”

“Is he coming back, Coach?” someone asks.

Coach shakes his head, a sad expression on his face. “Unfortunately, I think his hockey days are over, boys. His knee was shattered, and the head injury just added another layer. He can’t be crouching down, willing pucks to fly at his head. He may come back to work for us in the front office, and we’d be glad to have him, but not on the ice. It’s early retirement for Manny.”

Poor fucker. That’s depressing shit to be forced out of the game early. There’s a chorus of sounds. Some disappointed, some sad. Either way, it’s obvious that Emanuel Legace was a beloved goalie among his Crush teammates. He was in a near-fatal car accident over the summer, one he wasn’t initially expected to survive. That accident is the reason I’m here, the reason I was abruptly traded.

I’m contemplating how it all went down when I hear my name.

“He nearly stopped us from winning that Cup,” Coach says. “His innate ability to predict the angle of a shot so accurately is second to none. I’m sure many of you have been frustrated in the past by his often-impossible stops.” Anyone would think Coach is genuinely happy to have me. That the team will share his enthusiasm.I doubt it.“Everyone, say hello to Calum Lefleur, hot-shit goalie from Montreal, here to stop all the shots and help us retain our title.”

There’s a series of grunts and nods. A few guys tap their sticks on the ice. I look at all of them without making eye contact. Well, I make eye contact with Dante Castellano, the dark-haired wall of a second-string goalie who saw all of about thirty minutes of ice time last season. In fact, our eye contact consists pretty much of me smirking at him and him responding with a middle finger shot in my direction. Just about the reception I’d expect from a guy who was probably hoping I’d die in a plane crash on the way here.

Coach gives a few more notes then tells everyone to pair up for skills training. I’m paired with starting left wing Mikhail. I noticed him earlier in the locker room…scowling. “I remember you from the finals,” I say.

To which he swears at me in a language I don’t recognize. I look around to find Evan laughing and shaking his head. “He’s prickly on a good day, new guy. Don’t take it personally.”

I pull on my mask and take my spot in front of the goal. Mikhail doesn’t speak; he just starts lobbing shots like he’s firing the pucks from a baseball pitching machine. I’ve taken his shots in games, and I know how fast and accurate he can be. He’s somewhat inconsistent though, which is why he’s never taken the top spot among scorers like center forward Boris or right wing Evan. Still, he’s riled up today, which means everything is coming straight at me, like he’s willingly trying to take my head off.

And maybe he is.

Still, by the end of the skill set, I’m sweating and bruised and feeling a bit like a punching bag. Mikhail gives me a nod, so I guess I did okay against him, but he still doesn’t speak to me.

“Does he speak English?” I ask the next guy who comes up to level shots at me.

“Yeah, dumbass,” the blond guy says as he drops the puck in front of his stick. I remember him from the conference series. Defenseman who likes to fight. “He’s from Detroit.”

“Oh.” I digest that information. “He swore at me in what I guessed could be Russian.”

The guy laughs. “Czech actually. First-generation parents but he’s an American hockey player if you can believe it. I have a thing for second-language chirps. My personal favorite is the Russianmudak, which just means, like, shithead or something.”

“Well, I’m from Canada, so most of the second-language swearing happens in French.”

He shoots at me. It’s wildly off target and he just sort of shrugs. “I’m Tyler, by the way,”

“Defenseman. I remember you from the finals.”

He takes a few more shots and then announces that he needs a water break. I finish out the skills sessions and we move into a scrimmage formation with me at one end and Dante at the other.That’s an impressive stink-eye, Castello.Not that I give a shit.

Clearly, he’s pissed off though, as he follows me straight into the locker room after practice, getting up in my grill before I can even fully turn around to face him.

“This is bullshit, you know,” he says, teeth bared, finger pointing into my face. “You just waltz in here and take a spot I’ve been waiting on for three years? And you get a contract no kid your age should have?”

All I can do is shrug. What can I do about it? “First, I don’t want to be here, and I’d gladly have not come if I’d been given a choice. Second, don’t you think the contract would’ve been yours if they thought you were good enough?”

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