I thank her and head toward the locker room, Evan meeting me on the way.
“You really think like that? See things like that?” he asks incredulously.
“It’s just science and math, yeah.”
Evan chuckles. “I think you might be a bloody savant, you know that?”
I lift a shoulder in response. “I could have gone to MIT. I’ve always been scientifically observant.”
“My parents are both academics. They expected me to go the same route, but wanted me to be well-rounded, so they started me in hockey when I was young like every other kid in Quebec. I was awkward and didn’t get along well with my teammates, so coaches never knew what to do with me.”
“Shocking,” Evan says, repressing a grin. “And when you’re young, goalie is like code-language for not good enough.”
“Right. No kid wants to play goal because they all want to be forwards, right? But I liked it, and I applied the same skills to the sport as I did in my schoolwork and became very effective quite quickly.”
“So, you gave up MIT to play the game?”
“My parents were really disappointed, but I figured college is something I can do anytime. It’s not just reserved for eighteen-year-olds.”
Evan laughs and shakes his head, patting me on the back once. “Dude, you are blowing my mind right now.”
He wanders into the locker room, making a gesture to indicate that his mind is, in fact, blown. By what, I have no idea. Lots of guys play in college. I just chose to forego college and go pro early. What’s the big deal?
We suit up and go through the pre-game rigmarole. Earlier, the Crush PR showcased a short video segment about my goalie mask custom-painted with brand-new artwork for my new team. I saw it playing on the Jumbotron a few minutes ago. The artwork on my mask looks spank, I’ve gotta admit. It’s a graphic desert landscape featuring blooming cactus flowers in a bright purply red, a guitar and music notes with classic Vegas iconography, and FLOWER in the DESERT, my new Vegas nickname lettered across the top. I enjoyed planning out the designs we decided to use. Media relations interviewed me, of course, and I explained the meaning behind the different imagery I chose. My gig at the Crush Foundation Music Workshop came up, and after I talked a little about what I do there, I gave a shout-out to each of the music class kids by first name: Will, Logan, Brayden, Andre, Keegan, LeAnne, Samantha, Jeanna, Charley, Jon, Zach, Alec, and Reilly. Yep, I memorized the list. I’m going to play a recording of it for them at the next class since I’m pretty sure none of them can afford to be here.
Home openers are nuts, with live music, fireworks, and all kinds of craziness, and Las Vegas does it up more than any other team I’ve seen. It is quite the spectacle, and even though I thought I wouldn’t care for all the showbiz glam that comes with playing NHL hockey in Vegas, it’s starting to grow on me. Typically, I want to get out on the ice and play the game, but I can see how this home arena crowd feeds the energy of the players and gets them going.
There are pre-game videos for the guys to watch on their way out on the ice. Some are from their wives or parents or kids or whatever. I start to race by, feeling certain I won’t have one, but Scarlett from the social media team grabs my arm. She points to the screen, where the kids from my class at CFMW play the tune I’ve been teaching them before yelling, “Good luck, Mister Cal!”
It makes me smile, this video message they made. Those kids are awesome little people. Scarlett grins, and I nod in thanks before skating out at the sound of my name and the roar of a welcoming home crowd. That is one thing about this crazy town—they love their team, and every member on that team is welcomed with open arms.
The game is a barn burner, an intense battle that has Tyler and Viktor both in the penalty box for several minutes each period. I lose count of the shots on goal, but they come fast and furious with second-string defenders in place by midway through the second period. I stay focused, though, and even send a puck far enough down the ice for winger Evan to grab it and score.
In the end, I’ve managed a shut-out for the first game of the season, and Evan’s single goal leaves us victorious, the crowd erupting to eardrum-busting volume.
Back in the locker room, the guys all talk about their after-game plans, and a few even ask me if I want to grab a drink or go to a club. I thank them but decline, showering and dressing quickly before heading for the door.
In the hallway, I’m shocked to see Emily wearing a Crush jersey with my number on it paired with dark jeans. Definitely not her usual styling.
“Hey, Cal,” she says, giving me a strange, sad smile. “Good game.”
My mouth must be hanging open. “I didn’t know you were coming.”
“It was a last-minute decision, and I didn’t want to mess with your concentration on the ice.”
I take all this information in for a moment before figuring out what to say. To say I’m surprised to see Emily here is an understatement. “Well, you’re here now and I’m starving. Can we grab something to eat?”
“How about a pizza at your place, where we can talk?”
I nod, and she takes my arm as we head through the lower level and out into the balmy night.
“Nice sweater,” I say, mostly to break the silence—which is atypical for me. Awkward silences don’t usually spur me to fill them.
“I got it at the team shop. Had to let go of my Montreal one.”
“Yeah,” I say with a sigh that sounds a lot sadder than I feel. I’m beginning to accept the terms of my contract and trying to embrace it rather than try to fight against it. Calls with my mom have helped with my attitude, but also time with CFMW.And previously…Billie.