The bag, heavily draped over my shoulder bounces aggressively across the small of my back, the wooden sticks in my hands, pick at some of the snow on the ground and I fling it has hard as I can, as I continue to make my way to the arena. As I get closer to the door, the anticipation builds, the excitement and joy in my stomach becomes a great symphonies as my hand opens the door and I push tightly through the entrance to the building.
There is something soothing about being in my Church, as quiet moment as I walk underneath the banners of teams that have won tournaments and league championships in previous years. Thirteen steps into the hallway, I look up and see my own banner and quickly scan to the part where is says Champion. That's always how I felt when I walked past this banner, it doesn't matter that the banner is now three years old, I was still on the team that won it.
I make my way down to the locker room and find my spot on the blue benches that surround the outside of the room, the slight mildew smell escapes as I unzip the bag. Carefully, I arrange all the contents of my bag, ensuring that all the necessary pieces are there, and placed in the exact spot. Hockey players are about as superstitious as anyone could be and I was even more so. I dressed in the exact spot, every game. I got dressed the same, every game.
Jock Strap, Garter Belt, Left Shin Guard, Right Shin Guard, Left Sock, Right Sock, Pants, Left Skate, Right Skate, Tape around Left Sock, Tape around the Right Sock, Shoulder Pads, Left Elbow Pad, Right Elbow Pad, Jersey, Helmet, Right Glove, Left Glove.
The sequence couldn't be altered, if even one of the steps was missed, I would take everything off and begin again. I am to this day convinced that by getting dressed in this way, I became an even better hockey player.
I was ready, the music calling us to the ice. Queen, We are the Champions. I go first, as per the ritual and as I step through the door that leads to the ice, I get the first whiff of that smell. It's the same the world over and to me it's equivalent to oxygen as a needed element to survive. My eyes, gently close as I step towards the the edge of the ice surface. And with one step and push and sail across the ice. The crowd, stands in appreciation as the rest of the team glides in behind. It is an indescribable feeling, the a connection between fans and players, both with a desire for their team to win, both hoping to be see something special and both in the house of the Hockey Gods. The priests and the parishioners.
Soon the anthem sounds and the ref is ready to drop the puck. I stand on the blue line, ready. One final glance at the goalie and my Defense partner before the puck drops. Then like a snap of a twig my memory goes back to the dressing room. I switched the gloves. Left glove should go on before the right. Sweat breaches my brow as the ref lets go of the puck and the puck goes crashing towards the ice surface.
It's too late now, as I skate towards the pucks scooping it up after the draw and passing over to my D partner. He passes the puck back, as the forwards circle setting up to take a pass from me. Just as I find my target and am looking to make the pass, I feel the presence of a member of the opposing team, flying towards me. I can tell I am about to take a hit but determined to make the pass, I stand strong and plant my skate and smack the puck towards my teammate. Just as the puck leaves my stick, I feel the hit. Direct on my knee. I fold over, my skate staying planted but the rest of me tumbling towards the ice.
It's funny, I sort of expected that playing in the NHL was a given but right in that moment I knew the truth, that I was done. There would be no recovering from this, I would be a stat, the number of injured people that couldn't play anymore grew by one, in that moment.
I was carted off of the ice and begin rehab, a month or so after the surgery. But I was never to recover, not fully. Soon depression set in, booze and drugs took over and soon I found a career that encouraged both booze and drugs, I became a Chef.