The schedule ends on Senior Night. There will be more hockey, of course. The Frozen Four is quite likely for us; the title could be clinched tonight. So it’s not truly the end, but close enough. For me, I know if I ever return to this rink, it won’t quite be like this. I’m no senior like those on the ice, but one period of my life will soon end. My rink will be wiped–not by some dude riding in circles, no, but it’ll be time to begin something new. I’m guessing it’ll be more difficult to root for these competitors in the future. I might not get to see them live. But who knows?
The crowd here is often thin, but not tonight. I don’t mind being in line for tickets. It’s worth it to see other people out here. I buy rubber puck #359 for throwing onto the ice.
We honor the seniors, then begin. The opposition scores first. We spend minutes in the box, then more minutes. (Ten minutes out of the first twenty, but two sin-bin terms were both being served for some seconds.) Four on five, we’re down. Four on five, we’re down. Do netminders mind not being counted? Four on…ooh, four now. Five on four, we’re up! Time to tie it up. So we do. One-one.
Then the collision. I don’t see it, just notice it’s four on five once more. No news. But one of the visitors is down on the ice. She doesn’t get up.
Nothing occurs. Nothing but the voices in the crowd. The volume, I feel, should ebb, flow, die down, rise up. But there’s too much sound. It doesn’t go down. It just keeps going. Hockey here is not like this, not how I know it. I know the sound of stick hitting puck, the pep songs or peppers insulting the visitors. This undying murmur is wrong.
Most of the competitors come together on the edge of the rink. Two do not. They must count, now. Otherwise it is only the injury controlling the ice. So my eyes follow the closer of the two in circles. Distorted, stretched ones, but still circling, going nowhere. Kneeling now, blocking ghost shots. Close to ten minutes of this.
Then the stretcher goes off. We resume. More four on fives, but the period finishes 1-1.
Someone I remember once being ineligible due to coursework problems presents the prizes to our top student-competitors during the first intermission. Then it’s time for pep music. Listen to the drum pounding out of time. One of our offsides people crossed the blue line to find the puck is on the other side.
The second period goes more quickly. The home net switches with the visitors’. Now I see the letters between the shoulders of our visiting netminder. Her moniker reminds me of the visiting Buckeye who the pep performers mocked, the time I got to know the “sieve” song/insult. (“…lets the puck go by.”) Listen to the howling out of key. We score with eleven seconds left of five on four. The period winds down. “Hey, ref,” yell the pep crowd. “How much time is left?”
In the intermission, I throw my rubber puck onto the ice for some contest. It is nowhere close to the bullseye. I worry it won’t even hit the rink, stopping on the bench or on the floor. I don’t see it, but I’m told it does go to the ice. Its speed is right, but it turns to slide in the wrong direction.
Into the third period. It becomes 3-1 when it’s five on five like it should be. But not to worry, there is enough controversy. For me, too much. Two opponents seeming to fight, one on top of the other. The visitor whose helmet goes flying off. Our netminder, puck clutched tightly, protesting the stick which flew by.
But it ends quietly, up until the victory cheers. With eighty-nine seconds to go, it’s substitution time for the hosts. Let our senior end this one in the net.
This is the beginning of the rest of our lives.
“Commencement” signifies “beginning,” doesn’t it? How odd.
“Hey, ref, how much time is left?”
Don’t tell me.
I don’t need to know.