The distinctive smell of gasoline hit me as soon as I opened the garage door, and with a sigh I noted that within the increasingly cramped quarters the one gallon container I use for my lawnmower's supply was tipped over. Well, a couple of days with the door open would get rid of that, right? It's not like it all spilled onto, say, my hockey bag.
Not all of it.
Our goalie had discovered he needed to check into his vacation spot today as opposed to tomorrow, so my career was going to start 5 nights earlier than planned. I was nervous but excited, and by the time I'd gotten into my pads (only one redo) I was pumped to be out there, although maybe part of that was being high from huffing fumes. Despite the best efforts of Febreze I still smelled like the inside of a carburetor because, as Lola put it, 'You can take the goalie out of the junkyard but you can't take the junkyard out of the goalie.' So, reeking of boneyard cologne, I headed out to do battle. I even remembered to stretch a little while the zamboni cut the ice.
We lost 24-1. By the end of the second period we switched from a puck to a beach ball and they covered me with double-sided tape but I still couldn't stop anything. To keep it from getting any worse the other team used 3rd graders in the last period but they still lit me up . . . these were my fears about how it was going to go. I was worried about whiffing on a soft dump-in from center ice, or an easy wrister, my teammates looking down at the ice as they muttered about missing Game of Thrones for this. By some miracle, none of that happened. Aided by my team playing tenacious D, I craned my neck around to see that 7 minutes in the score was still 0-0. What? Shut-out hockey during my first game! Amazing! Remarkable!
They scored on me 14 seconds later. It was a breakaway, as they learned my ability to butterfly was a questionable thing at best. At the 13 minute mark I gave up one of the ones I'd want back, a low wrister on a partial breakaway that I should have dropped or butterflied on instead of letting it take me short side. Off the faceoff they dumped, chased, and fired a pass from behind the net that a better goalie would have kept from going to the open guy cruising the slot. We got one back before the buzzer, so at the end of one period it was 3-1. Not terrible. I could handle averaging this and keeping it from double digits.
Note: my recollection of when and how these goals scored is sketchy at best and possibly made to look much more competent than I really was. It probably looked really impressive when I'd let a shot from the point whiz by wide without flinching, but more often than not it was because I didn't react in time. I'm old and inexperienced. At the after-game beer stop one of the guys said he'd graduated high school in 2003. 2003. I almost hit him with my cane.
There was another long stretch of me not coughing up a goal in the second, for whatever reason. I managed to stop a breakaway before the guy decided that if the puck wasn't going to go in he and I should instead. The bubble burst at the 7 minute mark - again - when I made a decent save by butterflying - I know, right? - and then just looked at the rebound sitting about five feet in front of me as if I'd just propositioned it and was waiting to see if it was going to go home with me. Someone on the other team played the role of stalker ex-boyfriend and took it away from me. Goal. Let the deluge start.
But it didn't. We (it's we, believe me. My teammates blocked a lot of shots) played well, even when we were pressuring them in their zone and I was freaking right the hell out because we only had 4 skaters on the ice but nobody could hear me yelling because it was the second period and the bench was far away. My stupid tennis elbow made it difficult to smack my stick on the ice. Ye gods, I'm a mess.
The 3rd period featured more goals via breakaway, which I would definitely classify as an issue and great news considering the team we're playing Thursday is supposed to be a bunch of cocky jerkweed kids who skate like the wind, but whatever. As the final seconds wound down and flat-out oceans of sweat drained down my face one of their players zoomed in on a breakaway (they never let up. with 2 minutes left they had 3 forecheckers deep, and with a minute left one jerk was hanging on our blueline. It's okay if that sounds like gibberish. Just say 'okay hockey yah' and read on). I'd stopped him earlier and I really don't know what happened this time - I want to say I pokechecked as he shot, but I have no idea - but the puck deflected over the net as time expired. Behind me, the final score read 6-1. A goals-against average of 6 isn't going to land me in the Garden anytime soon, but . . . I have friends who are wonderful singers, skilled illustrators, amazing writers. The feeling I got when I made a kick save off the end of my toe (so what if it was probably going wide they can't see that from the bench shut up), or took a hard slap shot off my stick and deflected it into the corner, or snapped a shot out of the air with my glove, it has to be what it feels like for them to hit that difficult note and nail it, or sketch Lady MacBeth and be able to see that mixture of ambition and insanity on the page in her eyes, or cranking out a phrase that you know is going to resonate with the reader. Or maybe not. Those are things that last, while this game is in the books, soon to be forgotten by most. But not by me, not just yet.