by François Barcelo
translated by Peter McCambridge
Baraka Books, 2011
“Listen, guys. I never got the chance to meet your coach…”
I hesitate for a minute because I should say his name, or at least his first name, at the start of the next sentence. But I don’t know either. Too bad.
“He was a good, demanding coach who knew how to get the best out of each of you. And I think you have to win the game tonight as a tribute to him. He deserves nothing less.”
I’m in luck. The siren—which also isn’t unlike the insufferable cry of a loon in search of a mate—breaks off my speech just as I wasn’t sure what to say next.
The guys stand up. I get out of the way and they file past me solemnly. I’m sure they’ve gotten the message.
For a communications graduate, I must give the world’s worst pep talks because they didn’t understand a word of what I was expecting from them. I wanted them to play with at least a little intensity and grace. True, I might not necessarily have spelled it out for them. But I was sure they would understand. Playing without intensity or grace was going about the game the wrong way. Surely they understood that?
But they start to play like goons instead. Why? Don’t ask me. That’s not what I told them to do.
They send their opponents crashing into the boards, especially the smaller ones. It must all be perfectly legit, because the ref only dishes out four penalties. But that’s enough for the other team to score two more goals.
With only a few minutes to go in the period (I’ve just found out there are twenty minutes in a period and I’m not going to argue), the Loons, understandably ticked at the way our players are getting on, worked up by a noisy crowd, and confident of winning the game no matter what, start hitting back. As hard as they like because the idiot of a ref doesn’t react at all. My players are penalized for nothing at all, like tripping an opponent without meaning to, while the Loons go unpunished for blatant acts of violence, like slamming one of my smallest players into the boards.
One of them—Gervais, according to the name on his back—comes up behind our K. Nguyen, puts his stick between his legs, and sends him flying over the boards. Our Jonathan races over and smacks him one in the face. I would be proud of him if punching a shock-proof visor with a well-padded hockey glove was ever going to deter such a violent individual.
The two boys must have read my mind because they drop their sticks and gloves, fling their helmets to the ice, raise their fists, and get ready to box.
Nguyen’s head pops back up over the boards and he gives a smile to show he’s OK. But it’s too late. All my players on the ice have already gone after the other team.
I’ve had enough. I might not be able to stop my team losing, but I’m not going to let them behave like a bunch of hooligans. I leap onto the ice. But I’m wearing my Saturn salesman shoes. The finest Italian shoes made in China, with the slipperiest of leather soles. I slide and fall on my ass, and that draws a laugh from the crowd.
Thankfully I’m close to the boards and I pull myself up and hang on for dear life. I call my players over:
“Get back here! Come back to the bench!”
But no one can hear me over the laughs of the crowd. And they only laugh harder when I fall again. Just you try walking across ice with leather soles and we’ll see who’s laughing then.
I pick myself up, try my hardest not to fall again, push one of my Nguyens out of my way, and grab Jonathan by the ear. But he shakes his head loose and his fist makes solid contact with the nearest Loon.
I try to catch hold of him, but there’s no point: he can skate faster than I can waddle.
Fortunately, everybody eventually grinds to a halt. Perhaps because I intervened. More likely because we’re all hopelessly out of breath, exhausted like boxers in the tenth round. One by one, my players return to the bench, with me bringing up the rear because I’ve finally mastered the art of sliding my feet along the ice. I’m revving up to tear a strip off them, but I’m interrupted by a voice over the loudspeakers:
“Game misconduct to the coach of the visiting team for being the first to leave his bench to take part in a brawl. “
Unless I’m very much mistaken, that’s me, the coach of the visiting team. But I didn’t do anything! I try to go over to the guy with the mike who just made the announcement to give him my side of the story. No chance: a real cop in uniform grabs hold of my arm and hauls me off in the opposite direction.
I just have time to glance across the ice at the other team’s coach—a tieless fatso in a black jacket with an enormous loony on the front—who gives me the finger. OK, maybe I was asking for it a little.