FICTION

"But Mr. Referee, You Lug—”

In which Bearcats Hagen and McGonigal tangle with a triangle and thereby settle the referee question

LESLIE McFARLANE December 1 1940
FICTION

"But Mr. Referee, You Lug—”

In which Bearcats Hagen and McGonigal tangle with a triangle and thereby settle the referee question

LESLIE McFARLANE December 1 1940

EVER SINCE I knew him this Bing McGonigal was so woman shy that he would break out in a cold sweat if a waitress asked him did he want another slab of pie. But when I breezed into the club offices that morning to pick up my mail, who did I see sprawled over Kathy O'Neill’s desk; mooning at her? And the joint smelled like a lilac orchard. McGonigal had been to a barber shop, believe it or not.

"I dreamed about you last night, honey,” he was gurgling.

It did not take much study to figure out that love had caught up with McGonigal. He is six foot two and built like a medium-size tank. He is a very good defenseman, and his nose has been busted so often it looks like it fell onto his face from a great height and stuck there. Otherwise he is a moody-looking gink with a long face, like a horse that has been gypped out of a scuttleful of oats.

With big dopes like him, love sneaks up about as quiet and gradual as a lightning bolt knocking over the brickyard smokestack. And looks just as romantic. Not that I could blame him, mind you. Kathy not only looks like Hedy Lamarr’s kid sister, but she can talk a sensible game of hockey too. I often thought if I was not too busy coaching the Bearcats to have time for such nonsense, I would like to ask her for a date myself. But when I am talking to a girl as pretty as Kathy my tongue gets tied in a knot if the conversation gets away from hockey. So I never got around to it. But McGonigal—

Any ordinary morning it would have struck me all of a heap. But I had just left Happy Hagen in the dressing room, and I was feeling so good I took it in my stride.

“Good morning, Sam,” smiled Kathy. It is something very, very special, that smile. Visitors who step into it without warning are apt to forget why they came to the office in the first place. “I hear the marines have landed.” 

“Folks,” I beamed, “he’s here in person. Right this minute Happy Hagen is climbing into a Bearcat uniform.” 

“That reminds me,” mumbled McGonigal, prying himself away from Kathy’s desk. “I guess I better be gettin’ ready for practice myself.”

Hockey players had no business upstairs in the arena at that time of day, and he knew it. But I was feeling too good to bother. “Boy!” I said, rubbing my hands and beaming all over. “So Hagen is here! I could set them sweet words to music. Our troubles are over.”

“Whaddaya mean our troubles are over?” grunted McGonigal.

“Maybe you don’t read the papers,” I said. “Maybe you don't keep up with the gossip around the rink. We just made a deal that puts Happy Hagen in a Bearcat uniform. Ever hear of Hagen?”

I was being very sarcastic. Everybody has heard of Hagen. McGonigal sniffed and said: “I played again’ him last year when he was with Montreal.”

“With Hagen we take the Cup this season, no foolin’,” I told him.

Kathy said: “Will he really make that much difference?"

“He’ll make all the difference,” I said. “What’s been the matter with the Bearcats so far? Best team in the league on paper, but we’re in fifth spot. Why?”

“We don’t win enough games,” McGonigal informed me brightly.

“The team don’t jell—that’s why,” I said. “Now we got Hagen, watch what happens. He’s a good defenseman, but he’s a great spark plug too. Always cheerful. A great kidder. Gets laughs in the dressing room. Smooths out the tension. He gives harmony, see. We’ll be a different team.”

“That’s good,” remarked Kathy.

It didn’t cheer up McGonigal. “I know the guy,” he said, very sour.

“Then you know what a break you’re getting. You and him ought to team up like ham and eggs.”

"Pairin’ Hagen with me?” he bleated.

“And why not? Ain’t it a natural? You two ought to make up the best defense in the league, fella.”

"Hah!” said McGonigal.

THAT was all. Just “Hah!” like that. Then he marched out, his shoes squeaking like a hatful of mice. I noticed he was wearing a new suit too—plaid with a lot of green in it. Love is a remarkable thing, I thought. Nothing else could have made McGonigal go for a new suit and a haircut. 

“Why did he say ‘Hah!’ like that?” I asked Kathy. 

“McGonigals are like elephants,” she said. “They never forget.”

“What’s all this about?” I yelped, startled. “Forget what?”

“I may be wrong. And I hope I am. But maybe McGonigal is brooding about the game that knocked Detroit out of the play-offs last April.”

“Why should he brood about something that happened last April?”

“McGonigals are like that. He scored the winning goal in that game.”

“But he was playing for Detroit? They lost.”

“I know. But he thought it was the winning goal. His only goal all season too. With three minutes to go.”

"But I’m telling you Detroit lost. It couldn't have been the winning goal.”

“It wasn’t. The referee wouldn't allow it. He said the puck hit the post. There was a lot of argument about it at the time. Some said one thing, some said another.” 

"Look, Kathy,” I said. "I didn't see that game. I must have read about it in the papers, but last April is ancient history in hockey. Be a nice girl and tell me what’s all this got to do with McGonigal saying ‘Hah!’ when I tell him he’s to team up with Happy Hagen?”

"Perhaps it hasn’t anything to do with it. But Hagen was playing for Montreal. And he thought it was awfully funny when the referee said McGonigal hadn't scored after all. In fact,” said Kathy, “he kidded McGonigal about it.”

“Oho! Now I remember. And McGonigal socked him.” 

“Heartily. McGonigal got a penalty.”

"And Detroit had to play a man short.”

“Which was just too bad. Because Hagen went down and scored the winning goal. Everybody said it was very smart of Hagen to get the goal and very dumb of McGonigal to get the penalty.”

I gulped. “Don’t tell me you think McGonigal is sore at Hagen on account of what happened last April. Why what sort of a world would this be if hockey players carried grudges over from season to season?”

“Exciting,” said Kathy very calmly. And just then in came the Old Man. He was looking happy for the first time since Christmas.

“That Hagen is a card,” the old boy was chortling. "Why, down in the dressing room he has the lads in stitches. Just like one big happy family already.”

“That’s Hagen all over,” I said, feeling better. “He gives harmony, chief.”

The Old Man said he thought we ought to be in second or third place by Groundhog Day. If we weren’t he would be very, very surprised. Disappointed, even. It was my first coaching job in the big time, and I got the idea that it would be just too bad for me if the Old Man suffered any disappointment whatsoever, even a slight one.

“What a personality!” he chuckled, heading into his own office. “Yes, indeed, the team should go places now.”

“Or else!” said Kathy, when the door shut.

After all, I was the lad who sold the Old Man the idea of paying fifteen grand for Hagen’s contract. I legged it out of there. If the Bearcats were going to be in the upper brackets by Groundhog Day, there was plenty of work to be done. And after what Kathy told me about that goal in Detroit, I wasn’t quite so sure about the Hagen harmony.

Even when I hit the corridor outside the dressing room I could tell that a new day had dawned.

Ever since we slid into fifth place the joint had been about as gay and noisy as the morgue on a rainy night. The hired help would sit around looking as if they longed to give each other a hearty kick in the teeth. But this morning sounded like owning day of Old Home Week. You never heard such laughing and singing and hollering in your life. Happy Hagen was getting acquainted with his new playmates.

He was in uniform when I came in—standing up on a bench with his arms around the goalie and the trainer, singing, “When Good Fellows Get Together.” A big, tubby, towheaded guy with a permanent grin on his pan and a notion that everybody else in the world is stone deaf, that’s Hagen. And the rest of the boys were getting into their gear, all grinning and chattering and kidding like they were friends again. All except McGonigal. He was over in a corner in his underwear, looking sour.

The vocal number broke off on a high note, and Hagen took a flying leap off the bench, landing all over me.

“Good old Sam Jordan—best doggone coach in the league!” he bawled. My back was still sore from the pounding I got when I met him earlier that morning, but Hagen could meet you twenty times a day and still make you feel it was a big event in his life to see you again. Some day Happy Hagen is going to meet an old pal who is not in training for it, and the old pal is going to wind up in a hospital.

"I’m gonna like it here, Sam,” he whooped, and hauled off with such a wallop on the chest that I swallowed my gum, bounced into a locker and got one foot trapped in the water bucket. Hagen flopped down on a bench, haw-hawing gleefully. The rest of the lads seemed to be enjoying themselves too. “Yowsa. I’m gonna like it here.”

“That's swell, Happy,” I said, after I got my breath back and kicked my foot clear of the bucket. “You met all the boys? You met Bing McGonigal? I figure on teaming you and him together.”

I TOWED him over to McGonigal, who was still looking very glum and dignified. But it is hard for anybody to look dignified in his underwear.

“Now, boys,” I said, patting them on the back, “you two are on the same team now and I want you to be pals. I know all about that little shindig in the play-offs at Detroit, but that was last season. And last season was last season, am I right?”

“Sure you’re right!” bawled Hagen. And then when it dawned on him that I was trying to patch up a quarrel he didn’t know about, he said: “Holy cow, Bing! Don’t tell me you're still sore because I talked you into that penalty!”

McGonigal got red around the ears and looked sheepish, but finally he cracked a grin. “Well,” he mumbled, “I guess I did feel kinda sore about it for a while. Seein’ I’d just been robbed of a goal—”

Hagen laughed like he was going to have a fit. “Boy!” he howled. “That’s the funniest thing I ever heard.” He danced around, flapping his arms and hee-hawing like a four-mule team. “And you've been peeved about it ever since!”

“Well, it was the only goal I got all season,” mourned McGonigal.

After a while Hagen calmed down. “I guess you had a right to be sore,” he chuckled. “And I admit I talked you into taking a sock at me so you’d get a penalty. But that’s hockey, boy. That’s hockey.”

“Yeah, that’s hockey,” said McGonigal, grinning a little as if he was ashamed of himself.

“Just the breaks of the game. If that puck hadn’t hit the post you’d have been a hero.”

“But it didn’t hit the post!” yelped McGonigal. “That blind Ned with the whistle robbed me. So help me, it was a goal. The puck went in the net and bounced out again.” 

“Now, boys,” I said hastily, “last season is dead and gone. This is this season—”

But Hagen was telling McGonigal: “All right, fella. Have it your way. The puck went in the net. It didn’t go in the records and you lost the game, but if it’ll make you feel any better I’ll say it went in the net.”

“None of your wisecracks, lug!” hollered McGonigal. “That was a goal!”

“Sure it was a goal.” By this time Hagen was just as red in the face and shouting just as loud as McGonigal. “I coulda cried when it didn't count.”

McGonigal had been brooding about that goal ever since April, no foolin’. He was wild.

“I was robbed!” he howled.

“Sure. Sure,” agreed Hagen in a hurry. “Just plain burglary. I thought so at the time.”

“You didn’t. You laughed about it. And now you have the nerve to kid me. It was a goal, I tell you!” bawled McGonigal.

“All right,” yelled Hagen, getting mad. “I say it was a goal. You say it was a goal. What’s the argument?” 

McGonigal glared at him. Hagen glared back. They were like a couple of strange bulldogs.

McGonigal said, “Hah!”

Hagen said, “Huh!”

And that was that.

Harmony had gone up the spout. By the time practice was over that morning, I knew my prize defense was going to mix just like beer and glue.

In hockey you have got to have teamwork. Especially back of the blue line you need it. Your defense ought to be able to read each other’s mind like a book. They ought to be as unanimous as a pair of Siamese twins. But what kind of teamwork are you going to get from a couple of guys pretending they are not in the same rink? That’s what I got.

I argued with them. Separately.

“Be pals,” I begged Hagen. “Go tell him he scored that goal last April. Kid him along. What does it matter?"

“I should tell him lies so he’ll feel better?” yelped Hagen. “Anyhow, the puck hit the post!”

“Look,” I said to McGonigal, “be big. He’s a good guy when you get to know him.”

“I don’t want to get to know guys like him. Coming around telling me I didn’t score that goal when I saw it go in the net myself,” sniffled McGonigal.

So my troubles began.

LEX PATTON’S New York boys had a date with us next night. Lex said he hoped my new defense wasn’t as good as the sports writers said it would be. Large numbers of Bearcat fans—optimists who believed everything they read in the papers—were on hand for the unveiling.

Why should I spread gloom by going into the details? There is enough pain and sadness in the world as it is. Hagen played a swell Hagen game. McGonigal turned in a very fine McGonigal performance. And together they just didn’t hitch. How do you stop that crew if your first-string defense acts like it hasn’t been introduced yet? I have been in hockey for a few years and I know most of the answers, but not that one.

Lex’s snipers bagged nine goals while I was trying to figure it out. My new defense was to blame for seven.

The fans went home muttering that nobody minds being a sucker once in a while if it is a good cause, but there are limits.

The sports writers wrote that the Hagen-McGonigal defense was the biggest washout since Noah’s day.

The Old Man said bitterly: “If a few more of your brainwaves backfire like that one, Jordan, I’ll be tossing a coin to see if I buy a one-way ticket to the poorhouse or the nut-house.”

“Don’t worry, chief,” I advised him, trying to look as if a nine-goal shellacking was an amusing little incident that can happen to anybody. “They’ll soon click. You wait and see.”

“I won’t wait long,” said the Old Man.

I closed the door carefully and stopped at Kathy’s desk. “I have griefs and cares.”

“Well,” said Kathy, "you have a good second-string defense. The Wasinski brothers. Why not team one of them with Hagen and the other with McGonigal?”

"The Wasinski brothers have been playing defense together for a long time. They are very used to each other,” I said. “I might wind up with two punk defenses instead of one good one and one bad one as at present.”

“Poor Sam!” said Kathy. She patted my hand. It made me feel funny. I do not often have my hand patted by girls as pretty as Kathy O’Neill.

“Besides,” I said hastily, “I hate to break up this Hagen-McGonigal pair. If they ever start clicking, they will be the sort of defense that will go down in history.”

“A couple more games like last night and they will go down in history anyhow. Like the San Francisco earthquake and other disasters.”

“Kathy,” I said, “it is up to you. They have got to be friends. I have argued with them. It gets me nowhere. McGonigal has been mourning that goal since April. Hagen was the last guy in the world who should have kidded him about it. You reason with him, Kathy. I have seen that haircut and that new suit, so I know you have influence with him.” 

Kathy smiled at me. “Sam,” she said. “I’ll do it. For you.”

If I hadn’t known that McGonigal had a date with her already, I think I would have had nerve enough to ask her to go to the movies with me that night. That smile made me dizzy.

“You’re a pal!” I told her, and shoved off. In the doorway I bumped into Happy Hagen.

“Hya, Sam!” he beamed, and then brushed past me. “Well, babe,” he told Kathy, “now I know why the Bearcats are in fifth place. With scenery like this in the front office, the boys can’t keep their mind on their work. How about that date I was askin’ for?”

“Why, Mr. Hagen!” smiled Kathy. And as I moved off down the corridor I wondered if maybe I wasn’t expecting too much if I counted on Kathy to iron out my griefs and cares.

We had Boston for our next home date. I came into the dressing room feeling very low, because Boston is bad medicine, and just then they were very hot. But who should I see but Hagen and McGonigal hee-hawing heartily over by the lockers, sharing the same bench and the same orange, while the rest of my lads are sitting around looking stupefied.

"... and that reminds me,” Hagen is chortling, “about a fella I knew when I was playin' for Sudbury. Right-winger by the name of Mooney Williams... "

“You say Mooney Williams?” says McGonigal.

“Yeah? You know him?”

“Do I know Mooney Williams! Why I broke in with that bird, playin’ junior out in Saskatoon. Why say, I remember once when this same Mooney Williams...” 

Chummy as a couple of horse thieves in the same cell! I went outside in the corridor and danced a little jig. I felt like doing a few cartwheels and cheering out loud.

“What a girl!” I said.

BOSTON had heard about what New York did to my prize defense. Right from the face-off they came raring in, looking for easy goals.

But it was like a runaway truck hitting a dynamite factory.

Swoosh! Hagen steers a Boston forward over to McGonigal. Bam! McGonigal smears the forward into the backboards. “Take it, Happy!” he yelps. Swish! Over goes the puck to Hagen at the blue line. Unk! McGonigal blocks out another forward and sends him skidding. Away goes Hagen on one of those wild-eyed solo rushes he’s famous for, and Boston has to race for cover. Hagen rips through for a shot and races back hollering. Boston tries again. Our forwards are feeling plenty good by now and bump them hearty at middle ice. One gets through and snaps up a long pass. Hagen and McGonigal wait him out. Hagen fakes a move to the side, and the Boston lad thinks he can sneak through. McGonigal closes in and so does Hagen. They give him the works, the old sandwich, and he takes a high dive, hits the ice looking like he’d fallen out of a balloon. My, but it was pretty to see!

Teamwork, that’s all. A defense that was clicking. And it was like that all the time they were out there in the first period. Pinky Waite, our goalie, could have brought out a book and a rocking chair and caught up on some of his reading. The Boston crew never even came close to disturbing him. And my forwards got so stirred up they got themselves a couple of goals.

“Well,” I said to myself, sitting back, “it only goes to prove that there is justice in this world after all. And after we win the Cup, it will be a shame if Kathy doesn’t get a bonus.”

In the dressing room everybody was happy. The boys were kidding each other the way they do when the breaks are coming right. The forwards were feeling fine because they didn’t have to worry about what happened if Boston did get by them once in a while. Pinky Waite was feeling good because he didn’t have to worry about anything. And over by the lockers Hagen and McGonigal were slapping each other on the back, and the Wasinski brothers were saying: “Boys, you two were almost as good as us.”

“I guess you’re right,” McGonigal was telling Hagen. “Ain’t no sense carrying grudges when two guys are on the same team. It’s like a friend of mine was telling me the night before last. It’s teamwork that counts.”

“The very words Kathy said to me last night,” grinned Hagen. “We was just coming out of the movies, and she said, ‘Happy,’ she said—”

“Huh?” blurted McGonigal, his jaw dropping a foot and a half. “Did you say Kathy?”

“Yeah! You know—that five-star smash in the front office.”

“You mean Miss O’Neill?” said McGonigal, clouding up.

I began to shake. Positively, my teeth chattered.

“Her real name is Kathy,” Hagen informed him. “Boy, what a doll! She says to me. ‘Happy, even if McGonigal didn’t score that goal last year, what does it matter? Be big. It’s the team that matters—’ ”

McGonigal let out a banshee howl. “It’s a lie! And besides, that’s my lady friend whose name you are bandying about, you crumb!”

“Now, boys,” I said, getting in the middle again, which proves that some people never learn and I am one of them.

"I think I can explain this little misunderstanding—”

Your lady friend, you dope!” bawled Hagen. “Whaddaya mean? You got a mortgage or somethin’? Is it against the law for me to take a doll to the movies if she comes along of her own free will? Have I gotta ask your okay on my dates? Is it a free country?”

“And anyhow she never said it didn’t matter if I didn’t score that goal,” raved McGonigal, fighting mad. “I did score it. Only the night before last she says to me: ‘Bing, everybody knows you scored that goal. Everybody knows you was robbed. But don’t give the big sap the satisfaction of arguin’ with him. Be big about it! she says—’ ”

“She never used such language, you clunk!”

“She said I scored that goal, you ape!”

“She didn’t.”

“She did!”

That was when McGonigal swung on him—just as I stepped between them saying, “Now, boys, let bygones be bygones!”

By the time I got up out of the corner behind the bench I fell over, and got a view of the proceedings out of my good eye, the best defense in the league was trying to batter its own brains out under the rubbing table. I thought we would have to use crowbars to pry them apart. We finally managed with hockey sticks and the help of two ushers and a cop.

As for Boston, they had a waltz. The final score was 11 to 2. Guess who won.

They shook hands afterward. I made ’em. But since when did a handshake wipe out the memory of a thick ear, or ease the pain of a poke in the snoot? When two guys are after the same girl and have a grudge against each other to start with, what do you expect? We went on a road trip, and after the first period in Chicago I saw it was no use. I split up the defenses. It made the Wasinski brothers very unhappy because they had been teamed up together from the cradle. The Chi gang beat us. So did Detroit. The Old Man was fit to be tied.

“I'm afraid, Jordan,” he hinted, “you haven't the gift of getting the best out of your players.”

Harmony? Everybody was crabbing. Our dressing room was just like old times. More sour looks than you would see in thirty days in a pickle factory.

THE MORNING after we got back off the road I went up to the office. And even out in the corridor I could hear an argument going on.

“She promised she’d come with me!” Hagen was hollering.

“It’s a lie!” bellowed McGonigal. “She promised me.”

“Please, boys, please,” Kathy was begging them. “There must be a terrible misunderstanding somewhere.”

I washed I had a shotgun. I headed into the office.

“You two bums clear out of here,” I told them. “Go find yourselves an alley and fight it out.”

They were standing in front of Kathy's desk glaring at each other as usual.

“Chief,” said Hagen, paying no attention to my polite request, “this is a social matter. Miss O’Neill and me, we’ve got a date to go to the Sportsmen’s Ball tonight and this thickheaded lug—”

“It was me she said she’d go with. This clunk—”

“But I can’t go with either of you,” said Kathy. “I’ve already got a date!”

“Break it,” said Hagen. “For me, baby!”

“But I can’t. You see, it’s with Mr. Jordan.”

I was just opening my mouth to say something when she sprung that one, and I lost my breath. A date with me! The gall of the gal!

“Hah?” said McGonigal.

“Oho!” remarked Hagen. Then he grinned at McGonigal as if he had just put over a swift one. “I guess that’ll hold you, chump,” he said, and moved out.

McGonigal just gave me a long look sideways. Then he said, “Hah!” again and moved out too.

Kathy seemed nervous. “It was all my fault, really,” she said. “I did tell Mr. Hagen I’d go to the Sportsmen’s Ball with him, but I forgot I’d already promised Mr. McGonigal.”

“You ought to get the government to give you a job as a diplomat,” I told her, sarcastic. “You’d do well. First, you're going to talk to McGonigal and fix everything up. Instead you talk to both of ’em and they want to kill each other. And now you get in a jam, and to wriggle out of it you get them both sore at me!”

“But Sam, maybe if they're both very angry at you it will give them something in common and they’ll forget to be mad at each other.”

I thought that one over. A new angle. A very bright angle indeed. Just like something a dame would think up.

“Don’t think for a minute that I want you to take me to the Sportsmen’s Ball,” she said. “I can tell them you had a sick headache at the last minute and couldn’t go.”

“What’s the matter with me taking you to the Sportsmen’s Ball?” I wanted to know. “Maybe I don’t wear plaid suits. Maybe I don’t go around cackling and grinning all the time. But I can dance just as good as those two lugs.”

“Oh, I don’t really mind going with you, Sam. After all, it’s for the good of the team. I’d go to a dance with old Willie the garbage man if I thought it would help the Bearcats.”

And before I could make up my mind about that compliment, she went on: “Besides, Sam, there isn’t much time. If the team doesn’t start winning soon, the Old Man is going to make changes. He was talking to the farm club on long distance this morning.”

“Bringing up a couple of their defense men, huh? It might help at that.”

“Bringing up a new coach was the subject,” said Kathy.

“There is no lie about the sick headache,” I said. “I’ve got it already. I will call for you at nine.”

So we went to the Sportsmen’s Ball. It was very comical to see the look on McGonigal’s pan when Kathy and I came in. And when we were hoofing briskly around the floor, I had a glimpse of Hagen scowling at me from the stag line. He looked so mad I began to think maybe Kathy had something in her idea after all.

She did not give either of them any dances. They were all promised to me, she said. And then she gave me a pat on the cheek and straightened my necktie. Anybody would have thought we was engaged. I heard one mug say: “The lucky stiff! What has he got that makes beautiful dames like that fall for him?” It made me feel very pleased, and I made up my mind I would ask Kathy for another date some time if I could figure out some way of persuading her it was for the good of the hockey club.

Hagen and McGonigal were burning up. Along about eleven o’clock, Kathy gave me a little pinch while we were waltzing merrily, and said:

“Ooh, look! The treatment is working, Sam.”

I took a quick gander, and over near the orchestra I could see the two lugs. Talking to each other.

“You are certainly a bright girl, Kathy,” I told her. “Maybe if you pat my cheek again as we go past, it will bring them closer together.”

It did.

“See what you’ve done!” I heard McGonigal holler at Hagen just as my cheek got patted. “Throwin’ herself away on a guy like that just because you wouldn’t leave her alone.”

“She’ll probably have to take in washing if she marries him. And it’ll be all your fault,” yowled Hagen.

“Oh, yeah?”

“Oh, yeah.”

And then they started swinging again. Two potted palms went over with a great clatter. They wound up in the orchestra, McGonigal had to be hauled out of the bass drum, and Hagen had to be untangled from the bull fiddle before the shindig was over. By that time somebody had turned in a riot call, and the bluecoats were galloping in the door. They took my two athletes away in the paddy-wagon.

“Never mind, Sam,” said Kathy on the way home. “It was just a bright idea that backfired.”

“It’s going to backfire me clean out of the league,” I moaned.

AND NEXT morning I knew this was no idle guess. The Old Man called me in. He talked plenty. But the big punch was in his parting words.

“You play New York tonight, Jordan. If the Bearcats lose, there will be two tickets to the farm club ready for you in the morning. One will be for you. The other will be for either Hagen or McGonigal, take your pick.”

“We’ll miss you around here, Sam,” said Kathy, when I was trudging out. It bothered me all morning, wondering if she really meant it.

I felt very low as I sat on the bench that night watching the face-off. It was just another date on the schedule so far as the fans were concerned. But it was the game of the century to me. In this racket if you muff your big chance you don’t often get invited back from the bushes again.

I looked at them and shook my head. There I had Sneezer Pouliot, one of the smartest playmakers in the league, at centre. I had Joe Carter and Hank Ridley on the wings. Better puck-carriers you couldn’t find. And Pinky Waite in goal—enough said. Happy Hagen and Waldo Wasinski on defense. On paper the only way you could beat that line-up would be to put McGonigal on rearguard instead of Wasinski.

And yet it didn’t mean a thing. The outfit just didn’t jell. It wasn’t a hockey team.

They got going. In the dressing room I had lectured them until I was hoarse, but I knew it wouldn’t do any good. Even when they struggled through the first period without letting a goal go by, I didn’t kid myself that it meant anything. When the second period ended up even-stephen at two goals apiece I felt a little better, but I knew they weren’t clicking. Just plugging along. A last-place hockey team trying hard and getting a few breaks. If they ever started to click they would look like a million dollars, but until then they would always look like thirty cents.

And so they came out for the third, and I was getting hopeful. Maybe if we took this game, the team might get rolling.

One of the New York wings came down allying. Waldo Wasinski steered him into a corner and snagged the puck.

Waldo turned fast. And then went down like he’d stubbed his toe. But he didn’t get up again. They had to carry him off.

I sat there feeling like I was in an express elevator dropping to the basement.

“Tough!” said our trainer. “His knee is shot. He's through for the night—maybe longer.”

When you see ruin staring you in the eye, you get sort of numb, so it doesn’t seem to matter so much. I couldn’t send out the other Wasinski brother to team up with Hagen, for he played the wrong side of the rink.

“All right, McGonigal,” I groaned. “Go on out and do your worst.”

“Coach,” said McGonigal, very earnest, “I'll bust my neck tryin’.”

“I don’t want you to bust your neck,” I told him. “We’ve got one cripple in the dressing room already. Stay in one piece and play hockey.”

So he went out there to team up with Hagen again. But from the looks they gave each other I gave up hopes of a miracle. That pair just naturally hated each other’s gizzard.

Down came the enemy. A pass to the wing. Centre man going through. Hagen and McGonigal tried to close in on him. But no timing. No snap to it. The forward dives through the hole and snares a pass right on the crease. He flips it home, we’re a goal down, and I know I am practically at the depot with my ticket in my hand.

After the face-off they cut loose again. Everybody in the league knew about the Hagen-McGonigal feud by this time, and the visiting boys could smell goals. They tore in over the blue line. McGonigal took his man out of the play and got the puck.

Hagen was hollering for a pass. If they had been playing like a crack defense he wouldn’t have had to holler.But McGonigal laid it down. Not clean and snappy. But a pass. And Hagen snagged it somehow.

He went down with it. And Hagen can rush, no foolin’. He sifted down the ice all flattened out like a duck taking off. He got by centre. He got over the blue line. He split the defense and fired going through.

The red light went on. Boy! What a sweet goal!

At first I wasn’t sure. I could see the puck bouncing around in the crease and I thought it must have hit the goalie’s skate. But when the light went on I knew Hagen must have pasted the old boot-heel in there so hard it flew right back out of the cage.

And then the referee skated over, picked up the puck and shook his head, he called for a face-off beside the net.

No goal!

“What?” I screamed. I was up off the bench and out on the ice yowling like I’d been stabbed. After all there is such a thing as an honest difference of opinion. But when you see as smart a goal as was ever scored, when you see the puck go right into the cage and then a blind clunk with a whistle tries to steal that goal right from under your nose—that’s different. That’s just plain murder.

There was a very noisy argument going on when I came charging into the crowd around the referee. Everybody waving their arms and talking loud. But who do you think was waving his arms the wildest and talking the loudest?

Hagen, my eye! It was McGonigal.

THE VERY same trick you pulled on me, last year!” McGonigal was howling. “It was a goal, you blind Ned!” He had his nose right up against the referee’s schnozzola and he was raving mad. “He fired that puck right into the net.”

“Yeah,” said Hagen. “A clean goal.” 

“Sure it was a clean goal,” McGonigal told him. “You’ll never score a goal that was more of a goal than that goal.” Then he went back at the referee again. “I saw it go in the net myself. Just like that goal you called back on me last year.”

“It hit the post,” said the referee.

“It did not hit the post!” bawled McGonigal. “It went in the net and bounced out again.”

The referee turned and skated away. “Scram, mug,” he said. “Scram, or I'll give you the finger.”

“Robber!” screamed McGonigal, following him. “You was a robber last spring and you’re still a robber. Blind too! It was a goal.”

Hagen stepped in and tried to haul him away. “Never mind, pal!” he said. “No use arguin’ with a guy that ain’t got any brains.”

“Yeah, but he robbed you! He can’t do this to us. Same way he robbed me last year. You remember that.”

“Sure. But we can take it, kid.” 

“Robber!” yelled McGonigal at the referee again.

So the referee wigwags him over to the penalty bench. McGonigal wanted to fight, but Hagen and the rest of us led him away. At the door of the penalty box McGonigal said to Hagen: "You wait, pal. Just wait until I get out there again. We’ll show that lug.”

“Boy, you said it! Just wait!”

It was a treat. Honestly, it was a treat to see how that pair teamed up when McGonigal got back on the ice. Both rarin’ mad and clicking like I’d always dreamed they would click. They bounced every forward that came within yards of them. And how McGonigal fed passes to Hagen at the blue line and sent him off, hollering: “Take it, Happy! G’wan up and get that goal back!”

Oh, it was lovely to watch. And when Hagen did get that goal back, and another to go along with it, you should have seen how the rest of the Bearcats snapped out of it. Why we were rolling along like the Midnight Express before the period was over. Rolling along with a two-goal lead for our first win since away back when!

I was just scrambling out into the aisle when the siren sounded to give us our 5-3 win, and someone came flying through the crowd and flung her arms around my neck. It was Kathy.

“Oh, Sam! You’ve got a hockey team! They’re clicking. They’re clicking at last.”

Hagen and McGonigal were just coming off the ice. They were looking right at us.

“Kathy!” I gurgled. “Don’t do that!”

But I didn’t need to worry. Hagen just grinned. And he dug his elbow into McGonigal’s ribs.

“And I thought I had a chance,” he said.

“So did I—once,” said McGonigal. “Congratulations, coach.”

 “Yeah,” remarked Hagen. “We get a bid to the wedding, I hope.”

So I gave Kathy a kiss. It seemed to be expected of me. A lot of people cheered. And as McGonigal clumped off down the ramp I heard him saying: “If you’re looking for a bargain in a new suit, Happy, I've got one that ought to fit you like the paper on the wall. A real snappy plaid with some green in it—”