Good Goalies Are Scarce
The spare goalie had what it takes —He proved that before the game started
BIG JOHN CASEY couldn’t, have telephoned me at a better time. I was in another of those arguments about Diving Danny Wade and if it had gone on much longer I might have got sore. I had been hearing about Diving Danny Wade all winter and it was getting so I hated the sound of his name.
This was on a Friday night. The Amerks were in town for the last game of the schedule, just playing out the string, and the game didn’t mean anything. We were in, leading the league, and all set to hit the Stanley Cup grind on Tuesday. I say “we” but that’s a laugh. A spare goalie doesn’t count for much. Anyhow, I’d gone up to call for my girl to take her to the game and that’s how we got off on Diving Danny Wade again.
Ruth’s mother had seen this piece in the paper. About Diving Danny Wade finishing up a spectacular season in the minors and coming up to town in time to watch the playoffs.
“Wade?” she said. “Isn’t he the fellow got that job Ruth wanted you to take?”
Nice old lady. Two hundred pounds, twinklyeyed and easy to get along with. She could whip up a pair of hand-knitted socks or a chocolate cake quicker’n scat. But things went over her head sometimes. She didn’t know how many times Ruth and I had talked about this Wade guy.
“He’s the fellow who got the job Big John wouldn’t let me have,” I said, and wished we could talk about something else.
Back at the start of the hockey season, when the farm club was losing games in bunches, Ruth sold me the idea of asking for a transfer.
“You were spare goalie all last season and you didn’t get into a game. It’ll be the same this year. It looks as if the Ironman is going to last forever. Better for you to be a regular with the Owls than a spare tire in the big league,” she argued. So I went to Big John Casey. This was in December.
“How about sending me down to the Owls?” I asked Big John.
Big John looked at me. Stoop shoulders. Thick white hair. Face like a wise old bulldog. Greenyblue eyes that you couldn’t read. Behind those eyes was hockey. All of it. The whole book.
“You get paid,” he said. “You get paid, Tim.” “Sure,” I said, remembering the arguments Ruth had given me to use on him. “But I’m buried with this team. I don’t get into games. Just exhibitions and practices. Suppose a spot opens up for a regular goalie somewhere else in the big league. Would another club buy me? No—they’ve never seen me work.”
Big John is a funny guy in lots of ways. He gives the orders and you do what you’re told, without asking why. This time he opened up.
“Some of the directors think it’s a waste of dough keeping a spare goalie on the payroll. They think I’m a little bugs on the subject,” he grumbled. “But I once had a goalie shot out from under me in a Stanley Cup final. And lost the Cup, because I didn’t have a good man to go in the cage. Since then I’ve never iced a team without goal insurance, see.”
“You could call me back from the Owls if you needed me.”
He shook his head.
“I might need you sudden. And anyhow,” he added, “I’ve got a rookie I want to try out with the Owls. Kid by the name of Wade.”
So I stayed with the big team. And the kid named Wade broke in with the Owls. But with a bang.
IT SAYS here,” Ruth’s old lady went on, squinting at the sports page, “that Diving Danny Wade led the minor league in shutouts this season and that—” she read it out slowly—“he is regarded as the hottest goal prospect of the year. A bigtimer in the making. A fresh, colorful lad—” “From what I’ve heard, he’s fresh enough all right,” I said.
“Don’t be mean,” said Ruth. “It isn’t like you.” I knew how she felt. All winter she’d figured that farm-club job was doing for Wade what it should have done for me. Ruth’s old lady didn’t know that Wade represented the only thing that had ever come between us. He was just another word for a feeling Ruth had—a feeling that maybe I’d never get anywhere.
“Tim,” she said, “you don’t think Big John asked Wade to come up for the series?”
“Don’t worry. If anything happens to the Ironman, don’t worry about Big John using Wade in goal. He’s just a kid.”
“I don’t see why they don’t let you and the Ironman play goal turn about,” said Ruth’s old lady. “How do they expect you to get anywhere if they don’t let you play?”
The answer to that one was that Big John and the club directors didn’t care whether I got anywhere or not. I was just insurance.
“The Ironman won’t last forever,” 1 said. “I’ll be regular goalie next season maybe.”
I could have said that
“maybe” real loud. Good goalies are scarce, but they don’t wear out quick. Ironman Harry Hirsch was a good one.
“It makes me mad when I see Wade’s name in the papers,” Ruth flared up. Tiny, with dark eyes. The gentle sort, but spirited and pretty. The kind that don’t get mad easy, but when they do— ! ‘ ‘All the fans know about him, but nobody ever hears about you. And you’re better than any goalie in the league. In the world !”
“Maybe Wade gets minor league write-ups. I get big-league pay.”
“But he got playing this winter. Oh, Tim, why didn’t you make Big John send you to the Owls. Instead, you do just as you’re told. You let them push you around—”
“Nobody’s pushing me around.”
“If you don’t know it,” Ruth said, “it’s time you woke up.”
And then the look on my face stopped her because she gave my arm a squeeze and said she didn’t mean it that way. I said it was all right. But it wasn’t all right and we both knew it.
“Just the same,” said Ruth’s old lady, “what with these Stanley Cup games next week I don’t think it would do any harm if you went to Mr. Casey and politely asked him to let you play goal. The experience would do you good.”
That was when the telephone rang. It was for me. Big John.
He said, “I thought I’d find you there. Come down here quick.”
My heart gave a jump. Not that I ever wanted anything to happen to the Ironman. We’d been pals a long time. But that was the only way I’d ever get a break, it seemed, and now—
“The Ironman isn’t feeling good,” said Big John. “You work tonight.”
So there it was. A break. Not much of a break, but maybe bigger than it looked. The Ironman had been looking sort of grey lately. He’d been figuring on having to check into hospital for a little snipping and slicing after the season was over. Appendix. If it had sneaked up on him quicker than he had planned—
“Why, my goodness, they may have to use you for the whole Stanley Cup series!” Ruth said when I told her.
“I’m not going to think about that,” I said. “Get your coat. We’ve got to get on our horse.”
We hustled down to the rink in my old coupe. The asphalt was shining with rain. All the way down, scooting along in the heavy night traffic, Ruth was as excited as a kid on the way to the circus. She was wearing a new hat, a red felt that made her eyes look brighter and her cheeks pinker. A swell-looking kid. At the stop lights I’d see fellows glancing at her from other cars and it made
me feel proud. Swell-looking. Happy. And just as swell as she looked.
“Oh, Tim, Tim,” she told me, “I’m sorry for what I said back there at the house. But I want you to get a break. Because it’s coming to you, Tim. You’ve waited so darn long for a chance. And if the Ironman can’t play the series—”
“Don’t figure on that, kid,” I said. “Don’t figure on it.” I didn’t dare figure on it. You get built up on these things and then when they don’t pan out the disappointment is worse than ever.
“I will figure on it!” she laughed. “I’m sorry for the Ironman, Tim, and I know you are too. But something tells me you’re going to play the series. I just know it, somehow. Oh, Tim, you’ll stand ’em on their heads.”
I edged the coupe through the usual hockey-night traffic jam around the arena. Cars honking, men in the parking lots yelling, crowds of people streaming all in the one direction, street cars clanging, mounted cops on patrol under the lights. When you’re on a big-time team, even if you’re only a spare goalie, it makes you feel pretty good to know you’re part of that picture. Hockey. The real McCoy. The big stuff. As I swung into the lot behind the arena Ruth pressed my hand tight. And when I stopped the car she turned to me all of a sudden and pressed her little gloved hands against my face and pulled my head down and kissed me.
“That’s for luck, Tim,” she smiled up at me, her voice trembling a little. “For luck, darling.”
BIG JOHN and some of the boys were in the dressing room when I came in. Big John came over, grinning at me, and slapped me on the shoulder.
“Goal insurance,” he grunted. “You shouldn’t have any trouble with these babies tonight.”
“How’s the Ironman?” I said. “What’s the trouble?”
Big John shrugged.
“He had a pain. They took him over to hospital tonight for observation. It may pass off. Maybe he’ll be all right in a day or so. They won’t operate unless they have to. Get into your gear, Tim.”
I took off my shoes, peeled off my shirt. The dressing room began to fill up. The place smelt good. It smelt of steam heat and wintergreen and leather. The fellows kidded each other as they got dressed. It was all easy and natural and familiarnobody was bothering much about the game because it was the last on the schedule and figured to be a pushover anyway— but I felt tight inside. Keyed up. After all, it was a break. And from Big John’s talk about hospital and operation for the Ironman, maybe the big break. I couldn’t take that in my stride. Some of the fellows kidded me about it.
“What did you do to the Ironman?” said Moose Enright. “Slipped a little something in his coffee,
“They tell me the front office sent down an adding machine to keep track of tonight’s score,” chipped in another wise apple. I kidded them right back and felt easier. If it turned out that I got into the Stanley Cup games maybe it was just as well I got this game under my belt. The boys would know I was good enough to take over for the Ironman.
I heard somebody sounding off over near the door when I was pulling my sweater over my head. A shrill, kid’s voice:
“Well, that’s why I came around, Mr. Casey! Somebody told me the Ironman was in hospital so I figured maybe you’d like to have me on hand. Sort of an ace in the hole!”
I poked my head through the collar of the sweater. I recognized him right away. From his pictures. A snubnosed little guy with a round face. A pink face. A kid’s face. Not very big, but he looked bigger, the way he strutted with his chest out and his thumbs in his vest. He was wearing one of those Hollywood coats, and a bow tie, and he had a goofy little hat perched on the back of his head. Yep — Diving Danny Wade himself.
“I was taking in the game anyhow,” he was chirping to Big John, “and when they told me about the Ironman, well sir, I just about bust a leg getting down here. Yowsa!”
“Oh-oh! The Boy Wonder,” said Moose Enright in my ear.
Big John Casey looked the kid over.
“Thanks, son,” he mumbled. “Nice of you to think of us. But Tim Shannon still has his health.”
“That’s swell. Swell!” chirped young Wade. Then
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he spotted me and came over, stuck out his paw.
“You’re Shannon, huh? Glad to know you, fella. I’m Wade. You’ve heard of me, I guess.” “Who hasn’t?” I said.
“Heh? Who hasn’t?” The kid stared at me and then he snickered. “Who hasn’t? That’s good. I guess you’re right, boy. If I do say it myself I guess I did pretty good for a beginner this seasom— yowsa! Just wait till I get into this man’s league. I’ll show you boys plenty.”
“When?” said Moose Enright.
“It won’t be long. It won’t be long now—I’m tellin’ you. I’ll shut ’em out just like I shut out those bush league farmers. Yowsa, boys, just wait and see.”
Then he slapped me on the back.
“Couldn’t fix it to stop one with your pan tonight, could you, Tim? I’m rarin’ to go. Yowsa, I’m right here ready to take over any old time at all.”
“It sure was mighty good of you to come around,” I told him. But it went away over his head.
“That’s all right,” chirped Diving Danny Wade. “You’d do the same for me. Yowsa !”
IT WAS good to be out there in the cage, out there under the lights, with the crowd roaring and the loud-speakers booming—out there in a real game. Most of my goalkeeping in the last couple of seasons had been in the daytime, in the workouts, with nobody watching but the railbirds. I felt swell. It was kind of nice, too, when a couple of flash bulbs popped off just before the game was called, and I saw Sport-shot Sammy getting a picture of me. It meant I belonged. And when I looked up at the blue seats, ninth row back above the press box I could see Ruth sitting there and she waved. The seat beside her was empty; that was my seat.
Yes, it felt mighty good to be out there in a real game again. Even playing the Amerks in a tail-end go that didn’t mean anything. The loud-speakers boomed out “God Save the King,” with the crowd all standing and the players standing there on the ice all straight and still. That’s the minute that always gets me—all the life and movement in the big arena frozen like a movie that’s come to a stop, while the music rolls slow and solemn out over the silent people and up to the flags and pennants in the girders, and then the music dies away and a big cheer goes up and everything breaks into motion again.
It was a loose game; there weren’t any chips down and our boys were saving themselves for the Cup series. A couple of Amerk forwards got in on top of me in the first three minutes and with a little luck they would have beaten me on a rebound. But the luck was mine and the puck ticked off the toe of my skate when I was lying in the crease. The crowd thought it looked like I’d meant it that way and gave me a good hand. I began to get warmed up.
Moose Enright got himself a goal at eight minutes. I had a couple of long ones to block and then had to jump fast for a while when we drew a penalty and the Amerks ganged. A forward got in the clear and came in but I gave him a hole to shoot at and he fell for it. The crowd gave me another hand when I caughtöt and flicked it back into the corner.
Everything was going good. I was sharp as I’d ever been, playing^long nice and easy, the second hand of the big clbck was ticking along and the minute hand showed we’d gone about twelve, there was a face-off inside our blue line, and I was crowding the side of the cage when the puck dropped. I saw it flick around for a few seconds and then an Amerk got it and let drive in his stride.
I pulled over to cover the open side and I could see that puck coming a mile a minute, right at me, getting bigger and bigger, and I flung up my glove and—bam !
That’s all. Just one of those things. I forgot to duck, I guess. The puck hit me like a big black bullet and the lights and the uniforms and the ice and the crowd all blew up at once.
I was lying in the dressing room with Big John
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Good Goalies Are Scarce
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and the club doctor bending over me.
I had a head like a balloon and I couldn’t see out of my left eye.
“I’m okay,” I told Big John as soon as I could talk. “I’ll go in again.”
“Huh, boy, you’re through for the night,” Big John growled. “Lucky you didn’t get a fractured skull. Lucky you didn’t lose that eye.”
When you stop one with your pan you should go right back in again. If you get thinking about it you’re liable to go puck shy. I told them that. But the doctor said nothing doing. He had to do some hemstitching and told me to stay quiet.
“You’ve been out for ten minutes,” said Big John. “I had to send that kid in.”
“They’ll score on him plenty, but maybe it’ll take some of the conceit out of him.” Big John sat down on a bench and groaned. “Here I’ve got a one-eyed goalie, the Ironman in hospital and the series starts Tuesday. Everything happens to me.”
Ruth drove me home. She’d been waiting in the corridor and hadn’t seen any more of the game, but the score was 4—0 against the Amerks halfway through the third so I knew Diving Danny Wade wasn’t being scored on plenty. When Ruth saw my eye all covered up she started to cry.
“It’s okay,” I told her. “Just a black eye and a bit of a cut. It isn’t bad.”
“But Tim—now you won’t be able to play—oh, Tim, it’s such an awful break. You don’t deserve it.”
“You mean the series? What gives you the idea I won’t be able to play? If the Ironman isn’t back I’ll be in there.”
“But your eye—”
“The doc says it’ll be as good as ever by Tuesday.” It wasn’t much of a lie, and anyhow I didn’t want her to feel bad. I figured the eye would be okay, even if the doc hadn’t said so.
When we got home the radio said the final score was 6—0. A shutout for Diving Danny Wade. The radio said the kid had been sensational. That’s when I began worrying.
“Look,” Ruth said, “you’re not going to let him freeze you out. If ! Big John uses that eye as an excuse ! for not playing you, Tim, you’ve got to stand up for your rights.”
“Don’t worry about me, kid,” I told her. “So long as my eye is all right, Wade hasn’t a chance. And anyhow, the Ironman may be back.”
NEXT morning Big John came around to my rooming house j before I was up. He wanted to know how my eye was feeling. I told him it , felt swell. As a matter of fact it had j tightened up, I couldn’t see out ot it ! at all and the stitches hurt like | blazes. Big John let on he believed me.
“How did the kid make out? I hear he shut ’em out,” I said.
Big John nodded slowly. “The kid made out real good,” he said. | “Real good. He’s a goalkeeper, for all his fresh talk.”
“How’s the Ironman?”
Big John rubbed his chin.
“They operated on the Ironman | first thing this morning. Took out j his appendix. He’s going to be all j right.”
“Holy smoke!” I said. “That j means you’re going to need me for the series.”
Big John looked at me.
“I don’t want to send in a one-eyed goalie.”
“I’ll be ready.”
“I hope so,” Big John said. “I sure hope so.”
But I got the idea he doubted it a lot.
It wasn’t until I saw the papers that I realized just how hot Diving Danny Wade had been. The sports pages went overboard;
“. . . definitely established himself as a coming star,” said one. And another one said: “For a while last
night it looked as if Big John Casey had a large goal headache on the very eve of the Stanley Cup series. But the spectacular debut of rookie Diving Danny Wade should have set his worries at rest. Wade is good enough for any man’s major league team right now ...”
That cheered me up plenty.
I went around to see Ruth that night and she was worrying about the stuff in the papers. One of the afternoon sheets came out flat and said I wouldn’t be playing in the series. Partly on account of the eye, but mostly because Diving Danny Wade had more stuff.
“That’s just newspaper bunk,” I told her.
“Why don’t you call up Big John and ask him?”
“I saw him this morning. He said it all depends on the eye.”
“Isn’t the eye going to be all right?”
“Sure. I can see out of it now. By Tuesday it’ll be perfect.”
Ruth looked at me. I’d seen that look once before, when I told her Big John wasn’t going to send me to the farm club.
“Tim,” she said, “this is really your big chance, isn’t it? You’ve waited for it long enough.”
“I’ve sure waited.”
“But Tim, you’ve got to go after things in this world. You can’t just sit around waiting for them to fall in your lap. You’ve got to fight for what you want.”
“But there’s nothing to fight for, honey. I’ve got Big John’s word for it. He’ll play me.”
“According to the newspapers he’s pretty impressed by young Wade. What if he just uses your eye as an excuse to play Wade and leave you on the shelf?”
“He won’t do that.”
“I’m not so sure. And if you don’t speak up, push yourself forward, well, somebody else, somebody who sees what he wants and goes right after it —he’s liable to beat you to it.”
She meant Diving Danny Wade. “I’ll trust Big John to do the right thing. When he sees me in workout Monday he’ll know I’m all right.” Ruth sighed as if she was choking down something she’d like to say but thought she’d better not. It wasn’t one of those evenings you like to remember. I went home early.
The eye was a lot better next day. By Monday morning I could see good. Not perfect, but pretty good.
I went around to the arena at about eleven o’clock to see if Big John wanted me to go in for the noon workout. He squinted at the eye. So did the doctor. They talked for a minute and Big John said:
“You’d better sit it out today, Tim.”
I took a big breath.
“Let’s have it, chief,” I said. “You figure on using Wade for the series?” “I don’t think you’d better count on playing the first game, Tim.”
So that was it. If Wade made good in the first game he’d play the second. And the next. Big John was letting me down easy.
“I could play right now,” I said. “The eye is all right.”
Big John shook his head. So I shut up. When Big John makes up his mind arguing doesn’t get you
anywhere. But I felt pretty sick. I watched Diving Danny Wade do his stuff in workout that morning and I had to admit he was good.
HDHERE must have been a thou-Rsand rail birds on hand. The old Stanley Cup fever gets them. It had the whole city by the ears. A few of the railbirds recognized me—not many. Some of them said: “Tough luck, Tim.” They all took it for granted I was washed up. I could tell that.
They thought Diving Danny Wade was hot stuff. Some of them even thought he was better than the Ironman, which showed their ignorance. I watched him and tried to be fair. The kid was fast, flashy and quick—no foolin’. The fans would go big for his styleas long as he kept the puck out. But there were a lot of things he had to learn. Little things that come only with experience. I knew, honestly, that I was a better man in goal than Diving Danny Wade. But I knew, too, that Big John thought he was doing the right thing. He figured it was too big a chance to take -using me if my eye wasn’t right. And with a guy like Wade to use in my place why should he take chances? I could see Big John’s side of it. But the tough break for me would come when Wade made good in the opening game. He’d be there to stay.
Somebody squeezed in beside me. It was Ruth. She often came over from the office where she worked, to watch the noon practice when the team was in town. I felt choked up when I saw her—like I always choked up. She had been hurrying and her face was a little flushed and her eyes were bright.
“Too bad you came all the way over here for nothing,” I said.
She looked out across the ice at Diving Danny Wade booting out a low one.
“I know,” Ruth said quietly. “It was in the paper.” And then, “Aren’t you going to do something about it?” “About what?”
“About not playing tomorrow night.”
I couldn’t fool her any longer. She knew. She had the noon edition folded at the sport section, and 1 can remember her little gloved finger pointing out the headline:
WADE MAKES GRADE ROOKIE GETS CALL FOR SERIES OPENER
Big John Casey won’t announce the line-up until game time, but when Diving Danny Wade starts in goal tomorrow night for the Caseymen, don’t say we didn’t tell you. Wade will definitely play goal in the Stanley Cup opener and this will be good news to the fans who witnessed his brilliant performance against the Amerks . . .
“What are you going to do about it, Tim?”
“Nothing,” I said after a while. “I guess there isn’t anything I can do about it.”
Then we didn’t say anything more, just watched the workout until it was over. I hardly saw it. My heart seemed to be hammering me to pieces
inside; because I knew Ruth and I were coming to a showdown that had been getting closer and closer all winter; the sort of showdown that might finish everything.
“Tim,” she said at last. “Your eye is all right, isn’t it? You could play tomorrow night?”
“Listen, Tim.” Ruth was looking right, at me and talking fast, her voice trembling a little as if she was faghting to keep it steady. “You’ve taken a back seat to the Ironman for two years. You let Casey talk you out of it when you wanted to go to the Owls. Now you’re going to let them shove you aside again. For a nookie. For a fresh kid w'ho isn’t good enough to carry your skates.”
“He’s pretty good, Ruth,” I said. “He’s a goalie.”
“And what are you? Listen, Tim.
If you’re not going to stand up for yourself, if you don’t go to Big John and tell him flat that you’re not going to be pushed around all your life—”
A BIG glove whacked me in the IM. back and a chirpy voice piped up behind me: “H’ya, boy? How’d you like that workout, huh?”
Diving Danny Wade was grinning up at us from the other side of the rail. I had to introduce him to Ruth.
“I figured you must be Tim’s girl friend,” he told her. “When I saw you I said to myself, that’s no ordinary railbird. I hope you wasn’t too disappointed when you saw me playin’ goal for him?”
Ruth managed a smile somehow. “It’s just a practice.”
“I hope you don’t figure I’m trying to steal his job,” Wade went on, talking to Ruth as if I wasn’t there at all, but without looking at her. “It’s all been a sort of an accident so far.” Then he looked up at me. “There’s been talk of them playing me tomorrow night. Well—what I want to say is I don’t like it. It isn’t fair. After all, you’ve been with this team a long while—”
His voice trailed off; he began rubbing the rail with the thumb of his glove.
“You’re right,” Ruth said. “It isn’t fair. It isn’t fair at all.”
“I don’t want it that way, see,” muttered the kid. “I was glad enough to go in the other night when you were hurt. But this morning— well, gosh—what’s coming off here, I said. I’m pushing Tim Shannon out of a job, I said—”
“Don’t worry. It takes a bigger man,” I snapped.
“So I’m going to see Big John. I’ll tell him I don’t want to go in tomorrow night. I’ll tell him I’m sick or something.”
Was I sore! It made me burn, this punk being sorry for me.
“Mind your own business,” I told him. “I don’t want any favors. Especially from you. If I play it’ll be because Big John wants me. Because he knows I’m a goalie, a better goalie than you—and not because you got noble and asked him to give me a break !”
He went pretty white and just stared at me, opened his mouth as if he was going to say something, and then he turned from the rail and skated away. He looked like a kicked pup.
“The louse!” I said. “The condescending little louse.”
“I think it was darned decent of him.”
“But he offered to put in a word for me—to let me play goal—because he’s sorry for me!”
“You want to play, don’t you? There was your chance. But just j because you were proud, you wouldn’t ¡ take it. If you’re going to be like that all your life, Tim—”
She turned away from me quick ; and walked off. She was nearly j crying. I trailed after her. “Big ! John’s doing what he thinks best. ! And anyhow, you wouldn’t want j me to take favors from that kid. j You’d despise me for it. I’d despise I myself.”
She wouldn’t argue. Outside the arena she just flung me a quick j “good-by” over her shoulder and ran for a street car.
And as I stood there and watched her go I knew she thought I was a flop, an easy-going pushover who’d never get anywhere, and that we were through. I began to wonder if she was right. Maybe Big John was giving me a run-around.
THERE was a huge mob around the arena when I came down next night. The rush seat linë-up was a block long. The parking lots were crowding up fast. All day, all over town, people had been talking hockey. And when you got near the rink you could feel the tension in the air. Stanley Cup tension. It wasn’t just an ordinary hockey night. You could feel that. This was the big stuff. And I wasn’t part of it.
I went down to the dressing room.
It was pretty quiet there. Except for Diving Danny Wade. He was doing a lot of talking. The rest of the boys were on edge, keyed up and jumpy. The pressure was on. You play all season, shooting for that playoff spot, with the old silver mug away off over the hill, and then finally you get up there and the Cup is in sight. And all the. hockey you’ve ever played doesn’t mean anything any more. Nothing counts but the series and you know the chips are down, one little slip can blow a game, one game can blow the series. Yes, the boys were quiet. But Diving Danny Wade was capering around in his underwear, chattering loud —
“Yowsa, boys, they’ll have to tie me up and throw me out in the alley j before they get a puck behind me ! tonight, so help me. My ma will sure j be a disappointed lady if we don’t j beat them Bruins.”
Big John came over and asked about my eye. I told him it was fine. He said: “Oh, yeah? A couple more days rest won’t hurt it.”
He was just letting me down easy. Maybe if Wade fell down on the job he’d have to use me later on.
“Don’t believe all you see in the papers,” Big John said, and slapped me on the back. “I’m counting on you, Tim.”
The old malarkey. If Wade made good he’d be in the series to stay. I let on I believed him. I went around j kidding the fellows, but it wasn’t j easy. I’d called up Ruth the night j before. Her old lady said she’d gone to the movies. I’d called her up at supper time to ask if she wanted
to go to the game. She said she didn't want to see it if 1 wasn’t playing. So I was feeling low, and it was hard to cover up.
After a while I went out to watch the Bruins warming up. The arena was jammed to the roof. Fourteen thousand fans. And behind them all the thousands of fans who’d be listening at radios in homes and lunchrooms and juke joints and cigar stores all over the city, and in farmhouses and general stores all over the country. The thoughts of thousands and thousands of people all centring down on that sheet of ice and what was going to happen there. Big stuff all right. Makes you feel pretty good when you’re part of it. I looked up at the blues. Those two empty seats — I’d sent a boy up to Ruth’s with the tickets in case she wanted to bring her ma—those two seats stood out, and made me feel worse than ever.
The team came out to limber up. I leaned on the rail and watched Diving Danny Wade stopping practise shots.
Something caught my eye. I began to notice things about Diving Danny Wade out there in the cage. Just little things. But I knew what they meant.
Maybe he was all right when they threw him in sudden against the Amerks. But this was different. This was the big stuff. The old pressure was bearing down harder every I minute. And it had him.
I knew the signs. I could tell by I his face. I could tell by the way he ! held his stick. I could tell by those quick looks he sneaked at the crowd. He was running a pretty good bluff, but it didn’t fool me.
Danny Wade was going to blow, j Higher than a kite.
I didn’t take my eyes off him until the warm-up was nearly over. When he used pad trouble as an excuse and left the ice, I tagged along to the dressing room.
I could almost hear the kid’s heart pounding. He had taken off his gloves—his fists were clenched, the knuckles were white. .His mouth was strained. It all added up. He looked frozen.
COME HERE,” I said. I led him into the little room at the side. When he clumped in behind me I kicked the door shut and leaned against it. I folded my arms and gave him a long slow once-over. "What’s the idea?” he said.
But he couldn’t keep the tremble out of his voice.
"How do you feel, kid?”
He tried to crack a grin. It was pretty sad. "How do I feel? Never better. Yowsa, pal, I never did feci better. I’m just itchin’ to get out there and show ’em—”
Then his voice went. I could see right through him, right inside him, and he knew it. His forehead was shiny with sweat, his round, kid’s face was grey, his chin jittered. "Gonna get me a shutout tonight, Tim. Gonna get me a—”
His voice was husky. It cracked. I could see him break. He shook as if he had a chill. His teeth chattered. Then he managed:
"Tim — I — can’t kid you — I’m scared.”
"I figured you were.”
"That game the other night—it wasn’t so bad,” he muttered jerkily. “But out there now, Tim—I could hardly stand up in the goal. It’s got me down—all those people—this is different—good gosh, Tim, this is a playoff. And I’m gonna flop sure—I know it, Tim—”
He was beginning to babble now. His fingers grabbed at my sleeve.
"Tim—you put on the pads— there’s time yet—I’ll be terrible—a baby could score on me—you take over, Tim—”
I knew him now. Just a kid. A scared kid.
Scared all along. That loud, cocky, wise-cracking fresh brat hadn’t been young Wade at all. All that smart talk, all that brassy confidence had been nothing more than a kid’s way of covering up his own shakiness. Just a rookie pitchforked into fast company, scared to death, talking loud to keep his teeth from chattering.
"I didn’t ask Big John to send me in,” he was saying. “Let me tell him now, huh—let me tell him you’ll play.”
Well, it’s your job isn’t it, I told myself. You’ve had two years of being a spare tire and here you are. Handed to you right on a platter. Here’s this kid begging you to take over. You know you’re a better goalie. And if he goes out there in the shape he’s in he’ll blow higher than a kite. It’s your duty to take him up on this. And how about Ruth? You’re washed up with her if you don’t get into this series, and you know it. Here’s your break. Grab it. If Ruth ever knew you passed it up . . .
I unfolded my arms and slapped Diving Danny Wade’s face. I slapped hard.
"You yellow punk!” I told him. "Call yourself a goalie! Getting the wind up just when you’re needed !”
I slapped him again.
"You know my eye isn’t right yet. Yet you want to lie down and send me out there to be the goat.”
He just stared at me, stunned, with his mouth half-open, and his cheeks red from the slaps.
"You cheap little rat, with your big talk,” I told him. "I knew there was something wrong with you. You’ve got everything a goalie needs, except guts. You, a goalie! Why you white-livered pup, I wouldn’t go in the cage tonight to save you from being shown up for the bluff you are—”
Then I saw what I was looking for. What I’d been trying for. His eyes weren’t scared any more. They were mad.
"Slap me, would you?” he yelled, and swung at me.
I ducked under it, got my head down and grabbed him, locked the kid’s arms. "Calll me yellow, huh?” he was gasping. We banged into the wall. He wanted to beat my head off. Then somebody pushed the door open and Wade was still trying to get a free swing at me when Big John grabbed him and pushed him out through the dressing room.
"Out on the ice!” bawled Big John. "Get going.” He picked up Wade’s goal stick and shoved it into his hand. "Get moving.”
It was all pretty quick. Big John
and I went out together. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye and said:
“What goes on?”
“The kid had the jitters. I was afraid he’d blow.”
"He’s got no jitters now. He’s mad. What did you do to him?”
"I made him mad.”
Big John looked at me again. "Why?”
I shrugged. "He’s a good goalie. Anyhow, he will be. Good goalies are scarce.”
“I’m still askin’ why.”
“He wanted me to take over. That’s no good. If he let it lick him this time he’d never be any good again.”
Big John nodded, thoughtful.
"And if he went out there jittery and blew up in front of all those people,” I told him, “it would finish him. He’d never forget it. He’d never live it down. He’d be washed up before he got started.”
WE WENT down the corridor.
The players were lining up. We saw Diving Danny Wade swinging into the cage. He still looked mad. He wasn’t thinking about the crowd or about the Stanley Cup or anything else but me and what a heel I was.
Big John cleared his throat. “Using the kid out there tonight is a gamble, see. A big gamble. I thought about it a long time. But I didn’t want to take a chance on that eye of yours. If it got opened up again we’d be sunk. We’d have nobody but the kid for the rest of the series.”
“Didn’t you figure on him for the series?”
"Don’t be a sap,” grunted Big John. "He’s two years from the big time yet. But I’d rather gamble on him and drop the first game than win it and risk you hurting that eye again.”
We watched the kid stop a few last-minute shots. No jitters there. He looked savage.
"The Ironman is hanging up his skates,” Big John said. "You go in regular next season. And you work the rest of the series, like I said. I wanted your eye to have that extra couple of days.”
I looked up at the blues. I wanted to tell Ruth right away. And then I remembered the two empty seats. But they weren’t empty now. Just one of them. Ruth was in the other.
"You know,” Big John said, “with a little luck, we might just take this one tonight. I’m gamblin’ anyhow. If the kid doesn’t blow—”
"He won’t blow,” I said. Then I caught Ruth’s eye, and I wigwagged to her and headed up the aisle to tell her. I knew it would make her feel pretty good.
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