FICTION

SPARK PLUG

The story of Eddie and Maureen . . . of how they discovered that a hockey team without a spark plug is like a violin without a bow

CLARK LEWIS February 1 1945
FICTION

SPARK PLUG

The story of Eddie and Maureen . . . of how they discovered that a hockey team without a spark plug is like a violin without a bow

CLARK LEWIS February 1 1945

SPARK PLUG

FICTION

CLARK LEWIS

The story of Eddie and Maureen . . . of how they discovered that a hockey team without a spark plug is like a violin without a bow

DANNY was a big man with large gentle hands. He spread his fingers wide in an expressive gesture. His half-smile was a little grim. When he spoke he brought the words out softly and slowly, so that somehow you remembered them for a long time.

“A spark plug could be anybody, Snips. Often he’s a nobody. But he has the ability to give a team a certain driving force. He’s a digger, a fighter. When he is there the discouraged ones, the temperamental, the lame and the halt, they rise up and follow him, you’re on the glory road, you can feel it. A team without a spark plug is like a violin without a bow.” Danny gestured toward the ice. “Well, there’s our violin.”

“Page Stradivarius,” 1 responded, gloomily, because I had my troubles too.

A cloud of snow, the crash of sticks and skates, with several lusty curses, blossomed around us. The boards shook with the tangled melee of bodies. A broken stick blade zipped past Danny’s ruddy face.

“They’re willing,” observed Danny. “They’re good boys.”

“Willing—but unable,” I snorted. “Look at ’em! Man, they don’t know how to take care of themselves! I’ll be the busiest trainer in all Canada this season. Those guys will be getting dislocated shoulders and skate cuts and Charley horses galore. But I don’t mind the work so much. It’s the equipment. The Montreal Dukes, now, they have the real Pasteur. What have we got? Maybe a half-slug of mercurochrome, and weak stuff at that. I tell you, Danny, we gotta have a baking machine!”

“Yeah, yeah.” Danny looked at me wryly. “I need a spark plug. You need a baking machine. And this town of Soissy needs a winning team this year or the Quebec League throws it out for keeps. Have you seen Aladdin’s lamp around recently?”

Well, the spark and the baker hurt us, all right, but what really hit hard was the prospect of Soissy losing its League entry. We knew what that meant to the fans. Six heartbreaking years with Les Alouettes, always the last-place team, and still they stuck.

Fans like Donat Lacroix, the feed man, Etienne, who owned the movie house, Charlebois, the undertaker—every year they came up with a couple of precious hundred each. Schoolkids saved their nickels and dimes. Picnics, raffles, Bingo gamesall year round the town dug deep to fill the tattered sock. Next to political elections and Sunday Mass and large families, hockey was all the life of Soissy.

Sure, the Quebec League was amateur. But just between you and me and the country, the Alouettes couldn’t afford players’ expenses, like the Montreal Dukes, for instance. The Dukes were always the boys to beat. They had the backing—bankers, industrialists. They had the equipment and a million potential customers. They brought stars from the West and drew the pick of the country’s junior crop. Sometimes the pros took a whole line from them in midseason. That’s how good the Dukes were.

A scuffling of feet sounded behind us. Danny turned. “Okay. What is it, son?”

The boy eased his duffel bag and stick against the rink railing. He was a tall boy, lean, with a summer’s tan still on his face. He had unruly taffy hair and a quick, eager smile. He was wearing a red Grenfell that had a lot of crests on it. From the crisp line of his jaw to the awkward strength of his wrists he looked like a hockey player.

“Mr. Flood, I heard you could use a centre,” the boy said, earnestly.

There wasn’t a doubt about that. Danny had two lines reasonably well-filled but the rookie third was a Chinese puzzle. Still, Danny studied the boy for a long time. Wartime hockey had been full of these kids. They were enthusiastic. They were vulnerable. Danny said, “How old are you, son?”

The boy squared his shoulders. “I’m 20.

“Mmm. What’s your name?”

“Cressinger, sir. Ted Cressinger.”

Danny shook hands gravely, as though he had heard a lot of the boy. “Where’ve you played?”

The boy flushed. “I’ve only played school hockey, back home in Ottawa. I’ve been in the Navy. I was discharged last month—my ear. My father sent me to you.”

“Why?” queried Danny.

The boy continued with dogged stiffness. “I really didn’t want to come to Soissy. You may as well know that.”

Danny pursed his lips. “You’re Ed Cressinger’s boy, aren’t you?”

“Yes. My father said he knows you well.”

“Go on.”

“Dad said I needed another year, senior, before I tried for pro, Mr. Flood. He said you were the finest coach in Canada for—for young fellows like me. He said he was glad you needed a centre. He told me this would probably be your last year at this job and he wanted me to get the benefit of your experience. That’s all.”

Danny nodded. “I see. Well, I certainly hope this is my last year here.”

NO, YOU didn’t ask Danny questions like that.

He’d tell you only when he felt ready. But despite the surprise I felt at hearing Danny say this would be his parting season, I knew he wasn’t pointing for the pros, the National Hockey League. He could have coached a team up there long ago. Only with Danny, all the money, the fame and the authority that would go with the NHL came secondary.

I knew Danny felt that the real life blood of hockey welled in the little towns across Canada, in the corner-lot tykes who needed teachers, good teachers, in their important formative beginning. That was the kind of man Danny was. And Soissy loved him. If Danny wanted this to be his last year, I knew Soissy would try to understand.

Danny said, ,“Did you promise your father you’d get the job?”

“No, sir. I said I'd try.”

Danny’s big, homely face broke into a smile then.

“All right, son. I’d like to talk to you about your Dad, later, when there’s time. Right now you’ll have to jump to it to make this practice.”

The boy headed for the dressing room, quickly. You could tell he liked the game a lot.

I riffled the towels on my arm. I sighed. “Here we go again! Last week it was Eddie Lapointe.”

Danny grunted. He knew how I felt about Eddie. We faced the ice surface again. I grinned a little. You couldn’t miss Eddie. He stood out like an iodined finger. He was a runty, thin young man wearing a battered helmet.

Eddie was a veteran of the Sicilian campaign. He had arrived in Soissy one day, like a happy warrioi entering a conquered town, driving a dusty car, brimful of laughter and confidence. Within a week he had established himself as something of a local character, with a group of admiring children always dogging his heels. He did wood carvings and flew kites for them. At the neighborhood tavern he proved a fascinating storyteller, people listened when he talked about world events. But he rarely mentioned his part in the war. He’d switch to a lilting habitant chanson when you quizzed him too closely.

He was far and away a better clown than a hockey player.

We forgot about him when a soft voice made mfusic behind us. “Heavens, I’m late! How is the practice going, father?”

Maureen Flood was a tiny blond girl with a wide mouth and a warm sort of poise. The only trouble to my mind was that she was too quiet. She never laughed out loud. I don’t know why.

I did know she was a McGill grad, did secretarial work for the CBC, played the piano beautifully, and knew almost as much about hockey as Danny did.

She didn’t seem to care for Soissy. She came in from her minute Montreal apartment for week ends only. That hurt Danny. She was his only daughter, his everything really, for Danny’s wife had gone out when Maureen came in. Danny always tried to see things Maureen’s way.

She smiled at me. She had a smile for everyone. “Any new men,

Snips?”

“Could be,” I said, cautiously. “Meanwhile the circus is yours.”

Eddie Lapointe must have been waiting for her. He skated right alongside. Hemurmured something in soft French that made Maureen color delightfully. He added, “You will come to see us play in Montreal, yes?”

He wore confidence like a banner. He didn’t have the job. In fact I had felt all along that this was one time Danny had made a mistake in giving the trial. This character Eddie couldn’t skate.

He couldn’t shoot. And he was too small even if he could.

Eddie Lapointe had an infectious grin. He spoke English with careful precision, spacing his words so that somehow you grew to wait for them. “You do not like me, Snips?”

I protested. “Now look. I didn’tsay that.”

Eddie leaned lightly on the butt end of his stick. “It is all right,

Snips. I know you are

thinking only of the team. That is best. That is the way it should be.”

“Check,” I agreed. “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

I didn’t want to talk to him like that. He affected you in a brotherly way, sort of, with his engaging cocksureness. But the sooner he gave up thinking of making the team and seeing more of Maureen Flood the better for him. How could he make Maureen’s league?

He kept smiling, his dark eyes bright in his thin face. “Shakespeare was a wise man, I agree, Snips.” Then he looked at Maureen and spoke slowly in his thoughtful English. “There is another quotation. My favorite: ‘To say good-by is to die a little.’ You like that, Mademoiselle?”

Maureen said, softly, “I like it very much.”

He skated away, very fancy indeed, bellowing “A nwi! A moi!” He got through three players with the puck before he overskated the disc and fell down on the seat of his pants.

Ted Cressinger clumped up the ramp. He was so intent on getting into action that he swung over the boards and didn’t notice Maureen at all. But she was conscious of him all right. She watched him go for five minutes, then she put a hand on Danny’s arm and said, the quiet, sure way she said everything: “Pick

that one, father.”

Danny said nothing. He just watched. But I felt like shouting. Ted Cressinger was the fastest man on the ice. He had hockey savvy. He could go both ways. His specialty was a baffling, two-strides-onone-leg shift.

Our sturdy defense representatives on the Alouettes, Monsieur Wekarchuk and Monsieur O’Hallahan, put their heads together. They were veterans. They knew what Danny wanted them to do.

Ted crossed the blue line in a twisting spray of powdered ice. As he neared O’Hallahan he stopped on a dime. O’Hallahan lunged. Ted pirouetted, gave with that odd double shuffle, and stabbed past Wekarchuk. While the boys floundered, wondering why they hadn’t made mincemeat out of him according to the usual recipe, Ted fired the puck.

He fired it like a bullet, with his wrists, slap-fashion, high across goaler Archambault’s chest into the short corner of the net.

The Soissy railbirds roared acclaim. Mayor Elzear Choquette’s redundant basso echoed: “A bas les

Dukes de Montréal !”

Ted saw Maureen when he skated in. She leaned over the rail and smiled at him. “That was a fine performance.”

You couldn’t blame him for forgetting about us then. He just stood there, looking at her. He said, in a curiously husky whisper, “Thank you.” You could have slugged him with a pickaxe, I swear, and he would have said the same.

Danny lit his pipe gravely. You could sense the deep pride he felt when he made the introduction, “My daughter Maureen.”

Ted recovered pretty well. “I—this certainly makes me glad I came, sir! I mean, I should have known a coach like you deserved only a daughter like this.” “Oh dear!” said Maureen.

Ted grinned, boyishly, but his face was anxious. He kept turning his gauntlets, arranging them neatly together. Finally Danny spoke, “Get dressed, son. Then we’ll have a little talk -about the job.”

As the Alouettes tumbled noisily toward the showers I nudged Danny, “May I borrow it now to make a wish of my own?”

Danny grunted. “Borrow what?”

“That lamp you must have rubbed,” I said. “That Aladdin’s lamp. Do you suppose they make baking machines in Ottawa too?”

LATER, in the quiet emptiness of the dressing i room, Danny mused: “He’s good, Snips.”

1 nodded. “Uh-huh. It’s that shift of his. He doesn’t get hit at all. It’s like trying to swat a butterfly with a steam roller.”

Danny sat down, pushing his faded felt hat wearily

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to the back of his greying head, “That’s just the snag, Snips. This Cressinger kid has never been hit. Hit hard. He’s never been hurt. I’ve seen that happen to a boy. Sometimes it takes him a long time to recover. Hockey is a lot like everyday living, Snips. The ones you can count on are the ones who get hurt, but bounce back, and bounce higher.”

“Yep. Well, we’ve only got one year,” I observed. “It’s all or nothing at all.” I continued packing my inadequate kit in the cupboard. “Sure wish I had that baker.”

It was a while before Danny let it out but he did finally, as I had known he would. He said, “About this being my last year here at Soissy, Snips. It’s because I know the boy’s father. Ed Cressinger and I played defense together back in Alberta. Ed’s with the Government in Ottawa now. He’s backing my application for a sports director in the Government’s new physical fitness program.”

“It took a war to teach everyone that a healthy sports setup produced better bodies and better mon,” I said. Í felt good now, knowing why Danny would be leaving Soissy, knowing what he was pointing for. “The country's kids need you, Danny.”

Danny went grim. “Thanks, Snips. But it isn’t quite as easy as that. You see Ed writes me that some interests in Ottawa have their man running too. Ed says it’s what I show in this last year with the Alouettes that must cinch it. They’re watching me like hawks, Snips.”

They were waiting for us at the door. Ted left Maureen and Eddie when he saw us. He came forward eagerly, his young face stretched tight. “Mr. Flood?”

Danny said, “One time out doesn’t convince me, son. Never has. Most rookies look good in training. You’ve a lot to learn. But if you want to stick in Soissy, and work as you’ve never worked before, I’ll consider you with the rest for a place on the team, opening the season. I’m not promising a thing more than that.”

Ted might have looked at Maureen, casing the job, sizing things up all around, but he didn’t. He just took a deep breath and grinned his pleasure. “Say, that’s great, Mr. Flood! I’m sure I can make the grade.”

THE Montreal Dukes came to Soissy for the opening game. The arena was packed to the rafters, with our Vets band playing nice and loud. You got a warm feeling listening to Dominique, the grocery clerk, and Lepine, the barber, leading the Alouette battle song.

“Les Alouettes! O! Les Alouettes! Les Alouettes! Vous allez gagner!"

Ted had made the team, first-line centre. He took the puck at the faceoff. He weaved smoothly from side to side going in. The All-Star defense of the Dukes, Lee from Portage la Prairie and Frazier, the Oshawa grad, got ready to give him the old heave ho. Ted worked that double shift and drove with a cunning backhander. The goalie spread-eagled. The red light blazed.

“Ohé!" It was Eddie Lapointe, first in approval, as usual, and the Alouettes flailed their maces against the boards in acclaim. Paper flew, the drummer did a triple paradiddle, and the arena mushroomed into roaring delight.

Now Eddie skated out with the rookie third line. He looked pretty small, pretty awkward. He made a lot of noise though.

The Dukes thundered back. They had a packed team, big boys, fast and mighty good. Only Eddie didn’t wait until they reached our rear guard. Straight off he stepped into puckcarrier Ellison at mid-ice.

Somehow I had harbored in the back of my mind a haunting suspicion that perhaps Eddie really would click and justify Danny’s faith in him. I thought for a moment that by some strange miracle Eddie might stop Ellison cold. But at the last second Eddie’s left skate twisted under him and he hit the ice hard. He lay there, writhing. Maureen was on her feet, screaming. “Stop it!

Stop it! He’s hurt!” We got Eddie in. I rushed him over to the tiny Civic Hospital in my own car. He stared at me all the way, his face dark with pain. He spoke only once. “Were you afraid it would be this way, Snips?”

“Aw, these jerks trying to be heroes!” I snarled, not deceiving Eddie at all.

Doc Frechette tugged sadly at his goatee, musing: “I warn’ heem agains’ playing, M'sieur. In hees condition ... I am glad zat it ees zis kind of an injury.”

“You mean it might have been something more serious?” I queried, curiously.

The Dóe clammed up immediately. “Heh? There ees nozzing else, nozzing, you understand? A broken collarbone, she is not so bad. But Eddie will he out for some weeks, M'sieur. Oui."

When I got back to the game I stopped wondering why Doc Frechette had given me that verbal brush-off. The game was well on into the third period. The Dukes had struck quickly for two goals. Now they were playing it close to the vest, shackling Ted. But with two minutes to go he whipped out of the pack, right-winger Johnny Desautels flanking him, both of them skating like crazy.

The arena came up screaming.

Danny gripped the rail. “Now, boy! That trailer.”

Ted foamed across the blue line. He gyrated wide in a fountain of snow and players, drawing the Duke defense. Desautels cut in sharply to pick up the drop pass.

Danny shouted. “No! No! No!”

I cursed. Ted was trying to do it all alone. You can’t do it that way against the Dukes. Not more than once. Lee wras right in there, smothering Ted against the screen. Frazier cleared the puck far up the ice.

We didn’t get another chance. We lost, 2-1. And when the Dukes entrained for Montreal you could sense the way they felt. Six years in the cellar! Hick-town players! Throw the bums right out of the League!

It was very quiet in the dressing room, so quiet you could hear a cleaner whistling outside in the empty arena.

The Alouettes had dressed and left quickly. Over the rubdown table, where I was kneading Ted’s firm, young body, Danny accented every syllable.

“All right, son. You were the star of your school team in Ottawa. You’ve been expected to do it all alone there too often. So now you’re quite the individualist. Well, you scored a goal tonight. Fine. But Johnny Desautels would have tied that game up — if you’d passed the puck to him. What’s your job,son?”

Ted wasn’t liking it. He kept his face expressionless, hut you knew he wasn’t liking it. He said, hard, “I’m going to be the best centre in the world.”

Danny smiled gently. “That’s a fine ambition. But a centre is a playmaker primarily. He sets up his wingmen. And until you learn to do your setting-up exercises you’ll be doing the left-wing beat for the Alouettes. You can score as much as you want to from there. That’s all, son.”

Ted was breathing unevenly. He said, dully, “Snips. It’s this way, but I can’t tell Danny. You see I—I promised Maureen I’d score two goals.”

I swore. “Shades of the Silver Seven!”

And much later I still felt that I should have seen it coming two blue lines away. No one could cause trouble like a woman. She could do it without even wanting to. Just being a woman, that was enough.

MAUREEN was certainly a new and disturbing factor, and I knew I couldn’t talk to Danny about it. Several days later when I visited Eddie at the hospital Maureen was there. She had on a clinging red dress, and with all the colorful chrysanthemums that the hoys had sent Eddie, and the delicious chocolate cookies she had baked for him, the scene was altogether quite touching.

I was sampling my sixth cookie, implacably, when Maureen gave Eddie a parting smile, “You will get well soon, won’t you, please?”

Eddie gestured eagerly. “Miss Flood — non! Maureen — will you come again next week, after the game in Montreal?”

Maureen shook her blond curls. “I’m sorry. I’ll be staying in Montreal next week end, Eddie. Ted’s taking me to the opera.”

“I hope it is ‘La Bohème,’ ” said Eddie. “You would enjoy that one, Maureen.”

“Ain’t any of you highbrows ever been to the Gayety in Montreal?” I interjected, rudely.

“This is ‘Don Giovanni,’ ” said Maureen, looking hard at me.

“I seem to remember you’ve seen that three times already,” I accused.

Maureen stayed calm. “Yes, I have. But it’s a beautiful opera, isn’t it? Good-by, Eddie.”

Eddie kept staring after her. “The opera . . . and books and pictures, maybe moonlight on Mount Royal. And Ted is a very nice fellow! Ah well, c’est la guerre, non?”

“Look. Why don’t you get in there and score a few goals on your own?” I asked him. “Or didn’t you pick up any knowledge in your college?”

. Eddie winced. “I was taking an engineering course at Laval University when Canada got into the war, Snips. So that was that. Overseas and back. Oh, I have not forgotten good things, right things, but I am out of practice. My English . . . well, it is so easy to make a mistake. Maureen is a . . . a cultivated girl, no? You think I have a chance to cultivate her, Snips?”

I grinned. “The word is culture, my

friend.” I ambled doorward as the nurse came in. “Anyway, I’m afraid hockey is my racket, until conditions warrant otherwise.”

The season was even more harrowing than I had expected. Danny’s wartime talent of reckless, green kids and old men with crutch legs came up with more Charley horses and assorted injuries than Doctor Kildare ever knew existed. And Eddie Lapointe topped the list.

After he stopped costing the Alouettes precious money in the hospital, and started playing again, he contracted the flu. He was forever getting cut up and bruised. You got to know where he was by the breezes of liniment.

And once, in the dressing room, he passed out right before my eyes. I revived him and he mumbled thickly, “About this—or if.it happens again— please do not tell Danny or the boys, Snips.”

“Was it Sicily?” I asked, slowly.

He nodded. That was all I could get out of him, despite every sort of threat and persuasion. So I wondered more than ever after that. But I kept my big mouth shut. I was going overboard for this guy Eddie.

Only he didn’t play hockey hardly at all. And it was a conclusive, irrefutable fact that only hockey players could save Soissy.

After that session with Danny’s tongue, Ted Cressinger made no more rash promises. I know Maureen gave him a blistering piece of her mind too. She hadn’t meant him to take it that way at all. She was all team, that girl.

Ted was a real good boy. He stayed in there, won his centre slot back again, and learned a lot. He had a receptive, malleable mind, and Danny found it a joy to teach him all the tricks he himself had picked up through the long years. Ted never got hit and his confidence stayed high.

Maureen would smile at Ted when he made the right plays on the ice and made them well. Off the ice I knew he was quite a lad with travel reminiscences, and he understood quiet restaurants and talented people. He had a special flair for the little surprises that women love and that he could afford.

Ted didn’t entertain Maureen in Soissy, although I knew he liked the friendliness of the town. He channelled Maureen along the cosmopolitan swing of Montreal. He was giving it all he had. Whatever the few extra years that Maureen had on him, you could see he was stick over skates in love with her. You couldn’t tell how Maureen felt about him. But everyone agreed they made a sweet-looking couplet.

Sure, Eddie kept trying. But he didn’t have much success somehow. And it’s hard to make a girl see poetry in the whirring rhythm of a lathe, or take pride in the smooth beauty of a complex machined part.

AT MIDSEASON the Alouettes L started to click. Three quick wins over Sherbrooke, Cornwall and Quebecstarted the toboggan. We swept over the last half of the schedule without a loss and before the astonished uproar had died down were up against the Montreal Dukes, three out of five games for the championship of the Quebec League, and the first step toward the Allan Cup for world’s amateur titleholders.

Danny had done magical things with the team. Now their confidence was away up. They felt that they could beat anybody, anytime, anywhere.

“I don’t like it.” Danny’s ruddy face was grim. “This is the worst way they could feel. The Dukes have a team of money players. This is the time when

the Dukes really play it for keeps.”

The first two games were scheduled for Soissy. The remaining three, if necessary, as the papers drolly said, would be played in Montreal’s Forum. !

The Alouettes went out, there in ! the sardined Soissy arena, in a hush you could have walked on. This was | it, everyone knew. This was do or die, | in or out.

Ted Cressinger got a smile from Maureen and he led the drive. He scored with a backhander at 17.32 of the first period. In the second he shovelled a pass to Johnny Desautels that Johnny could have scored on blindfolded from a wheel chair. It was still 2-0 for us when Ted got hit.

He had gone in like a rocket, as always, but there had been a rapid crisscross passing play and he had just taken a pass from an awkward angle. Just for that moment he was flying blind.

Lee and Frazier hit him together, j and they knew how to do it. Maureen gave a little cry beside me. Danny cursed softly. Ted went up and backward in a curious, rigid arc, and the dull | thud of the bodying echoed sullenly I along the dim rafters high above.

We carried him in. His face was j dead white. He recovered and he was shaking all over.

Danny said, “You’re through for tonight, son.”

Ted struggled to his feet. “Let me in again, Mr. Flood! Please. I’ve got to go in!”

He went in. But when he tried to ¡ go through that Duke defense again you could see it. He slowed up so noticeably it was painful, and the play went to pieces. Danny had to take him off. The crowd was in an uproar.

We lost that game, 4-2. We lost the next game the same way, only by more, because Ted wasn’t driving anymore, j He was just along for the ride. He j would swing wide at the blue line, or stop up, or shoot ineffectually from ! far out.

Yet of us all, I think Danny was the j only one who realized how much the kid was going through.

“It’s like shell shock,” said Danny. “In time he’d come out of it. But he’s young, Snips, and they’re laying for him every second. I’d rather rest him now than ruin his whole career.”

“Rest him!” I choked. “Danny, you’ve got to chance it! He’s got to try and beat this now, not next year! Because there’ll be no next year unless we win three games straight ! Man, who can replace Ted at a time like this?”

Danny looked at me with a grim half-smile. “Who do you think, Snips?”

“No!” I gasped.

SURE. Eddie Lapointe. On the train bound for Montreal I almost, laughed at the thought. For only a miracle could pull the Alouettes together. From the high confidence of that winning streak they had dropped to the depths of despair. They didn’t believe they could win now. Worst of all they didn’t care. They were as completely beaten as though the series were over.

I could hardly believe my eyes when I went into Eddie’s room. He was lying on the bed, just staring at the bare ceiling. He wasn’t whooping it up with the boys, sounding his elation with the authentic habitant folk songs he sang so well.

He was lower than any of the Alouettes. At this one critical moment he had turned into a dead duck.

For a long time I kept shouting at him. “Man! How can you feel this way?”

He let it out, reluctantly. His voice was tired. “I am not getting anywhere

with Maureen, Snips. This time it is not funny noises in my head. I do not feel happy around the heart. Anyway, what is the use? I cannot play hockey like Ted. Everyone knows that. So do I. C'est fini.”

Many minutes later, sweating and hoarse, I switched my attack. I had to snap him out of it. I thought I had the answer. I said, letting it out slow, “Look. Just what do you like, Eddie?”

His thin face lit up for a moment. He said, softly, “I like all the things that she likes. But there is more—and she does not know. Does she like pea soup and maple sugar and barn dances? I do not know that. I like them. And I like little boys and green grass, lots of grass. I like newspapers and people who laugh out loud when they are happy. And most of all I like to play hockey. I wish I could help the team, Snips.”

No, it wasn’t Eddie. He never wished. He always did it. I gave him the other barrel, all the ammunition 1 had. “Eddie. Listen. Here’s my opinion. I don’t believe Maureen goes for Ted that way. I don’t know whether she goes for you that way. But try this. Pick up that phone and call her, now.”

“What for?” Eddie shrugged.

“Tell Maureen,” I said, “that Don Giovanni is a great guy, and you like him too, but not every day. Ask Maureen if she’d like to have some fun with a Brownie camera in a sunlit park sometime and save the Art Gallery for special occasions. Tell her how pretty Soissy is, and the real people here, people who don’t change. And don’t forget to mention your plans for the future—all the things you can share together, built by an artist’s lathe, built on a little white house she can run any way she pleases, with roses you grow in your own garden, and a subscription to the Book-of-the-Month Club. Give her the chance anyway. Lay your cards on the table, let Maureen decide for herself.”

Eddie stared at me. He picked up the phone. He talked, not very long. He put the receiver down slowly. He had the silliest, dazed expression on his face.

“What did she say?” 1 persisted. “C’mon, let’s have it!”

Eddie blinked. “Snips,” she said: ‘Yes, Eddie. I’d love to hear more about your plans.’ ” Eddie grabbed me so hard my arm hurt. His face was exultant, his words were tumbling over each other in his excitement. “Sneeps, you are right! She ees jus’ like one farm! She was overcultivate!”

THE discouraged ones, the temperamental, the lame and the halt, they rose up and followed him. The Alouettes were on the glory road. You could feel it. And everyone in the Montreal Forum, especially the Dukes, knew it.

From the moment that Eddie put up the sign in the dressing room the wheels rumbled. The sign was simple but it had a curious driving force. Even their uniforms are prettier than ours. Say that slowly to yourself and you’ll get it around your heart, as the Alouettes did. Even their uniforms are prettier than ours.

And Eddie himself was all over the ice. He fought in there every second, until he was staggering on his short legs, and the sweat poured off his drawn face and soaked his body. His body was black and blue from the pounding of the Dukes.

Eddie picked the Alouettes up by their bootstraps. He needled them with ribald, cutting jibes. He made them laugh. He made them fight for him.

Often the Dukes got past Eddie. They were bigger and better hockey players than he, but they ran into the

Alouettes and died there, Eddie didn’t score. Eddie didn’t get the shadow of an assist. The Alouettes went out there and got them for him.

And then the Dukes caught Eddie, in the first period of the fifth and deciding game. They piled him up against the backboards, deliberately, brutally, and this time he didn’t get up. We brought him backstage and Doc Frechette came down from the stands and said it was the same collarbone.

Maureen was with Eddie in the dressing room. But she wasn’t quiet, not anymore. She was running around like a clucking hen, laughing and crying all at once. She was scolding Eddie. She was an awful lot of woman.

Danny said, “Yeah, Snips. It was Eddie. Even when he wasn’t on the ice, I knew he was the real spark plug. He held the boys together as surely as though he had used chains. He made them happy. He was the bow, and the violin played.”

I said, “Danny. Did you know Eddie was wounded in Sicily?”

Danny nodded, his keen eyes proud. “Sure, I always knew. Doc Frechette told me before the season started. I never let on to Eddie. You see, Snips, Eddie took a German machine-gun nest at a town near Mount Etna. That’s when it happened. He got it in the head. He was Sergeant Lapointe then. The men would have followed him anywhere. He was a spark plug in everything he did.”

Ted Cressinger was standing there, a little off, a little alone. He had seen Eddie and Maureen smiling at each other. Everyone knew how Ted felt about Maureen.

It hurt him. It would have hurt any guy to realize a girl like Maureen was going away from him forever. And then Maureen gave him her good-by. She just put her hand on his arm and looked at him. That was all. But it told him something. I don’t know.

But suddenly you could tell Ted wasn’t afraid of being hurt, not any more. He wasn’t afraid of being hit again. Hit any way at all. He stood there, leaning on his stick, with his unruly taffy hair and his pink cheeks and all, pretty quiet. He didn’t even have a vote, but he was quite a man.

He turned to Danny. His voice was

steady. “Mr. Flood. Let me try once more.”

And that’s how we won the final game from the Dukes, and the Quebec League championship. Eddie couldn’t spark the Alouettes in that last great game, but it didn’t matter anymore. The Alouettes had the torch and were carrying it high. They went out there and fought for Sergeant Eddie Lapointe, and Danny Flood, and Soissy.

Ted Cressinger made hockey history that night. He went through that All-Star defense of Lee and Frazier so often they must have thought he was a leprechaun. Once they knocked him 10 feet away. But he got right up and blew in faster. He scored seven beautiful goals, and assisted in three others, blasting the League record clear out to Esquimault. And he spearheaded our drive for the Allan Cup, a drive that carried us to the finals, where we lost the mug to a bunch of skating fools from Port Arthur in a great series that went the limit.

Well, this year you’re reading about Ted Cressinger every .day. He’s the new star with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL. He was a good hockey player, and he got hurt, and now he’s a great player.

Danny Flood? Danny’s somewhere out West, a sports director with the Government’s big physical fitness program for the country’s youth. Danny’s organizing hockey for the kids in Canada, teaching the ones who aren’t quite so good how they can be spark plugs, in hockey or in anything they do in life, and as good as the best.

Maureen and Eddie have the prettiest white bungalow in Soissy you ever saw. Eddie coaches the Alouettes now, and Maureen laughs a lot, a wonderful sound. The Soissy fans—Dominique, Lepine, Elzear Choquette—don’t have to worry about their entry in the Quebec League, and there’s well-earned play-off money in the bank behind them.

Me? Say, those Montreal Dukes have nothing on me these days! With my new baking machine I can hardly wait for one of the Alouettes to come up with a Charley horse.

This is a swell season, any way you care to look at it.