Thursday, April 28, 2016

Detroit, One More Time (part three)

9 a.m. Friday morning.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Eli 14.8 said, still in bed, unmoving.

"I'll take that," I said.

A few minute later, he sits up. "It's gone," he said.

"It is?"

"Yes," he said. "I feel weak, but I'm not sick. It's gone."

"All right," I said. "Let's go."

The first game was at 1 p.m., so he needed to be at the rink by noon. I went and got him a biscuit at McDonald's (standard light breakfast for hockey weekends), wondering if he would be able to keep it down.

He did.

"I'm ready," he said, even though there was no way he could be ready. He'd eaten one biscuit in the last 24 hours, basically. At least, that was all he'd been able to keep down.

Weak, playing in his first AAA tournament, playing up a year in age, never met anyone on his team before, his entire future in hockey on the line?

Well, plus this.

At 9:57, my phone rang.

"Hey, the third period is starting and you guys aren't here yet," said Eli's coach on the phone. "Where are you?"

"Coach, our game is at one," I said. They were bringing multiple teams to the tournament. "Eli is on team two. That's what your e-mail said."

"Oh shit!" he shouted. "I sent you guys the wrong e-mail! Can you still get here? The game starts at 10:30!"

We were seventeen minutes from the rink.

In three minutes, we left the room. Ran downstairs. Headed for the rink.

"Well, no time to get nervous," I said, laughing.

"Who's nervous?" Eli asked.

We pulled into the parking lot at 10:20. "I can do it," Eli said, throwing his bag over his shoulder. "I can get dressed out in ten minutes, and there's five minutes for warm-up."

"I know you can," I said, as we started walking in to the rink. "Three keys."

"Go," he said.

"Powerful positions. Be correct. Control rebounds."

"Got it," he said.

I hugged him. "Don't forget to have fun," I said.

"I won't forget," he said. "Love you, Dad."

The zam ran a few minutes over, and when warm-ups started, he walked out with the rest of the team.

The opponent? The other team that was recruiting him.

Well, now they get to see him in person, I thought. I had told the coach that I'd text him when I knew which games Eli was playing, so I texted him right when the game started. Surprise!

Eli's coach for the tournament was splitting the games right down the middle, and the other goalie played the first half. It was 2-0.

Eli skated off the bench.

I was both very happy for him and entirely sick, knowing how weak he was.

We had convinced ourselves that this tournament would be no faster than TAC, but I could see in thirty seconds that we had been very, very wrong. These kids were so fast that they almost looked like they were flying.

As it turned out, though, they weren't the only one.

Eli was dialed in from the second he skated out. Kids were flying around, the shots were rockets, and he just managed his business. Always square. Always on his angle. Controlling the puck.

Just being him, but at a much higher speed.

He stopped 12 of 13 shots and his team won 3-1.

"Wow, that was FAST!" he said when he walked out of the locker room.

"Fun?" I asked.

"God, yes," he said, smiling. "So much fun."

"Are you hungry?" I asked.

"Starving," he said. "I need food."

No more games on Friday. Food, rest, recovery.

LATER TODAY: Part four (the conclusion)

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