Thursday, March 20, 2014

Nashville (part three)

Every parent, every coach, had told Eli's team the same thing.

Protect Eli.

And for the first period, they did. The other team only had four shots, and Eli's teammates were desperately dominant.

There was only one thing wrong: even with nearly fifteen shots, the score was only 1-0.

When the second period started, the slight unease I felt in the first period began to grow. Our puck possession was dropping. Instead of playing in the other team's zone, much of the action was between the blue lines.

The front was retreating. Then, the front was in our zone.

The shots started coming more frequently, too frequently. We only had two defensive lines, and one was clearly overmatched.

Still, though, Eli held fast.

He was precise. He didn't have much energy, but he wasn't wasting any. Everything was textbook.

Then, in a moment late in the second period, the book was thrown away.

A hard, low shot from came from the right side. Eli went down in the butterfly, and the puck bounced off his right pad. The other team had a player standing by the left post, and that's where the rebound went.

From where I was sitting, I could see the open net. Guaranteed goal.

This was the end, really. The game was tied, and Eli was totally exhausted. He had been walking a tightrope the entire game, and he'd lasted longer than anyone could ever have expected, but he couldn't stop them now. I was so proud of him, even as my heart was broken by what he was going through.

Except the game wasn't tied.

Eli dove across the crease and slammed his stick down just before the puck arrived.

It was an impossible, electrifying save.

Everyone exploded. The stands, the bench, the coaches. Everyone.

I knew then that even though he was weak and exhausted, he was dialed in. He was in that place he goes.

In all, he faced twenty-five shots. Final score: 1-0.

When the final buzzer sounded, he laid down on the ice, face first. His team skated over and helped him to his feet, and wobbly, he went through the handshake line. As he skated off, I said "Do you need help taking off your gear?" and he shook his head.

He had plenty of friends to help him with his gear.

When he came out of the locker room, I took all of his gear. "I am so dead," he said, smiling. Parents burst into applause when he walked into the lobby.

Slowly, so slowly, we started walking toward the car.

As we neared the door, I spoke in my most dramatic announcer voice. "Today, a slender twelve-year-old, in the throes of a savage illness, performed the unthinkable--THE IMPOSSIBLE--and ascended into the pantheon of superheroes."

Eli laughed. An exhausted, happy laugh.

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