The other player’s stick blade slipped neatly into the slot of Norman’s skate, and Norman crashed onto the ice.
The ref didn’t call it.
For a second, Norman heard the player’s laughter as he sped away.
Getting up from the ice was not Norman’s best thing. He tucked his legs under him and failed on his first try ... he fancied he could hear his father shouting at him to get up, from the board way across the rink, but that was probably just Norman knowing his father would be yelling. A blur of skaters went past him, on their way back to the other side’s net, and Norman finally climbed to his feet – just in time to get blindsided from the back, and dumped on the ice again.
It was the same player. Norman saw the blue helmet with yellow flecks. He didn’t know the other player, or any of the other team. They were in Thornecliffe, playing at an outside rink, and Norman’s team was losing.
Norman got to his feet and got back to his place on the blue line. He was a defenseman. He knew what that meant. He was a no talent loser. The talent played on the forward line.
His father told him different. His father had been telling him different for six years, and now that Norman was twelve he was past telling. For awhile there, when he was nine, he nearly bought into it. And maybe, when it came to real hockey, being a defenseman did mean something. But in the league, Norman knew it was where they put you because they had to put you somewhere.
The puck came to him and he whipped it across the ice in the direction of the left wing. He didn’t try to play the puck ... that would have been a disaster. It would have just gotten taken away from him. He was done trying that game.
Now the coach was yelling at him and that was fine. The coach was always mad. His parents were always mad. Norman hated hockey and there was no way out of it, at least not for another season and a half.
He was bigger than most of the others, and that worked against him. Everyone said that if he could improve his stick handling and his skating and his balance and his shooting, he’d go far. They had been trying to make him go far for a long, long time. Norman didn’t want to go far.
The puck came again and Norman tried to back up to get it. He got his stick on it, and it slid down the board into the corner. Skating as best he could, he went for the corner, and sensed – or heard – someone coming up behind him.
A moment after he touched the puck, he felt himself slammed off it and into the boards. His helmet hit hard and for a moment he saw stars. Then he was on the ice, sliding on the boards, rolling onto his back.
The player with the blue and yellow helmet grinned, and called him, “Slowpoke.”
Dazed, Norman got to his feet. The other defenseman, Greg, swept by and took the puck, and the play was heading out into the middle ice again.
“GET GOING!” shouted the coach. Norman knew they meant him.
He got on his feet and started back across the ice. He knew he’d been boarded. Again, the penalty hadn’t been called. It was never called.
Norman had been feeling dull and uncaring, but now he had a mission. He didn’t care about the puck, or the ice. He was mad, now. He began picking up his feet more, following the pack, but not for the puck. He wanted to catch the player with the blue and yellow helmet in just the right place.
It took awhile. Norman ground his teeth together and skated in wide circles, waiting for his chance. The puck came past him and Norman fought to play it in the direction of his enemy. He didn’t care if he lost the puck now, so long as the puck got him right where Norman wanted to be.
When the chance came it was so perfect he couldn’t have hoped for a better set-up. Norman played the puck towards the right side boards, just past the red line, and blue-and-yellow went right for it. Then the right winger, Tony, came face to face with him and together they crossed sticks to get the puck. Norman didn’t care. All he could see was blue-and-yellow framed against the white boards.
Without hesitation, Norman dug his feet in, pushed with all he had and skated straight at his enemy. Norman tucked, and hit his target low, dead in the shoulders, crushing the player against the boards. The sharp, sickening impact was like music to Norman’s ears.
He kept his feet. He turned around, and skated away. No one was yelling at him. No one was making any sound. The kid wasn’t getting up off the ice.
Norman couldn’t see if there was blood. A ring of players surrounded the struck player and hid his view. He hoped there was blood.
The coaches were coming across the ice now in the shoes, slipping and sliding. Norman didn’t get to see what they did, because at that moment the ref came forward and braked with a hard stop.
“YOU!” the ref shouted. “GET off my ICE!”
Norman could see the man was really, really pissed. Fuck you, Norman thought. You should have called that penalty.
He started for the way off and passed a couple of the players on his own team. They weren’t angry, just confused. None of them were Norman’s friends. They were just other kids who were always disappointed that Norman couldn’t play better.
His father was there when Norman came off the ice. He wasn’t mad, either. He looked scared. Norman couldn’t see why. He looked back, and saw they were carrying the kid off the ice now.
“What did you do?” asked his father.
“Nuthin,” said Norman. He didn’t bother to explain. In his head, he thought, Carrying out justice.
Things got hard after that. Norman was pulled aside and into the community centre, where his mother watched over him. There was no friendly moment where his mother bought him a drink or something to chew on. She just watched him, like he was a bug. Norman was used to it.
He knew his father was talking to the coach. It was a long conversation. Norman began to think about taking off his skates. He knew he had to wait until he was told to.
His father came in and walked to Norman’s mother as though he was carrying two big suitcases. “The other boy has a concussion,” Norman’s father said, directly to Norman’s mother, as though Norman wasn’t there. “He lost two teeth. They don’t think it’s anything really serious. I talked to the boy’s father and thankfully there isn’t going to be any action. I asked if there was anything we could do and he said no. But he said he would call us if he learned anything else.”
“Oh good,” said Norman’s mother.
“As far as Norman goes –” ... and here Norman’s father at last acknowledged Norman’s existence with a look; “– he’s off the team. The coach doesn’t want anything more to do with him. So that’s it. A thousand bucks of hockey equipment down the fucking drain.”
“Ned,” corrected Norman’s mother.
“Sorry. I’m just pissed. Let’s go home.”
They told Norman to undo his skates and they collected everything to take it out to the car. Norman kept his head down, to hide his smile, that he couldn’t quite get under control. They weren’t watching him, and they didn’t see.
They were talking about how they could see the equipment somehow. Norman wasn’t listening. He was wondering what it would be like to have a Saturday that didn’t have a game he had to play, and didn’t have a practice he had to go to.