IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST
A true story of adventure, betrayal, perspiration, psycho-sociological interaction, and, of course, schizophrenia
John?!, the frantic young man bellowed to another telephone’s answering machine.
Where the phughk are you? You better get down here quick! Cursing, he hung up. His anxiety increased. He hit redial on the phone, and got the answering machine again.
John, you better get your ass down here! Where the heck are you?! There’s this old guy reeking of whiskey who’ll be our goalie if you don’t get here soon!
I don’t really hate the Frozen Reservoir Dogs. I’m supposed to, I think. They are the Detroit Red Wings of the Glacier Arena novice hockey league. Things are not antagonistic between my team, the Bombers, and the other teams we play. However, it seems that there is more than just a hint of that when we play the Dogs. And, to be among them, hang out with them, to be one of them, I imagine would definitely qualify as consorting with the enemy.
Last season their previous incarnation, named the Rovers, “lit us up” two of the three regular-season times we played them. But the Bombers prevailed in the championship game.
That was last year. The new Bombers lost our first two games, which were played fairly close. The Froze Rez Dawgs had played three games already (we had a ‘bye’) and were on a roll. They beat a team which we lost to, 11-2. So, I was a little apprehensive when we played, but
things in our hockey world often were so weird that I thought we might have a chance.
No way, 11 – 1.
After that loss, and one more the following week to another winless team, I started to think the Bombers would be better off without me. I left a message with the arena hockey director, inquiring if there might be a potential goalie on the substitute list. If so, I was going to suggest that whoever he/she might be play half the remaining games. This way, I’d get an idea of how much of what appeared to be a ‘long lonely season’ was my fault.
Actually, I wasn’t feeling too guilty. Our defense was pretty porous. Quite often I faced attackers (yes, sometimes plural) alone with no teammates nearby. (This changed after game four.) The Bombers team captain called me at the same time I was trying to reach the hockey director regarding a half-replacement.
“I hope you don’t take this the wrong way,” Joe began. “I know another guy who would like to also play goalie for our team.”
Before he could continue gauging my feelings, I headed him off at the pass. “I had the same idea, Joe. I called the rink to see if there were substitute goalies not with any team.”
And — the team had, of all things, a practice (!) before the next game. I met the new goalie, Brandon. Not only did he have his own pads, he had goalie skates. I had no idea that they made skates specifically for goalies! Brandon was to play the four remaining early Tuesday games, and I would be goalie for the four games scheduled at 10 p.m. on Mondays.
Our next game was the following Monday. In our previous encounter with that opponent, the game was close, a 4 – 3 loss for us. This time our defense was much quicker, and, apparently, so was our offense. We cruised to a 13 – 3 victory. After the game, I felt the closest to ‘swell-headedness’ (and walking, if not on air, then with 1 or 2% less gravitational attraction) that my short goalie career would allow. I had never felt sorry for the other team before. I also learned that, after 14 games, I’d been wearing the leg pads on the wrong leg all the while. (That isn’t really surprising. It took me several games to get somewhat familiar with putting all the stuff on. The first two times I tried to put the leg-pads on upside down!)
The following week our game was Tuesday, so I watched Brandon and the Bombers post another lopsided win.
The week after that we were to play the Frozen Reservoir Dogs again. (We play each of the other teams in our 5-team league three times each.) Based on our recent performances — plus the fact that the team we had just beat took the Dogs to overtime recently, and the Dogs lost their only game so far this season the week before — I felt that we might show them a thing or two, especially as Brandon would be our goalie.
Did I already say that “things in our hockey world often were … weird”? In my brief season-and-a-half career, strange occurrences still could, and would, emerge.
The week before, I sort of missed feeling like I was on the team. I was the dutiful mascot — taking post-game team photos and then passing out beer in the locker room. This week I considered suiting up anyway, skating around during the pre-game warm-up, then sitting on the bench with the team. And, there was the chance that one goalie (or the other) might get injured or something and I’d be there to step right in. Yes, the thought occurred that the other team might need a goalie.
Suiting up would look silly, and probably be confusing to my teammates. (Even though I know “real teams” have a spare goalie, just in case. But in our recreational leagues, I’m fairly sure nobody has a ‘spare’ goalie suit up.) I sat briefly in our locker room, noting that Brandon showed up earlier than his previous game.
I went out and talked to some members of the Dogs. Another Dog player appeared and talked to two teammates nearby. Their goalie, John, had apparently called him a few minutes ago with the news that he wouldn’t make it to the game. His grandfather had fallen seriously ill and John was on his way to Rangely, about 90 miles away, to be with him. “Sorry for the short notice.”
Apparently, none of the nearby Dogs, now about six in number, wanted to play goalie. A couple turned to me, and I volunteered just before it seemed they would have extended the offer.
“You realize I’m with the other team. Is this all right with everybody?” Everyone nearby was unanimous — and nobody wanted to be goalie. I went into their locker room and queried the few players still suiting up. No-one was opposed to the idea.
At the time I didn’t know it, but there was one player who had a problem with my being their goalie. I didn’t know this until AFTER the game.
I hurried to my car to get my stuff (helmet, breezers, skates) and continued hurrying to get a set of pads and stick from the Glacier’s storeroom. As I was hurrying to get the equipment I passed a couple of my … teammates. Yes, I’m going to sound like I’m confused. Which teammates? In this case, my usual, former, Bombers teammates … Mike (who gets my vote for Bombers “monster”) chuckled as he saw me leaving the Dog’s locker room. “Are you lost?”
“Good news. I think I’m going to be their goalie.” I figured this would cheer up the Bombers because they had our ‘good goalie,’ and the other team would have the worst goalie in the league. Not that I wouldn’t try, though.
Individually, I thought that all the Dogs were nice guys. The usual good-natured bantering in the locker room. Nothing derogatory about the team they were to play. I asked if anyone had a dark jersey, and Tim said that he had a spare. Later I asked Tim to assist me with tightening straps on the leg-pads which I couldn’t easily reach. He stayed a few more minutes to be ready to help with anything else. Finally, when it was just my helmet remaining, I thanked him and said that he could leave.
I didn’t know until a few days later that he played mandolin in the same jazz group my brother plays in. This may be just a somewhat interesting (?) bit of trivia, but I suspect he knew I was his band-mate’s brother. If so, it was just as well he didn’t say anything. He was a much-appreciated goalie-equipment assistant — a position I usually find a ‘volunteer’ from among the Bombers before each game.
I started to begin feeling … conflicted. Prior to then I had been hurrying too fast to feel much of anything. ‘Conflicted’ gave way to mild schizophrenia. However, pretty soon after this weird and strange turn of events got underway I thought that “Either way, I win.” If the Bombers win, that should be what I really want — where my allegiance lay. However, if the Dogs won, well, I would be part of the winning effort, and get another “W” in my very thin W-L column. And, I think it is just ‘human nature’ that whatever team one was on, a normal person would prefer winning to not.
- Dave, our team’s young hot-shot, and the team’s senior citizen goalie …
Betty recently started working at the Glacier. This night she was sitting at the entry/ticket counter. She knew I had shown up to watch, but got a clue that I was possibly going to play when a dark-blue-clad player rushed up to the counter. He asked, no — he probably demanded to use the phone because he had “an emergency.”
Betty told me of this incident after I got home. She said that if she wasn’t a Glacier employee, she would have told him off AND been real tempted to shove her fist down his throat.
We’ve had a few days to put things in perspective. At first she was outraged that some stranger would say disparaging things about her husband. I pointed out to her that it was probably true. She is married to an old man who smells like whiskey (“and cigars,” she was quick to add). Except the frantic Dogs player was wrong about the whiskey part. It was wine. I had had a couple glasses of wine before the game. Whiskey is for after the game.
However — if the player was so upset about the substandard replacement goalie — why didn’t he (or get someone else to) volunteer for the position? As I said, I personally heard no murmurs to the contrary.
During my previous game against the Dogs, something happened to me which hadn’t happened in a hockey game. And it was something which hadn’t happened to me in all other aspects of my life for quite some time. There was a point where I was going after a player with the intention of getting into a fight.
In the game a few weeks back, after scoring the first half-dozen points from out and away from the goal, they started bringing the puck in. The player (sometimes plural) would smash into me, we’d fall down, ending up in a heap IN the goal. A couple of them would ask if I was all right, and then they’d skate away. However, there was one guy in particular who, upon realizing he’d scored as he and I and sometimes another were lying in a heap in the goal, would start whooping it up. He would NOT ask how I was.
The last time he did this, I guess I just snapped. My immediate reaction was to go after him as he started to skate away, exulting loudly. Fortunately, I was slow in getting started. I tried to reach out after him, and also tried to trip him with my stick. Just as I had gotten on my feet and was closing in on him, I felt a hand on my shoulder.
The referee was standing behind me, wagging a “no no” with his index finger. Darn. Maybe next game, I thought.
I told Tim, and various others, about this. It was part of my schtick, the more-or-less constant commentary — to talk about something, anything, just talk. I think I also told them, as a team, that I hated them (on “general principle”). No-one seemed to pay any more attention than the Bombers would before our games together.
Like I said, each individual seemed like a nice guy.
Out of the locker room, feeling stranger than usual. Probably due to the dark blue (think ‘Darth Vader’), rather than cheery yellow (Bombers) jersey.
Before I joined “my team,” — the Dogs, I did my usual stumbly skate around the arena. Stumbly because when I first get on the ice, it’s like my skate bottoms are banana peels. I attempted a half-assed shot at the Bomber’s goalie, Brandon, and we bumped into each other, acting tough for a few seconds. The frivolity continued as I skated through the Bomber’s half of the ice, doing faux checks hits and bumps into a few until-this-game teammates. Chris came at me with his stick across his chest, gave me a light whack, and skated away.
The Dogs had a shot-on-goalie ritual which in itself was much more organized than anything the Bombers do. The Bombers have no pre-, during, or post-game rituals.
They stood in a semi-circle, each with a puck, about 15 yards out. They were waiting for my acknowledgment. I pointed at the player on the left, and he dutifully skated a few glides towards me and shot the puck. Then I pointed at the next player, and he either shot from where he stood or came in a few yards before shooting. I stopped most the shots.
An interlude of skating around our half of the ice, then back to practicing stopping shots in the goal, and the ‘game on’ buzzer sounded.
I feel the same at the start of any game. Surreal. Apprehensive. A slight bit scared. Of course. This game, so far, was no different in those regards. But, of course this was different. I was more, for lack of a better word, schizophrenic than usual.
A couple of the defensemen assured me early on that they’d do their darnedest to deflect all the shots and threats they could. They adhered to this promise pretty well. Tenacious. The Dogs scored the first goal, and the Bombers seemingly tied the game a short while later. That goal, scored by Bomber ‘monster’ Mike, was discounted. Another player in the crease, I think. Of course Mike complained.
The Dogs kept it up, and at the end of period one the score was 4 – 1. I may have had five or so saves, and the Dogs defense continued their assurance that they would keep me out of trouble.
Things got a bit more interesting in the second period. A few minutes into the next round of play, a player from each team got whistled for a mid-rink altercation. The Bomber player dutifully went to the box, while the Dogs player skated away as if it didn’t concern him.
Within seconds of the brief fight, I went to the Dogs guy to just chat — but my intention was to defuse him from whatever aggravation he might still have to vent. I congratulated him on a spectacular save he had made a few minutes earlier. I was completely out of the goal and the Bombers made an on-ice slap shot which Mr. Fighter stopped by sliding on his side with his stick extended at arm’s full-length — the very tip of the stick stopping the puck.
My calming-influence chat did not accomplish the desired effect. When the Dogs player realized he also had to go to the box, he skated by the Bomber’s bench. Bomber Rich “pulled one of the oldest tricks in the book” and said something derogatory to Mr. Dog as he skated by. Incensed, Mr. Dog tried to dive into the Bomber bench to attack Rich, and the refs intervened. This time was expulsion from the game AND a 5-minute major penalty.*
“Oh great,” I thought. What a thing to do to the team. We’re a player down for three minutes (remember, the Bombers had a guy in the box for the next two minutes). The Bombers put one in during the penalty time. There was another Bomber goal later on and the scoreboard read 5 – 3 at the start of period three.
Well, now, as usual, I’m sweating. In more ways than the usual. Actually, I start perspiring as the pads and jersey come on in the locker room. I sweat all through the game. Thanks to the contacts, I don’t have glasses to wipe nor slip off, and maybe ’cause of the contacts the sweat doesn’t sting my eyes.
And, my sense of self-identity has been subsumed into the universal void. I’m integrated into the Dogs. I’m one of them, now. In the Belly of the Beast.
The Bombers continued to close the gap. The Dogs defense, which was stingy earlier in the game, started to fray. Bomber Mike in particular capitalized on some one-on-ones with the goalie. After every goal, a couple Dogs defenders would skate over to me and apologize. The Bombers rarely, if ever, did that! “My bad.” “I should-a stopped that.” “Sorry.” Even if I felt that a goal was, indeed, my fault, they still apologized.
With two minutes to go, the score became 5 – 5. The intensity of play increased. After an icing call there was a face-off just to my left. Bomber Chris, waiting for the puck drop, looked right into my eyes. I remember the captain of the other team in my previous win this season, doing the same thing. It was as if each guy was gauging me. Telegraphing. Part of picturing the puck in the goal?
I avoided being scored on in that instance, and a couple more. And, I thought: “I don’t want to do overtime. Somebody score.”
The Dogs put one in, and the 6 – 5 stood at the end of the game. I felt somewhat elated but also a little guilty. Post-game hand-shake. Most the Dogs congratulated me. Then and later, some of the Bombers claimed that they had never seen me play so well.
The Dogs were mildly jubilant in the locker room. Some of them turned to me and asked how I now felt about them. I thought a short while, then stated: “I still hate you guys.” I think everybody laughed.
I went in the Bombers locker room. I guess it was force of habit, but they really were (and are) MY TEAM. It seemed everyone booed and threw trash and wads of tape at me. I held my middle fingers up, jeered back at them, and left.
Things were back to normal the following week. The Bombers (and I) were “run over” by the next team we played.
* “Mr. Fighter” is/was one and the same as the fellow who was apprehensive about the substandard goalie. Of course I didn’t know this until after the game.
(It took a couple years AFTER the Bombers-Goalie era, but I finally acquired ALL my own stuff. Although, rarely is there a cat out in the game … )