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Cold steel on ice. Molded rubber against nylon. Working three days a week. Travel, two days a week. Practice the rest. Home for one day. Blood, sweat, and tears.
This was the life given to all of those lucky people chosen to play in the National Hockey League. It was a hard and tiring life, but it was something all of the men had trained their whole lives for. The money was more than good and the lifestyle incredible. Meeting movie stars, being the center of attention anywhere you went. People giving you free cars and gear just for saying their product was best. Women. Oh, they were plenty of women. In any town the team traveled hordes of women would be there. It didnít matter to the women if you were married or not, just that they could be with you.
None of that stuff matter to Gord OíReily, though. He only wanted to have the chance to play with the best of them. Ever since he was a kid and bought his first pair of skates with the money heíd earned from his paper route, he just loved the game and the competition. Sure heíd played in high school with his buddies and they even had teams with jerseys and all. But this was something different. This was a dream only achieved by a few select men, this was Gordís dream. And he starred at the clouds he thought about the past and present and future. Sure this was his dream, but what about the dreams of the people in his life: his newlywed wife and the daughter they were expecting. Getting this chance was the best thing in his life, but he no longer had only himself to think about and now he had to be a provider. So, Gord did care about the money somewhat.
Gordís attention was now drawn to the stadium that loomed in front of him. He knew that all of the answers to his questions as both a man and a provider were in the building. He fixed the hat atop his head, straightened the collar on his flannel, picked up his bag and sticks, and entered the building. The inside of the building was nothing special. There were a few rows of chairs, nice plush ones, and drab carpeting Ėa standard in every building during the early 70ís- and a receptions desk where there sat the receptionist. However, the best part of the lobby was the giant window that was parallel to him. The window held the most glorious view Gord ever saw: it was the entire Chicago Blackhawkís team running drills of many kinds. Gord started walking down a long hallway to what he hoped was the locker room.
"Excuse me, sir?" the receptionist interceded. "Is your name on the list?"
"What list?" he questioned back.
"You need to be on the list to attend tryouts. What is your name?"
"Gord OíReily." He stated reluctantly.
"Oh, well, Mr. OíReily your name is on the list. The locker room is straight that way and there is a spot in there with your name on it.
"Thank you," Gord said and continued on the way to the locker room.
The locker room was a dank, damp, dimly light room. The carpet was coming up in the corner and coffee stains scattered across the ceiling. At the end of a row of lockers, there was one that had a sign on it stating: "Gord OíReily." Gord stood, for a couple moments in awe of where he was and what he was about to do. He couldnít believe the accomplishments heíd already achieved in his life: Only a few months ago he had graduated from high school, he got married that summer and he was going to be a father. All that and he still had two and a half months before his 19th birthday. Gord geared up and stepped onto the ice. He skated for a few moments making his way over to the bench finally noticing everyone was starring at him. He turned to greet them: "Hey guys."
"You're late," the coach said.
The tryouts were horrible. And fast. Moving from one drill to another without so much as a breath, Gord found himself exhausted, beat lying on a bench in the locker room wondering where the time went. After stripping himself of all the gear he went in the showers, still trying to recover oxygen lost from the tryouts. Pretty soon the entire shower room filled up with sweaty hockey players. Some nearly as tired as Gord others not even close. These guys were the pros, so physically fit their deserved golden busts in Greece, the likes of Zeus.
After the shower and a change back into his street clothes, Gord sat in a nearby bar with a few of the other unknown prospects. They talked about hockey, girls, college, their pasts, life in general. One of them was an eighteen year old, like Gord, but he was going to play for South Dakotaís hockey team in a few days. The other two guys were both college graduates, who never thought of joining the NHL until their graduation day. They intimidated Gord, surprisingly enough, because he had the superior hockey skills. But they were all college students and he wasnít. All these guys had families with enough money for college. Gord was the youngest of eleven children. If he wanted to go to college heíd have to work his tail off, which was another reason he wanted to join the NHL. Eventually heíd have enough money to go to college. Enough to send his kid to college. His kid. He was going to be a father. That though made Gordís stomach queasy. He excused himself from the guys and was about to get up when through the door came almost the entire team of Black Hawk players.
"You leaving already?" one of them asked Gord.
"Yes, Iíve got someplace to be," he replied.
"Naw, stay awhile, have a few with us," he pulled out a chair for Gord as the rest of the team sat around a long table, "youíre a really good hockey player. Got the speed, the strength, and the shot."
"Really? Thanks!" As Gord sat down his stomach started feeling better. Maybe I do have what it takes he thought.
The guy who pulled the seat out for him, who was Sean Robertson - starting leftwing for the Hawks - moved his head closer to Gordís so nobody else would hear: "Man, I think youíre a shoe-in," he whispered, "Iíve heard the coaches saying good things about you. Youíll defiantly make it. I look forward to working with you in the coming months. Oh, one last thing: coaches want us to tell the new guys to expect a call from them later tonight. So make sure and be home around 7:30."
"Alright thanks," standing up, "I look forward to working with you too," to the rest of the team, "Iíll see the rest of you later," he took one last swig of beer then left the bar.
Gord flew home. He was so excited, he couldnít wait to get home to tell his wife. All of his movements were made with precision accuracy. He went from I-41 to Rt. 94 in what seemed like seconds. When he got into his neighborhood he couldnít find his wifeís car in the driveway, then he remembered that she was working tonight. So he turned out of the neighborhood and drove 3 minutes to the nearby bank where his wife was a teller.
He went from 40mph to 0 in less than 2 seconds. A 5 foot long streak came from beneath his tires. Everyone in the bank turned to look at him with icy cold glares. Everyone that is, except for his darling wife. She finished with her costumer and rushed into the lobby to great him. As he stepped through the door she ran over to him and he scooped her up in his arms. They embraced the embrace of long lost lovers reuniting. Their love for each other was like the mighty Euphrates River, it never stopped flowing. He held her gaze for a moment, "I love you."
"I love you too. Well, you seem unusually chipper today, I take it tryouts went good."
"Good?" he said sarcastically, "Baby, they went better than good. Some guys on the team are saying Iím already there. I just have to wait for the coachís call tonight."
"Thatís great, dear. Speaking of babies, I went to the doctors today."
"Is everything alright with the baby? With you?"
"Yes, I told him how the morning sicknesses have begun and he said it wouldnít get any better until after the birth. He also said that anytime now my ankles should be swelling up and that Iíll need help getting from place to place. That means you."
"Ah, but honey the Hawks, my dream... oh weíll figure it out later. Hey, lets go out tonight. Celebrate my day, yours and the babyís health. Whatdoyasay?"
She looks at him reluctantly, "Iíd love to but I have to work. And weíre going to need the money. We canít live with your brother and his wife forever. Donít you want to get our own place?"
"Yeah, of course I do," a smugness on his demeanor now, "But with me being on the team and all Iíll be bringing in the big bucks. Then you wonít have to worry."
She begins to stroke his arm, "about that, I think you should ask you brother about getting a job where he is. Just in case."
"What?!" smugness quickly turned to anger; "I canít believe you would say that. This is my dream and Iíve finally gotten my shot. Iím trying to provide the best for our child and this child will have it all. I canít believe you can just stand here and crush the dreams of mine and our child."
"Hon-ee," she said, drawing him closer. She starred into his eyes, but he kept avoiding contact. "Iím not trying to do that at all. Iím just saying youíll need something after your hockey career is over and maybe..." she started looking nervously at the floor.
"What?" he asked starring down at her, "What!"
"Nothing, itís just, that this might not be your big break."
Gord was never able to hide his anger and this was no exception. "Damnit. I, I gotta go. Iíll see ya later," despite his anger he still kisses her on the cheek, "Iím getting a bucket and a six-pack."
"Bye!" she yelled as he was leaving, "Iíll be home at 8:30."
Gord went home after a stop at the drug store and KFC. When he sat down on the couch with his chicken and beer he was still angry with his wife.
"She doesnít know what she is talking about," he said to himself, "Iím going to be the best player - yeee ahhhhh," he squeaked out a yawn and fell into a deep sleep.
"Hello?" he asked. Moments earlier he had been woken up by the telephone. He wasnít going to answer it until he looked at the clock and saw it was ten minutes after 7:30. It must be the Hawks coach he thought.
"Are you Gord OíReily and did you tryout for the Chicago Black Hawks today?" the voice on the other line asked.
"Yes that is me and I did tryout with the Hawks today," Gord said proudly.
"Yes, hello. I am Hank Chuapel, the Black Hawks secretary of new recruits," Hank had one of those very nasally voices, he continued, "Iím calling about your tryouts."
"Yes?" Gord asked eagerly.
"The coaches wanted me to tell you they thought your play today was top-notch and they wished they found you earlier. Your intensity was something, they told me, they donít see in a lot of players."
"Yes. Yes," Gord couldnít believe what he was hearing, this was the greatest thing that could ever happen in his life. His dream was coming true. This was it. The happiest day in his life, it was.
Gordís ear to ear smile immediately became a thin line on an empty face.
Mr. Chuapel continued: "The NHL has undertaken some new policies. One of which is the use of college prospects, as opposed to only players with a high school diploma. The coaching staff and myself, being the bearer of bad news, would like to apologize for any grief weíve caused you. They did wonder if, however, you were planning to attend college?"
Gord was grief stricken and beneath that grief was a boiling pot of anger. He managed to stumble out a few words, "Um... my family does not have the money to send me to college. And Iím a husband expecting, so I really donít have the money either."
"Well we truly are sorry," Gord wanted to reach through the phone and choke this guyís nasally voice, "We do hope you enjoy Black Hawk games on radio 720,"
Then Hank Chuapel hung up.
The drapes, which once hung above the sink window, were now on the floor. The toaster lies next to the garbage. Food in the cupboard was scattered everywhere. Chairs were turned upside down next to the table. While Gord OíReily was a rage of pure anger. His body moved with lightning quick speed looking for that next thing to not over. He opened the fridge; flung mustard, spilled milk, threw apples. Then he slammed the door shut and, ready to bring the giant appliance down, saw a black and white picture hanging on the door. He studied the picture with quite awe. His anger subsided without him even knowing. Then he noticed tiny writing in the corner of the picture. It read: Sonogram, OíReily baby. Gord was overrun with emotion, tears began to stream down his eyes. The most beautiful creature he had ever seen. He turned the picture over and in big pink letters the word girl appeared. A girl. "Iím going to father a girl," he said. And, tears of joy still streaming, he picked up all of the stuff he knocked over. When that was done he lay on the couch and fell asleep.
Mrs. Gord OíReily, Nancy, walked through the door of her loft above her husbandís brotherís garage. She walked through the house and everything seemed to be out of place. It was clean, but everything seemed out of place. The toaster was a little askew; it was never like that before. Then she opened the cupboard and nothing was in order. Suspiciously Nancy walked into the living room. It was the most serene picture she had ever seen. Lying there on the couch was her husband, sleeping quietly, breathing soothing hymn of life. Clutched beneath his fingers was the sonogram of their daughterís tiny figure. She strode over to her man, bent and kisses him on the forehead. He stirred then woke. "Hey," he said, "look who I found a picture of. Boy, she is precious."
"Well," said Nancy sitting next to Gord, "is this precious baby girls father going to be a star hockey player?"
"No," Gord said nonchalantly, "a star plumber for his brother."
"Are you alright dear?"
"Couldnít be better, for the first time in my life."
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