The hockey questionnaire was the subject of lunch conversation the next day, the guys arguing over hockey’s greatest players. Gerry leaned towards Sean. “So far this year, I think K.J. and Rudy have been my biggest inspirations,” he joked.
Sean thought about that. A guy could, he supposed, choose to be inspired or not inspired by just about anyone – influenced too. The thought struck him like lightning igniting a forest fire. It was up to him to decide if he’d let his dad influence him or not. He was the one who had to make that choice.
The revelation swept over Sean leaving him feeling positive and energized. All through his afternoon classes, he returned again and again to the same invigorating conclusion. Even Gerry noticed his newfound optimism when they met at their lockers after school. “What’s with you? You get electrocuted in Physics?”
“No, but I’m glad that project’s done. What a monster.”
“Yeah, my folks are glad too. They weren’t really keen on my breaking a bunch of new sticks.” He pulled his Cougars jacket on, the snaps closing, then popping open across his chest. “I’m looking forward to a Mustangs jacket.”
“Me too,” said Sean, sliding his long arms into sleeves that no longer reached his wrists.
Gerry’s pupils jumped. “Why do I have this feeling that you’re going to be awesome tonight?”
Sean had the same feeling as soon as the rink came into focus through the eye slits of his mask. He felt great during the drills and anxiously awaited the scrimmage. Pete was sitting out so the nets belonged to him and Levi for the whole game. The guys were hustling and making a point of taking their men out of the play. Levi looked solid, but just before half time, Darren slid the puck between Levi’s legs on a three on two. Sean stopped everything the guys threw his way, despite the fact that there were virtually no whistles. Midway through the first half, he’d stopped a total of sixteen shots and another six by the end. Sweat clouded his eyes as he removed his fiery mask and looked up at the clock registering no time. Satisfied, Sean skated off the ice.
It would have been a remarkable night if they hadn’t cut Jared.
“I heard you had the edge on Levi tonight,” his father said, coming into the kitchen later that night while Sean was spreading a large dollop of peanut butter over two slices of sourdough bread. “Now if you can just work on bringing your play up to par with Pete’s.”
“They let Jared go.”
“I heard,” he said, “but that shouldn’t influence…”
“Shut up!” Sean’s response took them both aback. “Look Dad,” said Sean in a voice that could only attempt conciliation, “I know you have all these connections and info and stuff, but I just don’t want to hear it.” He poured himself a glass of milk.
His dad leaned against the counter, his eyes trying to pierce Sean’s defense. “I don’t understand why you’re so antagonistic about your hockey these days. Every time I try and point out how you could improve, you get surly.”
“I don’t need your advice.”
“Oh really.” Sarcasm tainted his words. “I suppose you think you’re going to make the Mustangs playing like you have been? Your play’s been just a little inconsistent, shall we say.”
Dozens of comebacks surged through Sean’s mind, but he chose none. He bit into his sandwich and chewed deliberately, the tension in the room escalating.
“You know what they say, ‘Good is the enemy of best.’”
Sean studied his father’s face, his bony square jaw, his forehead lined with age, his thinning hair grey around the temples. At fifty, he owned his own successful company and yet, he cherished the dream of his son making the Mustangs AAA midget hockey team. There was something pathetic about it all. Sean gulped his milk. For years he had permitted his father to direct that dream in which he was the key player, but no longer.