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Authors: W. C. Mack

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BOOK: Hat Trick
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“Geez! Cool your jets, Nugget,” Colin said.

“J.T.” Kenny told him.

“What?”

“Never mind,” I growled. “Can somebody just tell me what’s going on?”

“Our new player,” Colin explained, “is Eddie Bosko.”

“Okay,” I said, still not sure what the big deal was.

Colin rolled his eyes. “Eddie Bosko from the
Shoreline Sharks
.”

Oh, nuts.

That
Eddie Bosko.

“What?” I croaked.

“That dude is a killer stickhandler,” Jeff said, shaking his head in awe.

It couldn’t be happening. It didn’t make sense. “Yeah, but … he’s a Shark,” I said, quietly.

“Not anymore. His family just moved here,” Kenny said. “So he’ll be going to school with us too.”

“The kid is massive,” Jeff said, still shaking his head. “And have you felt his shoulder-checks?”

All the guys silently nodded, remembering the jolt of bodies slammed against the boards. Everybody but me, anyway. I just remembered watching him pound on us while I sat on the bench, itching to get out on the ice.

“You know, I’ve been thinking about it, and with him on our side now, this could end up being our best season ever,” Patrick said.

“Dude,” Kenny said, “he’s the enemy.”

Most of us nodded and got back to dressing for practice. That is, until Eddie Bosko entered the locker room. I didn’t see him or hear him right away, but I felt his presence, like ice cream melting down my spine.

When I turned to face him, he looked about seven feet tall.

His hair was dark and shaggy and I swear the kid had a
mustache
. His bag, loaded with just as much stuff as mine, dangled from one of his monster paws like it weighed nothing. Like a bag of marshmallows.

I wished he didn’t look so big and tough. I wished guys like Jeff and Patrick weren’t happy about him joining our team.

But more than anything, I wished he wasn’t a right winger too.

Chapter Two

The whole team went dead quiet when Eddie Bosko pulled a dark blue Sharks practice jersey on over his pads. I couldn’t believe it. A Sharks jersey. How much nerve did the guy have?

“I’m sure Coach has a Cougars one for you,” I said, both stunned and ticked off that he’d even try to wear it in our locker room.

Eddie Bosko glanced at me like I was nothing and shrugged. “I’m cool with this one.”

His voice was deep, like my Dad’s, and I wondered how this freak of nature could possibly be my age. All the guys looked at each other without saying anything, but I wasn’t about to let him intimidate me.

“I’m actually positive he’ll give you a new jersey,” I said, firmly but with a smile. “I’m J.T.,” I added. “Starting right winger.”

“Starter, eh?” The giant smirked.

Were those
fangs
?

“Yeah,” I said, sounding more sure than I felt. “So, anyway, welcome to the team.”

Half the guys just stared while the other half jumped in to welcome him, like a flock of hungry seagulls going after chum. When the room quieted down again, Eddie Bosko looked each of us over carefully, without smiling.

“It wasn’t a choice.”

Before anyone could say a word, he lifted his skates by their laces, slipped them onto his massive shoulder and walked out of the locker room.

“What a jerk,” David mumbled, yawning and rubbing his eyes.

“Huge jerk,” Kenny added.

“Heavy on the huge,” Colin groaned. “That guy could eat us for lunch.”

“Except Nugget,” David said, elbowing me. I was feeling like a real tough guy, until he added, “who’d be more of a snack.”

“Very funny.” I turned to zip my bag as the guys started heading for the ice.

“What are you going to do?” Kenny asked, quietly, when we were alone.

“About what?”

“Keeping your position. You know Eddie Bosko’s gonna want to start.”

“I know,” I said, frowning.

It was my position. I was the one who’d worked for it. I was the one who’d played with these guys since I was six. Eddie Bosko couldn’t just show up like some overgrown gorilla and run the whole stinkin’ show!

“So?” Kenny asked.

There was only one answer, and I didn’t like it one bit.

“I guess I’ll be fighting for it.”

* * *

Coach O’Neal handled practice like we’d never had a summer break, but I didn’t mind. After all, I’d spent my vacation and early fall getting ready to play my best season ever.

When we ran drills, skating as fast as we could to the centre line and back, then to the far goal line and back, over and over again, some of the guys were gasping for breath after only three repeats.

Not me, though. I’d gone running or rollerblading almost every day for the whole two months, building up stamina. Sure, my lungs burned as I gulped freezing air and let it out in hot bursts of steam, but it felt good.

“Patrick and Kenny, you’re out,” Coach O’Neal shouted as I lapped them. “You too, Jeff.”

The numbers dropped pretty quickly after that, as the guys who were struggling were pulled to the side. Coach sounded disappointed every time he eliminated one of his players.

“Bechter, come on!” he said, as Colin wiped out on a turn and was eliminated.

I needed to prove myself, so I kept going. I found a steady breathing pattern that matched the scrape of my blades and concentrated on keeping it up.

“Jeremy, you’re done,” Coach shouted, and one more dropped from the ranks.

Eventually, it was down to just me, Chris Fullerton and Eddie Bosko, who was a metre or so ahead of me. I took a deep breath and picked up my pace to catch up with him, just as Chris was called out by Coach. I stopped at the centre line, spraying flakes of ice, and raced back toward our goal.

I had to beat him
.

I grunted as I reached the line and turned again.

“Go, J.T.!” Kenny shouted.

I skated as fast as I could, my legs heavy and my lungs on fire as I raced toward the far goal, Eddie Bosko right next to me. I glanced over and saw that his hair was wet with sweat just like mine, but that only made me work harder. At the line, I made my quickest turn yet, then started back. “Last stretch!” Coach shouted down the rink.

With a burst of adrenaline, I kicked it into high gear, but so did Eddie Bosko. We were neck and neck. (Well, neck and tree stump.)

Come on, come on, come on
.

I could hear the guys cheering for me, and even though most of them were shouting “Nugget,” it was the thought that counted. I tried to pull ahead, desperate to win, but the giant was right next to me. Panting, I gave it everything I had, but at the very last second Eddie Bosko shot ahead and crossed the goal line a couple of feet ahead of me.

Nuts.

I slammed into the boards so hard the Plexiglas wobbled.

“Nice hustle, guys,” Coach said, his clipboard tucked under his arm so he could clap for us.

Not nice enough, though. I looked at Eddie Bosko, glad to see he was trying to catch his breath, too.

“Man, you hauled,” Kenny whispered.

“He beat me,” I whispered between gasps.

“You were close.”

I didn’t say anything.

Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades
, my grandpa always told me.

“So,” Coach O’Neal said. “It looks like we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

My knees were shaking and I could taste salty sweat on my upper lip.

“Our first game is a little over a week away, guys, so I’m expecting you to step up.” He looked at my panting enemy. “As I’m sure you’ve noticed, we have a new player this year. If you haven’t met him yet, this is Eddie Bosko.”

We were silent and I knew the guys were thinking about what Eddie had said about not choosing to join the team.

Coach continued, “He used to be a Shark, but now he’s a Cougar. So let’s make him welcome.”

Patrick and Jeff smiled at Eddie, but the monster’s face was as blank as the pages of my Math homework.

“Eddie,” Coach added, “I’ve got a practice jersey for you in my office. Come and see me before you leave today.”

Ha!

“Told you so,” I muttered, loud enough for only Kenny to hear.

He smiled.

Coach put out a bunch of cones and for the next twenty minutes we started at one end of the rink, swerving in and out of them with a puck. Each time we made it through, we took a shot on the empty net.

I didn’t miss once, but neither did Eddie Bosko.

He beat me in three other drills and even though I was working as hard as I could, I only beat him in one. By the time we were down to the last ten minutes of practice, I’d had way too much of the new guy.

“Do we have time for a scrimmage, Coach?” Jeff asked, glancing at the clock above us. It had been smashed by flying pucks so many times it had a metal cage over it.

“We always have time for a scrimmage,” Coach said, laughing.

He divided us into teams and tossed the red pinnies to my group. We only had a few seconds to scramble into position.

I wasn’t fast enough and ended up at left wing, eye to eye with Eddie Bosko at the centre line. (Well, eye to chest, anyway.) My heart pounded as the puck dropped and Kenny, who was on the other team, took possession. I turned and skated toward our goal, ready to defend it while Kenny passed to Jeff, who got a breakaway. Once Jeff got close, he fired off a shot that missed the crease completely.

“What was that?” Eddie Bosko grunted from behind me.

My lucky break
.

I raced around the back of the net, scooping the puck with my stick and taking off toward the far goal. Nothing on earth felt better than racing past the centre line, knowing there was a chance of scoring. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t a real game, or that there was no one in the stands, because all I cared about was playing.

My blades sliced the ice and my stick worked the puck toward Jeremy. He was stuck in goal (which I knew he hated) and doing his best to figure out what kind of a crazy move I was about to pull. I faked left, then right, glancing every couple of seconds at the top right corner of the goal.

My target.

I’d practised the shot with a tennis ball all summer long, and I’d been itching to make it on the ice.

This is gonna be sweet
.

I pushed the puck a little to the left and prepared to take the shot, which was lined up perfectly. Forget the drills and forget Eddie Bosko. My season would be off to an awesome start.

At least it
could
have been, if a stick hadn’t come out of nowhere, cutting in front of me.

Eddie Bosko first whipped the puck out of my control, then out of reach completely.

“Don’t mind me,” he said, swooping past with a smirk.

By the time I closed my gaping mouth, he was gone. By the time I turned around, he was halfway to our net. By the time I took off after him, he had already
scored
. And that’s when I knew that no matter how hard I had worked and how badly I wanted it, defending my spot as a starter wasn’t going to be easy.

* * *

My day didn’t improve when I got to school and realized the Math problems I’d hurried through in the backseat of Mrs. Cavanaugh’s car weren’t even part of our homework assignment.

“Mr. McDonald,” Mr. Holloway said, shaking his head when he saw my mistake, “even the great Mr. Gretzky once had to pay attention in Math class.”

“Only once?” I tried to joke, which turned out to be a bad idea.

“I’m not amused, Mr. McDonald, and I doubt your mother will see the humour at parent-teacher interviews next week.”

“Can I make it up?” I asked.

He looked at me over the top of his glasses. It was a long, cold stare that made me wish I hadn’t asked. “You can try. I’ll give you an extra assignment at the end of class.”

I slouched in my seat. Great. I’d actually asked for more homework, and gotten it.

Someone knocked on the door and Mr. Holloway left for
a minute before returning with none other than Mr. Right Wing.

Couldn’t I have one measly second away from the guy?

“Class, we have a new student with us today. Eddie Bosko has just moved to Cutter Bay from Shoreline.”

Eddie scanned the room and even though he must have recognized me, he barely made eye contact before moving on to the next kid.

Jerk.

“Mr. Bosko, I see we have a vacant seat at the back, next to our friend Mr. McDonald.”

I thought he had to be kidding, but he wasn’t, and even added, “Please try not to let his study habits rub off on you.”

Oh, brother
.

The giant walked down the aisle toward me, smirking again. I cleared my throat as he sat down and dumped his knapsack on the floor. Deciding my best bet was to just be friendly, I whispered, “Hey.”

He glanced at me but didn’t say anything. Instead he unzipped his bag and pulled out a black binder.

Big jerk
.

I flipped to a fresh page in my notebook and tried to listen to what Mr. Holloway was saying about working out percentages but, as usual, I couldn’t get into it. No matter what Mum said, I knew Math didn’t matter. And even if way off in the future I did need to figure something out, that’s what calculators were for.

I looked out the window and wished that I was outside, instead of stuck at a stupid desk. I wished I was at the rink or at Pro-Sports, checking out their new gear.

When Dad and I bought my new skates there, I’d seen
a killer helmet. It was red and black, just like my Cougar uniform, with flaming lightning bolts all over it. It was
so
cool, but
so
expensive. In fact, the price was almost three times what mine cost.

“Mr. McDonald?” Mr. Holloway asked.

When I looked toward the front of the room, I saw that the whole class was turned around, staring at me.

Oops.

“Yes?” I hoped he hadn’t already asked me a question about the problem on the board.

“I hope I’m not interrupting your reverie.”

My what?

“Perhaps you’d like to share your thoughts with the class?”

“Uh …”

“Perhaps we can incorporate your
daydream
into today’s lesson.”

A couple of kids snickered and Eddie Bosko smirked again. I was beginning to think that was the only thing he could do.

Well, that and play hockey. Practice was bad enough, so I was in no mood to be humiliated in front of him in Math class, too. I thought about what Mr. Holloway had said for a couple of seconds.

Aha!

“Actually,” I said, “we probably could.”

My teacher’s eyes bugged out. “Is that right?”

“Yeah.”

“Pardon me?” he asked, frowning.

“Sorry, I meant yes.”

“Thank you. Please proceed.”

“Well, there’s this helmet at Pro-Sports I want, a hockey
helmet. It costs a hundred and eighty-nine dollars —”

“Quite the helmet,” Mr. Holloway said, eyebrows raised.

“It is,” I assured him. “It has this awesome flaming pattern in red and —”

“Save it for art class, Mr. McDonald. Let’s discuss the numbers.”

“Okay, so my weekly allowance is ten dollars, and I’m trying to figure out —”

“How long it will take you to save the money?”

I nodded. “The tricky part, is we bought my skates there last month, so we have a coupon for five percent off our next purchase.”

“Wonderful,” Mr. Holloway said, moving toward the board. “Let’s work through this, class.”

And that’s exactly what we did. The nerds at the front did most of the number crunching, but I followed along better than I usually did, since I actually cared about the answer, for once.

When the results were in, I found out that I’d be able to get my beloved helmet … when hockey season was over.

Instead of smirking, this time Eddie Bosko snorted.

Just perfect.

BOOK: Hat Trick
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