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Authors: W. C. Mack

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BOOK: Hat Trick
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“Okay,” Dad whispered back as he passed me to pour himself a glass of water.

“Tonight’s question,” Big Danny Donlin said, “is for a Canucks sweatshirt.” The sound of a cheering crowd came through the speakers. “We’re looking for caller number seven to tell us what team Bobby Hull played for before he joined the Winnipeg Jets.”

I whipped open
Shoot! Third Edition
and started flipping through pages.

Nuts!

I was on a waiting list for the Bobby Hull biography at the public library.

“The Chicago Blackhawks,” Dad said, leaning against
the counter with his water.

I looked up from the book to stare at him. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” he said, laughing. “I’ve been a hockey fan for a long time, son. I’m sure.”

We sat in silence, waiting for the seventh caller to get through.

“PUCK Radio, this is Big Danny Donlin.”

“Hi Danny, this is Mike from Saanich.”

“Mike from Saanich, have you got an answer to win this Canucks sweatshirt?”

“Was it the Rangers?”

A buzzer blasted through the speakers.

“Ouch! Sorry, Mike. Next caller.”

“The Chicago Blackhawks,” Dad said again, shaking his head.

“This is Jim from Nanaimo.”

“Hey Jim,” Big Danny Donlin said. “For a brand new Canucks sweatshirt, what’s your answer?”

“The Chicago Blackhawks.”

Bells and whistles filled the room. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!”

“You were right,” I said, smiling at Dad.

“I’m not just a pretty face,” Dad said, with a shrug.

“The contest is on every night.”

“Interesting,” Dad said, grinning as he started to leave. Just before the doorway, he bowed and said in a deep voice, “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I’ll be here all week.”

Oh, brother.

I got myself a glass of milk and went upstairs to work on the extra Math assignment, but it wasn’t long before I was reading
Shoot! Third Edition
instead. Where was that stinking fourth edition? I
needed
it.

For every thing I knew about hockey, there were probably a hundred I didn’t. The very first trivia question had already shown me that. Sure, I knew lots of stats for my favourite players, and I knew more than any of my friends about the old guys from the books I’d read. But if the sweatshirt question was that tough, would I really know the answer for the grand prize?

I skipped brushing my teeth, put on my pyjamas and climbed into bed. I slowly turned the pages, reading about the old days, when the Canadiens were first nicknamed the Habs and Anaheim didn’t even have a team. Then I read up on specific players, like Mario Lemieux, Sergei Federov, and, of course, Wayne Gretzky, which got me daydreaming.

What if I wasn’t only an NHL player, but a legend? What would it feel like to have my picture on the cover of a magazine? To see my last name on a fan’s jersey? To be asked for an autograph? What if my family was in the stands, jumping up and down, cheering me on as I fought for the Stanley Cup? Man, I’d be excited enough to just watch a game, but to be a player?

That would be the most awesome thing on the planet.

As my eyelids started to get droopy and the words were blurring together, there was a light knock on my door.

“Are you still awake?” Mum asked, opening it. “It’s after ten, honey.”

“I was just reading,” I mumbled as my eyes closed.

“You’ve got practice in the morning, Jonathan. You need to get some sleep.”

“I will.”

“Is your homework all done?”

“Mmmhmm.” I hadn’t finished the extra Math
assignment, but I could probably do it at recess or something.

“Have you packed your bag for practice?”

I hadn’t, but I could easily grab my gear in the morning. “Mmmhmm.”

I felt her hand stroke my forehead then push my hair to the side so she could give me a kiss. “Goodnight, my little nugget,” she whispered.

For once, I didn’t mind the nickname.

Nugget McDonald shoots and … he scores!

I pulled the blankets up to my neck and turned out my reading light, the stats for teams and players still spinning through my head.

It had been a long, brutal day and I could have easily slept for a hundred years, but my alarm was set for five a.m.

Chapter Five

When my alarm went off, my eyelids seemed to be stuck together, like someone had attacked me in the middle of the night with a glue stick. I rubbed them hard and rolled out of bed.

“Are you up?” Mum asked, rapping her knuckles on my door.

“Mrmph,” was all I could say.

“Let’s get moving, Jonathan,” she called from farther down the hallway.

Usually I had no problem getting up for practice, but that morning, it was tough. I felt like all the stuff that was bugging me, from Eddie Bosko to Math trouble, was wrapped around my ankles, and it was hard to lift my feet.

The bathroom light was way too bright and I had to squint to brush my teeth but luckily, the shower was the perfect temperature. That is, until someone flushed the downstairs toilet.

“Blargh!” I choked, plastering myself against the tile while I reached to turn the burning hot water off.

Clean enough, I thought, even though I didn’t have all the shampoo out of my hair. I’d been awake for less than ten minutes, and I already knew it wasn’t going to be my day.

When I made it back to my room, I threw on my clothes, then hurried down to the mudroom to pack my hockey gear. I crammed it into my bag as fast as I could, so Mum wouldn’t know I hadn’t taken care of it the night before. I found everything I needed but my red and black striped hockey socks. I ran back up to my room and didn’t see them anywhere. I should have just packed the night before!

“Are you ready?” Mum called up the stairs.

“Almost!”

“I’m trying to sleep!” Wendy shouted from behind her closed door.

“Sorry,” I called back.

“Don’t be
sorry
, be
quiet
.”

“Take it easy, Wend,” Dad said through her door as he passed it. “Nugget, Mum’s waiting.”

“I know. I’m coming.”

Where were the stupid socks? I checked under the bed, in my school bag and even in the legs of the jeans I’d dumped on the floor, but I couldn’t find them anywhere.

“It’s five-thirty!” Mum called from the kitchen.

“And I’m still trying to sleep!” Wendy shouted.

“I’m coming,” I muttered, giving up the search and heading back downstairs.

When I got to the kitchen, my packed lunch was on the table, waiting for me. Next to it was a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast. “I can’t find my hockey socks,” I admitted, reaching for the sandwich.

“They’re in the wash,” Mum said.

What?

“But … I didn’t ask you to wash them.”

Mum turned to me. Her hands were on her hips. That was never a good sign, and it seemed to be happening an awful lot lately. “No, you didn’t ask me to, but those socks were practically standing up on their own, begging to be clean.”

“But I need them for practice. Today.”

“Well, I just put them in the dryer. They’re soaking wet.”

“But —”

“Why didn’t you pack your bag last night?” Dad asked, as he poured a cup of coffee.

Great, they were tag-teaming me, which was something else that seemed to be happening a lot.

“I was doing homework,” I told him, knowing that wasn’t entirely true.

“No, you were in here,” Mum said. “Listening to the radio.”

Did she wash the socks to punish me? And if so, what kind of a crazy family did I belong to?

“That was only for a few minutes. Just for the contest.”

“The contest?” Mum asked, frowning.

“Hockey trivia,” Dad took a sip of his coffee then leaned in to kiss her cheek.

“A contest,” Mum sighed. “Here’s hoping the grand prize is a passing grade in Math.”

“Even better,” I told her. “Two tickets to a Canucks game and a chance to shoot from centre ice. For money and prizes.”

“Is that right?” Dad asked. “A shot from centre? I thought it was just memorabilia.”

“Nope,” I told him.

“Rogers Arena, eh? Now that’s a prize!”

“Don’t encourage him, Gord,” Mum warned.

It was kind of a strange thing to say, considering parents were supposed to encourage their kids.

“So, what am I going to do about the socks?” I asked.

“You only have one pair?” Mum asked.

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you needed more?”

“Because I didn’t think you were going to steal them right when I needed them,” I said, taking a bite of my sandwich. I knew it wasn’t the right thing to say as soon as the words were out of my mouth because the temperature in the room dropped about ten degrees.

In two seconds.

Oops.

Mum and Dad both stared at me.

“Sorry. I meant —”

“That you’d like to start taking responsibility for your own laundry?” Mum asked in a tone that would have sounded sweet to anyone who didn’t know her.

But I knew her.

“Uh —”

“Or maybe you’d like to pack your own lunches for school?” Dad suggested.

Neither option sounded very good.

“Uh …” I wasn’t fast enough, and the tag-teaming ended with Mum.

“Or maybe it would be best if you stuck to our original plan and got all of your gear in order the night before practice,” she said, one eyebrow raised.

I nodded. “That would be good.”

“Yes, it would be,” Dad said. “It’s always good to have a plan.”

Mum dug her keys out of her purse. “In the meantime, you can grab your new socks from the bottom of your chest of drawers.”

I started to turn, then stopped in my tracks.

Wait a second.

“I have new socks?”

“Two pairs,” she said, like I hadn’t just freaked out about not having any. “I bought them at the end of last season.”

Man, was she tricky! I spun around to race up the stairs, and remembered halfway up to shout, “Thanks, Mum!”

“Shut up, Nugget!” Wendy shouted from her room.

“J.T.” I muttered.

I grabbed my socks, which were still in their packaging, and raced back downstairs to shove them into my hockey bag.

“Ready?” Mum asked as she opened the door for me.

“Yup,” I told her, hoisting the huge bag onto my back. The weight almost knocked me over.

“What happened to your hair?” Dad asked.

“Nothing,” I said, turning toward the door.

“It has bubbles in it.”

The shampoo! “Someone flushed the toilet when I was in the shower,” I sighed.

Mum lifted her coffee cup toward her mouth, but not before I heard her chuckle.

“It’s not funny.”

“You’re right,” she said, clearing her throat. “I’m the one who flushed it. I’m sorry honey, I just wasn’t thinking.”

“Good luck at practice,” Dad said, then started singing some weird song about tiny bubbles.

I thought he was making it up until Mum started in as well. I scowled at no one in particular as I pulled the door
closed behind me. Just as it clicked shut, I heard Wendy yell, “Are you kidding me with the singing? Seriously! I’m trying to sleep!”

Mum was pretty quiet for the first few minutes of the drive, and I hoped she wasn’t mad at me.

“Thanks again for getting the socks, Mum,” I told her.

“No problem.”

I looked out the window and thought for a moment or two. It wasn’t like buying me new socks was the only nice thing she’d done for me lately. I’d just finished eating a peanut butter sandwich she got up early to make for me. “And for all the other stuff you do, too,” I added.

“It’s all part of being a mum,” she said, reaching over to give my knee a squeeze.

“Kenny’s mum doesn’t do all that stuff,” I told her.

That’s when it hit me.

Kenny!

“Nuts!”

“What?” Mum asked, hitting the brakes.

“Kenny needs a ride to practice!” I couldn’t believe I forgot!

“Today?” Mum gasped.

“Yes. Uh, right now.”

“Good grief,” she groaned, pulling off the road and turning around so we could go back for him. “Why didn’t I know anything about this?”

“He only asked me yesterday.”

“You’re not answering the question,” she said, shooting me a look out of the corner of her eye.

“Because I forgot to ask you,” I sighed.

“There’s been an awful lot of forgetting lately, Jonathan. Please tell me you remembered to do your Math homework.”

“I did,” I told her, with a nod.

Well, the regular work, anyway. That extra assignment was a stupid idea. Why had I even asked for it? And could I honestly finish it during a fifteen minute recess? If I didn’t, would it count as missed homework, or just a missed opportunity to win Mr. Holloway over?

Before I had time to really think about it, we were at Kenny’s house. Luckily, the Cavanaughs’ kitchen light was on and I could see my buddy standing at the window, waiting for us. I helped him load his bag into the back of the van, and when he climbed in next to me, he looked like someone had glued his eyelids together, too.

“Thanks for the ride, Mrs. McDonald,” Kenny said, buckling his seatbelt.

“No problem,” she told him, but she caught my eye in the rear-view mirror and I had a feeling she’d have more to say about it later on.

* * *

Practice was insane, and I’m not just saying that because I did a faceplant when we were skating drills and ended up with a bloody nose. I’m saying it because Coach O’Neal told us it was time to start taking the game seriously, and that meant skating hard and fast for what seemed like forever.

I’d thought my workouts during the summer would give me a serious edge over the rest of the guys and they kind of did. But they didn’t give me an edge over Coach.

“Let’s hustle out there!” he shouted, in between blasts on his whistle.

“I
am
hustling,” Colin grunted at me.

“Me too,” I grunted back.

“Bayview isn’t going to slow down for you guys at next week’s game, you know,” Coach shouted.

“We know,” Colin and I groaned at the same time.

“You’ve got three days before you face them. Do you want to win?”

“Yes,” I heard a couple of guys say.

“What about the rest of you?” Coach shouted.

“Yes,” we mumbled.

“I still can’t hear you.”

“Yes!” we shouted, loud and clear.

For most of practice, I felt like I had too much on my mind to concentrate properly. Life had been kind of a breeze up until twenty-four hours earlier, and it had been going down the tubes ever since, especially on the ice. I should have been a lock for starting right wing, since I’d been on Coach’s team forever. Never mind all the extra work I’d done over the summer. That position should have been mine, period.

Eddie Bosko was ruining everything for me.

He was going to be a tough player to beat. He was good, he was strong and he had the size advantage.
And now he was going to be my tutor?
I’d be stuck spending time with him off the ice? That stunk worse than week-old garbage, but there was nothing I could do about it.

And when it came to things I had no control over, there was the fact that I wasn’t growing at all. What if I was the size of an eight-year-old when I was seventeen … or seventy!

Jeff swiped the puck from me during scrimmage and scored his second goal.

Nuts!

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Eddie Bosko check Kenny, who tripped over his own skates and wiped out. Eddie did the same thing to Patrick Chen, who was one of the only guys on the team who liked him. Patrick managed to stay on his feet, but barely. In fact, he looked pretty shaken up after Bosko made contact.

That monster was going to help me with Math? He would slowly explain all the calculations that made no sense?

I seriously doubted it, especially when he checked me into the boards three times in four minutes, each hit a little harder than the last.

I didn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing it hurt me, though. I grunted, but kept my face totally blank, just like he did. I tried to smirk once, but it probably looked more like a wince, and even with pads on, my elbow felt like it was on fire.

After the last hit, I went after the puck like it was the key to fixing everything that was going wrong. I forgot how tired I was and much pain I’d be in the next morning. I pushed myself as hard as I could, and the people around me even harder.

Unfortunately, that included Kenny, who was rubbing his shoulder and shooting me dirty looks as practice was winding up.

“Geez, Nugget! What’s your problem?” he asked, as Coach O’Neal blew his whistle to call us in.

“Sorry, man,” I said. “I didn’t mean to.”

“That doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt,” he said, skating toward centre ice.

“Let’s huddle up,” Coach said, clapping his hands silently.

I guess he forgot he was wearing gloves.

The group of us skated into a circle and I saw that every one of us was dripping sweat, even Eddie Bosko. That was a good sign, at least. I wiggled my toes, and even they felt sweaty. If my socks stood up on their own from the first practice, the second would have had them dancing around the laundry room.

“I know I ran you guys hard today,” Coach O’Neal said, over the sound of us catching our breath. “And you know I did it for your own good.”

A couple of the guys nodded.

“We beat Bayview twice last year, but that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels and —”

“Our what?” Kenny asked.

“Laurels. Don’t worry about it right now. Just know that Bayview is hungry for a win. We all know last season left them with something to prove.”

“I’ll say,” Jeff whispered.

Coach shook his head. “But you guys have something to prove too. Being a great team means always looking for ways to get better. That means pushing yourselves, even when you feel like you don’t need to.”

Coach looked each of us in the eye, one at a time. When it was my turn, I did my best to give him a tough look, by squinting a little.

“Do you need glasses, Nugget?” Colin whispered.

I shook my head and stopped squinting. Apparently my tough look needed some work.

“Okay,” Coach said, nodding slowly at his team. “We’ll see you Friday morning, bright and early.”

BOOK: Hat Trick
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