Section 2 - Teams.
Rule 5 - Team.
In regular League and Playoff games, if both listed goalkeepers are incapacitated, that team shall be entitled to dress and play any available goalkeeper who is eligible.
"Good practice, short stuff," Chuck said as he dumped his gloves in his locker room stall next to Nico's. "We're gonna own those losers next week."
Nico groaned and rolled his eyes, flicking Chuck's ear as soon as Chuck took his helmet off. "Thanks, you overgrown goat."
"Ow!" Chuck winced and glared at his teammates for laughing at him. He rubbed at his ear and started peeling himself out of his gear. "You gotta stop hating on the beard, man. The ladies love it."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever." Nico sat down in his stall and started the arduous task of stripping himself of several layers of protective gear. Getting dressed and undressed was a sport in itself, especially for goaltenders, wearing twice as much padding as the other players.
By the time he'd finished and had grabbed his shower bag, most teammates were already pulling on their regular clothing. Nico wished them a good week and headed into the showers.
When he got out, Chuck was still in the locker room, impatiently tapping his foot. "Come on, man. Hurry it up. I want to grab a beer before the game starts."
"Christ," Nico said, rolling his eyes as he pulled his boxers on. "I don't know why you go see that garbage fire of a team every time they play at home."
Chuck shrugged, dragging his enormous hockey bag to the center of the locker room. "They aren't that bad."
"They're literally at the bottom of the league," Nico said. "For the second year in a row."
"I'm not letting a filthy Pegasi fan talk about my team like that."
Nico snorted. "I don't get why you hate the Pegasi so much. They're leading the division by ten points. Clearly they're doing something right."
"Just get dressed, will you? I'll give you a ride home after we grab a beer."
After dumping their bags in Chuck's beat up truck, the two of them headed to the sports bar across the street. It smelled of stale beer and peanuts, but to Nico, it had turned into a home away from home. He'd spent countless nights here, celebrating his beer league team's victories with his teammates. He still had trouble remembering the night they'd won the trophy last season. For this season, they'd gotten the owner to sponsor their team a little, in the form of a free beer after a victory.
A few of their teammates were already drinking when Nico and Chuck joined them. Without prompting, the bartender set two bottles of beer down in front of them. Nico accepted his with a smile and put it to his lips immediately.
"So what's your plan for tonight?"
Nico shrugged, running his finger through the condensation on the bottle. "Watch a movie, or maybe go straight to bed."
Nico looked up and smirked. "I have work tomorrow. Besides, it's better than watching the Furies lose yet again."
His teammates laughed as Nico ducked away from the punch aimed at his shoulder. He was saved by Chuck's phone, blaring his obnoxious ringtone.
"Hey, dad," Chuck said as he picked up the phone, turning away from Nico. "Whoah, slow down, slow down. Just let me get outside." He took a big sip of his beer and hopped off his barstool.
Nico busied himself with peeling the label off his beer bottle as he talked game strategy with Mike and Jimmy. Most of the label lay in tiny pieces on the bar when Chuck pulled the bottle away from his hands and slammed money onto the bar.
"We have to go. Now."
Nico grabbed for his bottle, took one last sip before sliding it over to Mike, and followed Chuck outside, struggling to put his jacket back on. "What's going on? Did something happen?"
"I'll explain on the way," Chuck said, opening his door and hopping into the driver's seat, waiting for Nico to sit down and close his door before starting down the street.
"Where are we going?" Nico asked, fastening his seatbelt.
"That was my dad on the phone, and there's a bit of an emergency situation going on," Chuck said, pulling onto the highway. "He needs a goalie."
"What? The fuck would your dad need a goalie for?" Nico asked, confused. "I have plans, dude."
"Please." Chuck snorted. "Sitting at home and jerking off isn't plans," he said, turning his head and flashing Nico a smile. "Besides, you'll like this, I'm sure."
"Again, why the fuck would your dad need a goalie?"
"My dad's a coach."
"I thought you were smarter than that, man. Coach Hedge, ring any bells?"
Nico was sure he'd heard the name before, but he couldn't figure out where. He gritted his teeth when he saw Chuck smiling smugly to himself, before the penny dropped. "No. Fuck, no. Take me home. I'm not doing it."
"Oh, come on," Chuck said. "They're in deep shit. Harald was injured in warmups and the game starts in thirty minutes."
"So have him call those snotty Penn State assholes," Nico all but growled.
Chuck rubbed at his face, trying to weave his way through gameday traffic headed towards the Argo Stadium. "They're out of state. Seward is the usual emergency goalie but he's dealing with a sprained ankle. I'm telling you, my dad wouldn't have called me unless he was really in trouble." He sighed deeply. "Look, I already told him you'd do it. This is the NHL, man. The big league! You should be jumping at the chance."
"Yeah," Nico deadpanned, staring out the window. "I'm jumping all right. Just like how I jumped for joy when I was laughed out of the room at Penn State tryouts. I'm so happy a whole fucking NHL team will get the chance to laugh at me."
Chuck looked at Nico, as serious as Nico had ever seen him. "Listen to me. If I didn't think you could do it, I wouldn't have told my dad I knew a guy. Screw those assholes at Penn State. They don't know what they're missing." He turned his eyes back to the road, then steered the car off the highway.
Further ahead loomed the silhouette of the Argo Stadium, and against his wishes, Nico felt butterflies in his stomach, circling the rock that had made itself a home there when Chuck had told him that he'd volunteered him.
"Besides," Chuck started, grinning. "You'll only have to sit on the bench. You get to hang out with the players and you'll have the best seat in the house. And did I tell you you'll get five hundred bucks for it?"
They found a parking spot, and Chuck called his dad while Nico hauled his bag and stick out of the truck. "You fucking owe me," he grumbled. "Big time."
A middle-aged guy in a suit came outside to greet them. After a short handshake, the guy, who introduced himself as Dave Anderson, Assistant Coach, whisked Nico away and into the building.
The next few minutes were a blur. Nico had to answer questions fired at him from all directions - What's your jersey size? How do you spell your name? What's your experience? Are you healthy? What number do you want to play with? - and had to sign a bunch of waivers before he was quickly ushered into the locker room, where his gear was already waiting for him.
It was a little surreal, being in an actual NHL locker room. Everything about it screamed professional sports - from the warm lighting to the glossy finish of the stalls, from the enormous Furies logo on the floor to the polished nameplates.
He was left alone and left to dress, and he allowed himself a minute to look around and take everything in. Being a Pegasi fan meant that he was technically in enemy territory (the Pegasi and the Furies had a longstanding rivalry), but this wasn't the time to be petty.
He got into his gear as fast as he could, the excitement slowly building up inside of him and the adrenalin pushing the last of his tiredness out of his system. He'd told Chuck he absolutely didn't want to do it, but he knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and Chuck had been right: What else was he going to do tonight?
He knew he'd just be there to keep the bench warm, and that chances of him playing were microscopic at best, but he didn't care if his one game of NHL experience would boil down to sitting on the bench for one and a half periods; it would still be an awesome memory to have - even if it was with the worst team in the league, two years running.
Anderson interrupted him in the locker room to give him his driver's license back. When Nico had put it back into his wallet, Anderson held out a pen.
"Ready to sign your NHL contract?"
Nico couldn't help but smile through the sting. Anderson spoke the words he'd always wanted to hear, though it stung, knowing it would be for one night only. Still, when he saw the contract, his eyes lit up.
MEMORANDUM OF AGREEMENT BETWEEN:
Nicolas di Angelo, hereinafter called the "Player"
Philadelphia Furies, hereinafter called the "Club"
In consideration of the opportunity to play in the NHL, receipt of $500, and the Player being permitted to retain his game-worn jersey, the Player agrees to present himself, upon request of the Club to perform services as a player on Thursday, March 21 at the Argo Stadium. This agreement shall be valid for a term of one (1) day, and a Club shall only be permitted to enter into such an agreement in accordance with Section 16.14 of the CBA. Club certifies that it is signing player to this Professional Try-Out Agreement in order to address a last minute injury, illness or League suspension that results in the Club not being able to dress two goaltenders for an NHL Game, and that effectuating a Recall is otherwise impossible.
It wasn't the thing he'd always dreamed of, but he was never going to get closer than this. He was going to make the most of it. He took the pen with an unsteady hand and signed his name underneath the contract.
After emerging from the locker room, a bright orange jersey was handed to him by a guy who introduced himself as Hudson, equipment manager. His number - 35, since 30 was already taken by Harald - was sloppily stitched on the back of the jersey, and above it, DI ANGELO, in bold black letters on a white strip. A surge of pride swept over him. Whatever happened, he'd have tangible proof of his stint as the Furies' backup goaltender.
Hudson led him down the tunnel, asking him about his stick preferences and explained that the coaches and players were already on the bench. Warmups had started a few minutes ago.
As they walked, the constant background noise he'd been hearing grew louder, and Nico was able to make out what it was. The music was blaring, the crowd was cheering, and he could hear the scratching of skates on ice, the unmistakable sound of sticks sending pucks flying, the pings against the crossbars and posts of the goal when the pucks hit them, and the whoops and hollers of the players on the ice.
It was a unique experience. At his own hockey games, they were lucky if thirty people showed up to watch, but right now, there were thousands of people in the stands. When he finally emerged from the tunnel, his heart skipped a beat.
He wasn't a stranger to hockey games, having gone to watch quite a few of them, but things were completely different on ice level. The cheers bouncing off the ice, the glare of the stadium lights, everything was a little magical when compared against his usual spot in the nosebleeds. Now he knew where all those players were coming from when they said the crowd rallied them, that the cheers fueled them. His heart was beating a mile a minute and he was practically frozen to the floor, looking around the stadium with bright eyes, until Hudson gently nudged him forward.
He heard a vague echo of his name being called over the stadium speakers, and Anderson came off the bench to greet him. He guided Nico to the backup goalie's spot, separated from the rest of the bench by the boarding door. Hudson came up to him and compared a backup stick to the one Nico was carrying and, after giving Nico a hat and a bottle of gatorade, left him alone.
Nico felt like he had to be dreaming, the whole thing was so surreal. In front of him, the players were taking shots on Ahlstrom, the backup goaltender who replaced Harald in net. The pace was fast, and none of the players seemed to notice him, but he was content to just watch - Chuck had been right: he doubted there was a better seat in the house to watch the game from.
The shrill sound of a whistle being blown cut through the noise, and immediately all players started filing back to their benches. He opened the boarding door beside him and tried not to look too nervous when the Furies headed to the bench - a few of them acknowledging him with a nod of their heads. A few of players stayed on the ice - Nico guessed they were the ones about to start the game.
"Hey, Anderson, did you ask your kid to play backup?"
Laughter came from the bench, and Nico's head shot up, his gaze locking on to the person who'd spoken: a guy by the name of Sherman Yang, if the lack of teeth in his mouth was anything to go by. Yang grinned at him, and all Nico could do was roll his eyes and put his cap on to hide the glare he cast Yang's way.
Whatever. He wasn't going to let a punk like Yang ruin his night. He sat back and tried to catch what the coach was telling the team.
"I don't care what you do or how you do it, but for the love of God, score some goddamned goals tonight. We got them on the fence last time we played them, and I know we can drag a win out of this." Coach Hedge popped a piece of gum in his mouth and addressed the five skaters currently on the ice. "Yew, Lee, Gunderson, I want action here. Your backchecking has been a fucking mess all week. Do better! Grace, Zhang, get out of the zone more. I want you two more involved in the play, do you hear me?"
All five players nodded. Nico's eyes were drawn to the two hulking guys standing furthest away from him - Jason Grace and Frank Zhang, the Furies' top defense pairing. From what Nico had seen of the Furies this season, they were the only ones saving the team the embarrassment of breaking the record of team losses in a single season.
Grace had been drafted two seasons ago, selected number one at the 2013 draft. He'd made the team immediately, and after playing with veteran player Zhang all season, had been awarded captaincy a few months ago, when this season had started.
As the skaters headed to center ice, Grace glanced at Nico, his cold blue eyes standing off in stark contrast to the mostly orange uniform he was wearing.
Nico stood up with the rest of the team when the National Anthem was sang, and as the final notes sounded, the arena exploded into cheers again, sending shivers up Nico's spine.
The referee dropped the puck between Cecil Markowitz and the Gryphons captain, and the game was underway, fast-paced and brutal right from the get-go. For a solid five minutes, both teams were on even ground, laying checks and taking shots, but ultimately getting nowhere, the game remaining even for long minutes.
The referee blew his whistle, stopping the play when Markowitz was hooked to the ground. One of the Gryphons was sent to the penalty box for two minutes, and the Furies' first powerplay unit was sent onto the ice, Coach Hedge barking instructions at them as they went.
This was their big chance. For two minutes, they'd have a one-man advantage over the Gryphons - known for their discipline, and at the bottom of the league when it came to penalty minutes - and if there was ever an opportunity to score against one of the top teams in the league, it was now.
Play started again, and despite the team firing shot after shot at the Gryphon goal, they failed to score, narrowly missing the goal by a hair, or simply having the Gryphons' goalie snagging the shot out of the air with clean precision.
Grace came close with a slapshot, but it hit the wrong side of the goal post and ricocheted off into the corner. Three Furies and three Gryphons tried to pry the puck loose from the boarding, digging after it with their sticks.
Nico didn't see what made the puck come loose, or who had been responsible for it, but when it came loose, Markowitz didn't waste a single second, passing it to Grace around the defenseman covering him. Grace was completely open, and took advantage with a precise wrist shot, sending the puck into the goal.
Nico jumped up, throwing his hands into the air as the goal horn sounded. He grinned when the players on the ice piled onto Grace. The happiness was palpable, the crowd cheering so loud Nico's rang and drowning out the already loud goal song. It was an intoxicating feeling, warmth blooming in Nico's chest.
The players skated by the bench, bumping gloves with their teammates. Nico stayed where he was - he wasn't a part of the team, and as an outsider, he'd only feel weird sharing in what was essentially a team activity. A part of him wanted to join in the celebrations, as if donning the Furies' orange had made him a real part of the team, but he was just the guy filling in for an actual teammate.
Grace apparently wasn't having any of it, coming to a stop in front of Nico, raising his eyebrow and holding out a gloved hand, only stepping onto the bench after Nico had given him a fistbump.
After the goal had been called over the stadium speakers, the play continued, the team seeming extra motivated by being in the lead, even if it was only by one goal. There were still two periods left, and eight minutes in this one, but for now it was more than enough to build on.
The Gryphons got more aggressive in their play, throwing checks that made Nico wince in sympathetic pain and thank his lucky stars that he'd decided to play goalie as a kid, but despite all of that, Markowitz scored again, taking the Furies to a 2-0 lead.
The celebration was short-lived, however, when Gryphon star player, Damien White, broke away. With no defense to back Ahlstrom up, White got all the time in the world to line up a clear shot to the back of the net.
Nico hissed out a curse. Ahlstrom should have seen White coming from a mile away; the way White held his stick was a clear indicator that he'd be shooting top shelf, and Ahlstrom had been covering low, unable to lift his glove in time to stop the shot.
Next to him, the coach snarled at the two defensemen responsible for letting White slip. Both Castor Bach and Danny Pollux looked apologetic, their heads hanging as the coach tore into them.
"Now get out there and be better!" Coach Hedge yelled, and both d-men hopped over the boarding and back into the play.
Despite Grace and Zhang's effort to control them, and an awesome job by the forwards on the backcheck, the Gryphons got more dangerous as the period winded down. After being stuck defending for a solid two minutes, the Furies were tired, but there was no window for a line change just yet. They needed to get the puck out into neutral ice to buy themselves some breathing room, and get fresh players on the ice.
Instead, the puck landed on White's stick, who deftly skated around Gardner covering him and skated closer to the goal. It was a goal waiting to happen, had it not been for Sherman Yang coming in from the side, levelling White with a vicious hit, sending him flying onto Ahlstrom.
Nico wished he hadn't heard Ahlstrom's cry as White landed on him - a sound of pure agony torn from his throat. This isn't good, Nico thought, and the gasps from the crowd and the furious reaction from the bench backed it up.
White slowly crawled off Ahlstrom as one of the Gryphons grabbed Yang by the jersey, throwing his gloves to the ice as a challenge to a fight. Yang gladly reciprocated, and the two started throwing punches at each other. The fight was quickly broken up by the refs, but hardly anyone paid attention; everyone was staring at Ahlstrom, laid on the ice, clutching his right shoulder in pain.
A blond guy in an orange and black poloshirt dashed past Nico, gingerly stepping onto the ice before shuffling over to the goal. He kneeled by Ahlstrom, sharing a few quick words with him, then turned around and shook his head at the bench, prompting the coach to bark out a loud "Fuck!"
Nico watched as Ahlstrom sat, clutching his right arm to his body. Before Ahlstrom even got up, Coach Hedge stepped into his field of vision, flanked by Anderson.
"Kid, you're up."
Hey guys, this is my new fic. Hope you enjoy it. Please, leave a review!