A note before you read - Connie and Julie aren't best friends in this story. There are no adult themes, just a few bad words. And I haven't seen any of the Mighty Ducks movies in a while, so some of my details might be off.


Icebreaker

For their stay in Los Angeles, the Junior Goodwill Games Committee has booked them several rooms at a nice hotel near the arena. The team makes a commotion when they arrive in the plush, carpeted lobby, loudly talking and pulling their luggage trolleys, but it doesn't match the uproar they make when the lady at the front desk tells Coach Bombay that there are just enough rooms reserved for the hockey team for two players to share each room.

Cries go up of "Coach, who am I rooming with?" and "Hey, dude, you wanna room with me?" and "I am not sharing a room with Goldberg! No way!" Coach Bombay quickly pulls out his team roster and tries to assign roommates, keeping in mind which guys are best friends and which ones might kill each other if they had to room together. It takes a long time to make arrangements that everyone will agree to, but there are two players that Coach Bombay assigns to the same room right away.

"Let's see... okay, Connie and Julie," he says immediately, checking off their names on his list. "Obviously, you two have to room together. You're the only girls on the team."

Connie sighs and rolls her eyes, while Julie silently mouths No duh, but their coach has moved down the list and doesn't notice.

They don't say a word to each other as they take the elevator up to their room and start unpacking. Connie looks disappointed, and Julie looks mad, but neither of them looks surprised. There was no way Coach Bombay was going to let them room with one of the guys. There had to be a dozen rules against that.

They're not old friends who get along really well - like Charlie and Jesse, who occupy the room to their right. They're not new friends who have a lot in common - like Fulton and Portman, who have the room to their left. On their first night in the hotel, the Bash Brothers blare loud rap music after lights-out time, but it abruptly stops after Julie threatens to shove her hockey stick through the wall into their room.

They have almost nothing in common, except for the obvious fact that they're both girls who play hockey. But the rest of the team probably expects them to instantly become best friends and stay up late painting each other nails, braiding each other's hair, and gossiping about boys.

Yeah, right.

For the first week or so, they don't talk to each other at all, except to say things like, "Are you going to be much longer in the bathroom?" and "Have you seen my gloves?"

The first ice-breaker comes one evening when they're both sitting in their room after dinner, writing letters home. That's one of Miss MacKay's rules - they all have to send a note home to their families once a week, even if it's just a postcard with the word Hey. It's just before lights-out time, and they're both winding down from the day. Connie is writing at the desk in her nightgown, while Julie sits on her bed in the boxers and t-shirt she sleeps in.

"You know," Julie says, looking up from her letter, "when they recruited me to join Team USA, I figured I would be the only girl on the team. I was always the only girl on my team in Maine."

Connie pauses in writing her letter and lays her pencil down on the desk. She's taken aback by this sudden attempt at conversation, but she also understands what Julie means. "Yeah," she agrees. "I was the only girl on the Ducks, too. When they told us new players were joining the team, I figured they'd all be more guys."

She turns around slightly in her chair, looks over at Julie sitting on the bed, and they smile at each other before Connie goes back to writing her letter. They don't speak to each other again that evening, except to say good night, but Connie picks up her pencil and makes some adjustments to her letter before mailing it to her parents.

Anyway, I'm rooming with Julie, this new girl from Maine. We have nothing in common and it totally sucks. Feeling suddenly embarrassed, Connie erases the last sentence and writes in its place, It's kinda nice not being the only girl on the team anymore.

After that, they start saying more than the bare amount of words required to get through the day. Soon, they're having real conversations, and by the second week or so, they've gotten comfortable enough to change in front of each other. Connie can't help but freak out a little, one evening when Julie takes her shirt off to change and appears to have two elbows instead of one. Julie laughs and shows her that it's just a bump on her arm, left over from when she fractured it during a game years ago. When she bends it just the right way, it still looks like a second elbow.

After their team wins the championship game against Iceland, they both stagger back into their room, giddy with victory but so tired from playing and celebrating that they collapse into their beds without even bothering to take off their uniforms. Connie is almost asleep before her head even hits the pillow, but she wakes up a little when Julie asks, "Hey? Connie?"

"Huh? What?" Connie asks sleepily, as she opens one bleary eye and looks over at Julie. Their beds are close together, separated only by a small nightstand between them. Julie has turned on the lamp and is sitting up in bed, looking at her.

"That Iceland player almost took you out today," Julie says slowly, still looking over at her.

Connie props herself up on her elbows in bed, now wide-awake and puzzled. Yeah, that goon on the Iceland team had almost checked her, but she doesn't understand why Julie seems concerned. The guy never actually hit her; Dwayne had stopped him, and she was fine. Besides, even if she had gotten hurt, Julie is such a tough chick that she would probably be telling Connie to get over her injuries, not acting concerned.

"Yeah, so?" Connie asks in confusion.

Julie abruptly stands up and begins stripping off her hockey uniform to change into her sleepwear. "So, I was just wondering," she says hesitantly, as she pulls off her socks, "if he, like, said anything... ugly to you. I mean, he got pretty close to you before Dwayne roped him. Did he say anything like, you know, Girls can't play hockey? Or should I say..." Julie lowers her voice and attempts an Icelandic accent, "Girls can't play hockey?"

Connie laughs a little at the funny voice, but then she becomes serious again. "No," she answers. "I've never had a guy say anything like that to me. Have you?"

"Yeah, once," Julie tells her quietly. "It was this jackass on the team from Augusta. He slammed into me really hard with his stick during a game. He tried to make it look like an accident, but just before he crashed into me, he whispered, Go play hopscotch, bitch."

"Oh, my gosh, really?" Connie gasps. "What a jerk. Didn't you tell the ref?"

"Yeah," Julie sighs, "but there was no one else close by when it happened, and of course the guy claimed he never said it, and he just said I was lying because I was mad he slammed into me, and... well, I just decided to drop it."

By now, Julie has taken off her jersey, goalie pads, and undershirt. As a goalie, she has to wear a lot more gear than the rest of the players. But if it ever gets heavy or hot, Connie has never heard her complain. She stares at Julie's bare back for a moment; for how fiercely Julie guards her net, how quickly she moves on the ice, and how fearlessly she stood toe-to-toe with Gunner Stahl today, her shoulders seem suddenly small.

"He was the one who fractured my arm," Julie adds very quietly, and she turns around and holds out her left arm, the one that sometimes looks like it has a second elbow. "That was how I got this bump on it." Then she sees what she thinks is pity in Connie's eyes and quickly pulls on her t-shirt.

But the look in Connie's eyes is more uncertainty than pity. The two of them have been getting along better, but they're still not really friends, and Connie doesn't quite know how to react. She's never seen Julie this vulnerable. Heck, she never even knew that vulnerability existed in Julie. That was one reason why Connie had disliked her at first. Julie had seemed so impossibly tough - like an invincible robot goalie, not a regular girl like Connie.

"I've never had a guy say anything like that to me," Connie says again, because she isn't sure what else to say. But she suddenly remembers Adam's warning before went out on the ice today. Connie, be careful, they're gunning for you. Had the Iceland team only been gunning for her because she was a girl? The possibility never even occurred to her before, but now she realizes that as a girl in a male-dominated sport, it's only a matter of time until she encounters some prejudice. In her own way, Julie is trying to warn her.

"Thanks for telling me that, Julie," she says softly. "I'll keep that in mind from now on."

Julie just shrugs and pretends that she doesn't care, but Connie notices her smile as she climbs back into bed and says, "Yeah well, next time, just don't stay in the corner for five minutes trying to get the puck out, stupid."

Neither of them complain when they have to share a tent on the victory camping trip to Minnesota. To look at them sitting next to each other around the campfire, no one would ever guess how chilly things started out between them.

They trade addresses and hug goodbye at the airport, before Julie flies back to Maine. "Promise you'll write me, okay?" Connie asks as she hugs her, and Julie does. Back in Minneapolis, Connie sends her a postcard of the wildflower field in Theodore Wirth Park, her favorite place in the city since she was a little girl. The picture on the front was taken during springtime, with all the flowers in bloom. To look at it, no one would ever guess what a cold, dreary place the park is during the winter. It seems appropriate.

She signs her letter, Miss you! Your friend, Connie.

FIN