Home > The O Zone (Bears Hockey II #1)

The O Zone (Bears Hockey II #1)
Author: Kelly Jamieson

 

1

 

 

Owen

 

 

She’s here tonight.

A few steps in front of me, the guys are yammering about the game tonight. They stride right past her where she sits playing and singing into her microphone, not noticing my steps slow as I walk by her. I feel like I’m in a slow-motion scene from a movie, her song the score as my head turns and our eyes meet…and hold for one step…two…three. It feels like time stands still but it’s seconds—a flicker of her eyes as she sings, a tiny dip of her head.

A guitar case on the floor in front of her holds bills and coins. Any time I’ve seen her, she attracts a crowd and always seems to have money in the case. I’ve never given her money. I don’t know why. I often toss cash to subway buskers.

As I walk through the subway station behind my teammates, the soulful melody floats around us and all the other people in the underground tiled space. I don’t know much about music or how to describe her voice—soft, high, clear, and utterly beautiful. Combined with the notes she plays on her guitar, her music never fails to give me shivers when I hear it.

One time when I was alone, I stopped to watch her for a few songs, trying to blend into the crowd. I didn’t want to be creepy, but there’s something about her music that’s…mesmerizing.

Her hair is green. I can’t say I find that attractive. I’ve always been into blondes. Okay, it’s not all green—it’s like, dark brown with a green tint, shoulder length, with long bangs. She wears big gold-framed glasses, and her full lips are shiny and natural. Today she’s wearing loose, ripped up jeans, and a massive, chunky-knit brown sweater that hides her shape.

I make myself keep going so I don’t fall too far behind my teammates, letting her voice fill my head then gradually recede behind me as we distance from her and emerge from Penn Station onto the street.

It’s game day, so the area is busy, lots of fans in New York Bears jerseys filling the streets even though it’s a couple of hours before the game. I brace against the cold January wind as we walk to the Apex Center and duck into the staff entrance, showing our security badges and greeting Homer. He waves us all in with his usual beaming smile. “Good luck tonight, guys!”

We head straight to the locker room to change and go through our game day routines. Game day is all about getting ready for puck drop. Every player’s routine is different. I’m not superstitious—okay, maybe I am a bit—but I do the same things in the same order, every game day, from getting up in the morning until I skate onto the ice.

Not only game day. My entire life is organized into a routine that keeps me busy. I eat, sleep, practice, and study. I have to work hard so I don’t waste this gift I’ve been given. A gift not everyone gets.

After I change from my suit into athletic shorts and a T-shirt, the first thing I do is go to the training room, where I roll out my quads and do some stretches. Then I have my bowl of oatmeal with a banana on top.

“What’s up, Cookie?”

I look up at Axe, who joins me in the lounge for a snack. He takes a bite of his protein bar.

My nickname comes from my last name—Cooke.

“Good. You?”

“Feeling fine. What’d you think about that fine for Reynolds?”

“Ugh.” I take a spoonful of my oatmeal and chew while I think. Reynolds, who plays for the Condors, was fighting with a Leafs player in their last game and punched him in the head while he was face down on the ice. He got fined five thousand dollars, and the public outcry has been loud. He’s a repeat offender and should have been suspended in my opinion. And in a lot of people’s opinions. “How does he keep getting away with shit like that?”

Axe shakes his head. “I don’t know, man.”

I’m not a fighter, but I’ll drop the gloves if I have to. I follow the rules, though. And believe me, I know the rules. That’s why I have an “A” on my jersey. I may be a jock, but I’m also a giant nerd. I spend hours watching hockey—video of our own team but also watching other teams on TV. I read everything I can get my hands on about hockey.

When I see guys get hurt, it makes me sick. But hockey’s a dangerous sport, and shit happens. We all take that risk every time we step on the ice. We can’t let that distract us from doing our jobs. Over the years, I’ve learned how to focus on the things I need to. Which is playing the best game I can.

After my oatmeal, I join some guys in the hall for a little soccer. And some laughs. This warms up our muscles but also relaxes us.

Around five-thirty, we have our pre-game meetings with the coaches with last minute reminders about the team we’re playing tonight, the Flames. Coach gives a quick review of the game plan from the morning five-on-five meeting. He also reminds us that the Flames’ power play has been hot lately, so our penalty kill guys have to be on top of them.

“Remember, bump and run!” Coach says. “We don’t need the big check, just harass them, put pressure on them, but don’t take yourselves out of the play.”

In the dressing room, I put on my equipment in the same order I always do, left to right. I tape my stick while music plays, the sound of tape ripping mixing with the tunes. It’s always something fast paced to get us going. Right now, Imagine Dragons gets us grooving. Our dressing room DJ, Bergie, puts the play list together, and he’s good at it. I mean, I think he is.

“The fuck is this?” Jake whines as he tosses a wad of tape toward a garbage can and misses. “Come on man, where’s Blake Shelton? Kenny Chesney?”

Bergie laughs. “Patience, my friend.”

I hear the words of the song. Whatever it takes.

I get myself ready to do whatever it takes to win.

The game is close. And frustrating. I feel like we’re playing great, but we can’t get ahead, and things are tied one-one. Then we end up with a goddamn penalty for too many men on the ice.

“Okay, we gotta kill this, boys,” I say as our penalty kill team jumps over the board. “Let’s do this!”

This could be the end of the game with a loss. Just what we didn’t want, another penalty against a team with a hot power play. That’s how they got their only goal. We can’t let it happen again.

Barbie is our penalty kill god. He always has his stick in the right place and isn’t afraid to block shots. He’s a maniac that way. I watch him throw himself in front of the puck and wince along with him. But he gets up and keeps skating.

“Attaboy, Barbs!” I shout.

Then I’m out on the ice, watching JBo take the faceoff. He wins it, gets the puck back to me, and I have lots of room to head toward the Flames’ net. I skate my ass off, knowing I’m being chased, keeping the puck on my stick, watching the goalie, my mind racing, planning. I watch him come out, and I shoot over his glove hand and fuck yeah! I light the fucking lamp!

Shorthanded!

“Fucking beauty,” JBo crows.

We’re still short one guy for another minute, but my goal gives us a huge boost, and we kill the rest of the penalty.

With frustration mounting, a scrum develops around the Flames’ net after a whistle. I’m watching from the bench. Hellsy and Barbie hang at the blue line. The linesmen break things up, and the guys disperse to their benches. I jump on the ice.

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