As Rick and Eric entered the visitors dressing room all the talk was about the girl that Rick brought to the game. A few seconds later the Cougars coach Brad Kennan returned from the washroom.
“Listen up you guys. I know you’re curious, but don’t ask Rick any questions about his new female friend. Wait until the game is over. You guys all realize the importance of tonight’s game. I need Rick and the rest of you guys to place all your concentration on the game for the next ninety minutes and nothing else. Most of all, I don’t want Rick distracted by anything. I need him to be completely focused on the game.
As I’ve told you guys before, I’m not happy with the way we’ve started off this season. I also know that you’ve heard a lot of talk from some of our fans. They’ve been saying that this year’s team is too young and doesn’t have the talent that previous year’s teams had. Yes, we are probably the youngest team in a few years, but that doesn’t bother me. Our youngest players will pick up on experience as the season progresses. I want you players to forget about the naysayers and to start to think positively. I believe in you guys and believe that we will be a force to be reckoned with this season.”
The Cougars started getting dressed for the game. Every player followed a different routine in putting on their hockey gear. For Rick, the most important component of getting prepared had already been done at home. Rick was meticulous in making sure that every item of his goalie equipment was placed in his duffle bag before he left home. Rick would double check a few minutes later to make sure that he hadn’t missed anything while he was packing up his duffle bag.
One of the last pieces of equipment that Rick put on was his hockey sweater. When the Cougars played on the road they always wore their white sweaters with brown and gold trim. Rick always preferred the road jersey with his name and number one on the back.
As he was tonight’s starting goalie for the Cougars, he was the first to lead his teammates from the visitor’s dressing room to the ice. Rick had placed two pucks in his trapper glove for the five minute warm up. He always felt a tremendous rush of adrenaline surge through him as he led his team out to the ice.
As soon as Rick stepped on the ice he could hear a cacophony of noise coming from both the left and right hand bleachers. Most of the crowd in the left bleachers were booing Rick and the Cougars, but he could also hear some cheers of encouragement coming from the opposite bleachers. The Cougars were blessed to have a large group of committed fans who travelled to all their road games. Rick didn’t mind the booing and verbal assaults from the Norberry fans. It just pumped more adrenaline through his veins.
Rick made a practice of only skating one cycle around the rink. During the end of his skate Rick dropped two practise pucks on the ice for his teammates. The rest of the Cougars would complete one more round of the rink and line up at the blue line ready to take warm up shots at Rick. Rick took the warm up routine very seriously. His goal was not to allow any pucks to get by him during the warmup. With Rick’s lightening fast, well developed glove hand, none of his teammate’s shots entered the net. Rick’s team followed a routine of taking only slapshots from the blue line.
Just as important to Rick as not letting any pucks in during the warmup routine, was his desire to stop the first shot fired at him by the opposition. Rick’s first test came early. The Cougar’s lost the first face-off draw to the Norberry Knights. This allowed Norberry’s star left winger, Paul Bolten to fire a blazing slap-shot at the Cougar’s goal. The Cougar’s goalie countered with lightening speed and caught the puck that was intended for the top right corner of the net. Rick decided to play it safe and freeze the puck for a face off in the left face-off circle of the Cougar’s goal.
This was just a foretaste of what Rick was forced to handle during the first period. The Norberry Knights were physically a much larger team than the Cougars. The Cougars had a slight advantage in speed, but Norberry’s game plan was to counter it with brute physicality. The Cougar players were taking hard checks every time they tried to get the puck out of their own end of the ice. Fortunately, Rick was in top form, stopping both high and low shots from every angle and scrambled to constantly stay on top of the action in front of his net. To Rick’s relief the siren to mark the end of the first period sounded just as Rick made another spectacular save.