He was the last to leave.
The Zamboni chugged its way around the ice, leaving a slick silver surface in its wake and still he stayed. Steam clung to his near naked body as he sat in the now nearly deserted rink and slowly shed his dripping wet equipment. One by one or in pairs, sometimes with girlfriends, occasionally with parents, his teammates drifted past him and out in the night.
“Nice game, Jack.”
He was the oldest player on the team by far, well past fifty, but tonight he had played with the furies of forgotten youth.
With the outcome of the game still in doubt, he had picked up a loose puck in his own zone and rushed the length of the ice. One by one, he snaked his way past opposing players, dipping a shoulder here, making a sweeping turn there, until only one defenseman stood between him and the goalie. Without breaking stride, he slid the puck between his opponent’s skates and slipped around him to retrieve it, but at the last second, the defenseman brought his stick down and caught just the slightest piece of the puck, sending it slowly skittering back the other way.
Jack toe-dragged, trailed his right skate, caught the puck with the blade and slid it up behind his back until it was up in front of him and on his stick again. By then, the goalie had come out of the net to cut down the angle.
Jack slid to his right, faked a wrist shot on his forehand side, then suddenly made a sharp break to the left of the goal, as if to beat the goalie on the backhand side.
The goalie broke with him to cover the angle, then suddenly looked up to discover that Jack no longer had the puck on his stick, but had left it on the other side slowly sliding across the ice toward the goal, right where he had been but a brief second before.
For one instant, the goaltender’s eyes and Jack’s met. Then the goalie dove vainly back toward the opposite side of the net. But it was too late. The puck skidded ever-so-slowly across the goal line and into the net.
It was a big league goal, a move he had mastered only once in college and then again one time in Spokane in a Sunday night league where he was a visitor for a few weeks and where when he had shown up early in the empty locker room the first night, two guys in their early thirties had strode past him, gone to the farthest side of the room, then looked back at him appraisingly as one of the players said to the other in a stage-whisper designed for him to hear:
“Who’s the Jewboy from LA?”
That night – skating with a mixture of fear and pride - he had rung a shot off the post in the first period that caromed inside for a goal and then late in the game he picked off a pass, cut across the blue line, split the two defensemen and raced in on the goalie. He faked a wrist shot, cut hard to his left as if to test the goalie with a backhand, but left the puck sliding slowly along the ice behind him.
It was an impressive goal and the Jew-baiters left him alone after that. In fact, a couple of his new teammates even lobbied hard for him to stay for the playoffs, but his work in Spokane was over and it was time to move on.
Now he had been playing in a rec league in Culver City for twelve years. A torn ACL, a torn Achilles, but still he played on.
What was it about the sport that so enthralled him, trapped him in a rundown rink, skating late into the night competing with men half his age?
Because every now and then on a night like tonight, good hockey was like good sex – pushing back the slings and arrows of defeat, transcending the daily indignities of getting old and catapulting him back into time when his mind and body worked in near perfect harmony.
He pulled the last of his wet gear off and shook his head. He used to think: “The older I get, the better I was.”
Now he wasn’t so sure anymore.
Jack B. Kahuna is the nom de plume of a filmmaker currently on the lam from the Canadian authorities.