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We were all sitting in the media room after dinner one night watching TV and we noticed that Barney wasn't with us. He usually laid down in the middle of the floor to be near his 'pack', but none of us had seen him for over twenty minutes, ever since we had left the dinner table upstairs.
"I have this strange feeling that Barney's up to no good," I said.
The boys got up and looked in the studio, but they couldn't find him.
"We'll go upstairs and look for him," Sean said.
After a few moments we heard Jake yell out his name. Dana and I quickly went upstairs to find Sean, Jake and Barney in the main bathroom with Kleenex all over the floor and the garbage can tipped over.
"Barney, give me that Kleenex," Sean said, as he tried to yank a tissue from Barney's clenched teeth.
Barney growled and Jake said, "I don't think that's such a good idea, Sean."
Every time we bent down to try and extricate the Kleenex, he bared his teeth and growled, indicating his strong desire to finish what we were assuming he felt was his dessert.
"I guess there's no accounting for taste," I said, trying to lighten up the situation.
"That little dog is giving me more grey hairs than these two boys and you ever will," Dana said, clearly exasperated.
The next day the boys and I came home after hockey practice and noticed all the garbage cans in the washrooms and bedrooms had been replaced with ones that had a lid on them.
"And did the clerk in the store say these are Barney proof?" I asked. I got the stare, as Dana was not amused.
"We'll see how long it takes him to figure them out," Sean said, as Barney had now joined us in the bathroom. He was tilting his head and looking at the new addition, then us.
"I'm thinking two days," Jake added.
Unfortunately, the boys knew their dog very well. The next night, as we were having dinner, we heard a thud coming from the bathroom. We all looked at each other and then bolted from the table to find Barney picking out a tasty morsel and the garbage can on its side with the lid next to it.
"So what's plan B, dear? I asked. Dana was again not happy.
"Maybe bungee cords?" Jake suggested.
The next day a 'new' model replaced the replacement cans. This model was fortified in structure as well as cost. Try as he might, Barney couldn't solve the security features, which displeased him a great deal. He made sure he tried every new can, looking for a point of weakness to no avail. Dana was pleased that she had finally outfoxed him and gloated over her new solution every time Barney came into earshot of her.
She had left the room to go to the washroom, leaving the three of us at the dinner table for a few moments, that night.
Sean piped up, "You know, he's going to find something else to get into."
"Please don't say that when you're Mother's around."
The three of us had a chuckle before Dana arrived back.
Barney's antics were adding an extra layer to our already busy family schedule. As well as getting Garth and Glen moved into their new home with Susan and John, we also had Katie and Marty's nuptials.
It had been a destination wedding in the Dominican Republic, where the ceremony took place on the Beach. All the boys were a part of the wedding party, including Derek, who had been added as one of the ring bearers. John and Susan were very clear to Garth that they wanted to have a 'non-ursus' performance without the growling as he and Derek came down the aisle to the gazebo where the ceremony was to take place.
"Ok, I won't growwwwl," he uttered, followed by the usual giggle.
Some moments later we heard Derek and Garth both laughing away, as we suspected that Garth had filled Derek in on the joke. Just then my niece, Janet, Derek's mother, joined us and wondered what was going on with the two boys. We brought her up-to-date.
"We hadn't heard that one. We usually hear all of Garth's jokes retold during dinner in one form or another," she said, with a smile.
Sean, Jake and Glen looked very handsome as Marty's ushers, in their tan linen pants and flat bottom white casual shirts that hung outside their pants. Garth and Derek were dressed in the same tan pants, but they had short sleeved white shirts and red bow ties on.
"How come we have to wear ties and no-one else does?" Garth asked.
"Because, you two are very special parts of the wedding party and you need to stand out. Besides, they match the colour of the pillow you're carrying," Katie told them, as she gave them a big smile.
Katie was very convincing and the two boys were beaming after her explanation. Katie, of course, looked radiant in her gown and Marty, the only male in a suit, looked very dashing, according to Dana's description. Dana was well dressed the entire trip, as she had spent many hours leading up to the wedding buying the appropriate wardrobe pieces for the occasion. I wasn't aware of current wedding fashion protocol and the fact that three different dresses were needed for the big day, depending on the part of the event.
"I can't wear the same dress the whole day and I certainly need something more elegant for the reception. And then of course there's the dance," she said, as we made our way to the reception area from our room where she had changed into her second dress of the day.
I had learned not to question these sorts of decisions and said, "Of course, dear, I agree. You look wonderful."
"You'll love the one I have for the dance after dinner," she said, with a big smile.
We had a buffet, as Dana and I had for our reception and after Dana and I welcomed Marty into the family, his Father and Mother welcomed Katie as well.
We were all looking forward to the performance from Sean, Jake and Carol of the song 'The Prayer', before the dance started, which was Katie's choice. Carol was going to play the piano, which was something she hadn't done for many years. They were also going to be backed by the classical quartet that had played while we milled about and had dinner.
Marty's parents had been a little skeptical about this part but we assured them that they would be pleased with the outcome. Besides, Katie got her way with just about everything to do with the wedding and she was firm about this part.
They certainly didn't disappoint us, as Carol was great, despite her rustiness and so were the boys. Sean started the song in English and then Jake took over and of course he sang in Italian. Sean took the lower harmony when they were singing together and both ended the song in Italian. Everyone was quite impressed and Katie and Marty were very pleased.
"That was great, little sister. Now we've got to work on the old guy to get him playing again," Katie said, as the two of them looked at me.
"Some day, girls, some day."
Dana had just finished hugging Sean and Jake, who were a little embarrassed at the overt show of affection, especially since everyone was watching. Katie then seized the opportunity and laid a couple of kisses each on their cheeks, which deepened the shade of red on their faces.
"The first one was from me and the second one was for your lady friends, who couldn't be here today," Katie said, to the two of them.
I waited until they weren't the centre of attention to congratulate them.
"I'm surprised you both ended the song in Italian," I said, to Sean. "Where'd you learn to do that?"
"I had a couple of good tutors," Sean said, as he smiled at Dana and Jake.
We all enjoyed the sunny break from the winter weather we were having in Southern Ontario and the boys liked the fact that they missed two days of school.
We also managed to fit in a trip to the Canadian Opera company's production of 'La Cenerentola (Cinderella)' by Rossini, at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto, the next weekend after we got back. We took John, Susan, Garth and Glen along with us. We were a little concerned about Garth and whether he would be bored and become fidgety during the performance. Our fears were allayed when the performance started and we didn't hear a peep from him, save for his laughter at the numerous funny parts. He also wasn't the only young person, as there were a number of kids his age with their parents and grandparents.
"Those mice were funny," he said at intermission, as he was still chuckling, "and they were really good dancers."
They were from the National Ballet Company and their role in the production was to be silent companions and confidants to Cinderella. Garth was very taken with dancing and we weren't surprised at his numerous comments about their performance. He also liked the singing, but not all of us were in full agreement.
"I'm not real crazy about those runs and trills they sing sometimes," Sean said.
"That's part of the 'Bel Canto' style of singing. It's very hard to do," Jake said.
Except for that part of the performance Sean liked the experience and was captivated with the fifty piece orchestra and Rossini's wonderful musical score. Jake was equally captivated, but he enjoyed the whole performance. It was his first opera done by a truly professional company. His Uncle hadn't been able to afford to take him to the Toronto productions, so they had only gone to amateur and semi-professional performances.
"I don't know where to start," he said, when Dana asked him what the best part was. "Everything was fantastic. The tenor was great and the soprano that was playing Angelina (Cinderella) has a beautiful voice."
He then proceeded, in typical Jake fashion, to 'flesh out' his response, which Dana happily added to. The rest of us couldn't get a word in edgewise, as the two of them went through an extensive 'review' of the first act.
Sean moved in beside me out of earshot of them and said, "This is only intermission. Wait till they have the whole opera to talk about. It's going to be a long ride home with those two," he said as he rolled his eyes.
The arts and family events were not the only things that were occupying us, as hockey was still a big part of our family's lives. It was almost the end of November and Carson had still not come out to a practice or played in a game. The boys were trying to encourage him to come out, but he just changed the subject when they brought it up, preferring not to confront the issue.
Despite this, he had come a long way and was more comfortable at school, in large part due to the friendships he had made with the boys. As well, the resolution of the situation with his father and mother had added some stability to his home life and the sessions with the Psychiatrist were becoming less frequent as he moved forward with his treatment.
Hockey was the last frontier he had to conquer, but the boys and Doreen still couldn't get him to the point where he could let go of some of the past and his shame at what he had tried to do. Also, the pressure that his father had put on him to excel in hockey still conjured up bad memories that he was having a hard time with.
"Mom will drive you boys to practice tonight and I'll be along shortly. I have something to do first," I told them one night as we were getting ready to leave.
I decided to take a chance and help Carson confront his fears. He was much stronger mentally than he was, so I felt that he could take some 'gentle' nudging.
"Al, what brings you here?" Doreen asked when she opened the door.
"I've come to pick up one of the stars of our hockey team and take him to practice."
Just then Carson came into the hall to see who was at the door and he stopped when he saw me. I told him that I was there to take him to practice and as I expected, he said he wasn't going. I told him that everyone on the team was hoping that he would reconsider and join us, along with other words of encouragement. I was very hopeful this time, as there was some hesitation. He hadn't looked away from my gaze, which was something he did when a discussion became uncomfortable for him.
"You have some god-given talents that you're wasting, young man. I don't think you want to wake up some day in the future and regret you stopped using them."
He gave a feeble excuse and said, "I don't know where all my stuff is."
"I'm sure between the three of us we can find everything," I said.
There was silence as both Doreen and I waited for his answer.
Finally after a long pause he looked at me and asked, "Is sweater number 87 still available?"
His mother gave him a big hug and smile and he went downstairs to get his gear packed. While he was packing I went to the car to get a couple of things.
"You'll need these," I said, as I handed him his team jacket and aviator hat with the ear flaps.
He put on the jacket and smiled as he looked at the hat.
"I'll bet Sean picked this out." He put it on and said, "Perfect."
"You don't have to drive him, Al. I can take him over."
I smiled at Carson and said, "I'll need to bring Carson up to speed on our systems. Why don't you come after and pick him up."
He was a little nervous about how he would be received as we walked down the corridor to the dressing room, but the boys were glad to see him, as were Mark Depew and Rickie.
"Spencer, it's going to be great to see you on our bench and not on the opposing team," Rickie said.
"Now I won't have anyone to chase around the ice and bash into the boards," Pieter DeBoer said, as he playfully punched Carson's arm.
That was all Carson needed and he sat down between Sean and Jake to get dressed. He was a different boy on the ice than the one we had seen the year before in his brief time with us. He certainly hadn't lost his skill and he was much more attentive to our instruction, however, he had lost some of his competitive fire. It appeared that that would take some time to come back.
Even though Sean, Jake and Glen were enjoying playing again, they were also having a good time coaching Garth's team and were managing very well. They were able to handle Ronan and channel his energy into a leadership role, but it was Garth that was turning out to be somewhat of a problem. He felt it was his duty to make sure Mandy and Charise understood the game and help them develop their skills.
"Webster, if you keep telling the girls how to play, we coaches will have nothing to do," Rickie said, after one of the practices as they were coming off the ice.
"You need to concentrate on your game, little brother," Glen said, knowing the term 'little brother' would get a rise out of Garth.
"I was just showing them how to stickhandle," he said, as he protested.
"I think you're stick handling around the fact that you like them," Sean said, as he gave him a big smile.
Garth stuck out his tongue and the boys just laughed.
How different this Christmas was for the Websters. It was a year ago when the boys saw John's pleas on television for help after the fire that had destroyed the contents of their home and John had lost his job. I remember how devastated the family looked. Their Christmas had been salvaged, thanks to the generosity of Sean and Jake, but this year things were even better. Because of fate, the family had financial and family stability. Even though this came at a cost for John, as he would never fully physically recover, he was happy to pay the price.
The entire family was over for the afternoon on Christmas day at their loft and then we moved downstairs to the Old Firehall Gourmet's kitchen, which had an area where we set up a very large table to accommodate everyone.
Garth had to show his room to everyone who hadn't been to the loft and also the mural that Glen had painted for him.
"That's Pooh bear, Eeyore and a Toronto Maple Leaf on the right," he said to Katie and Marty as they were shown the masterpiece.
"Was this a famous artist who painted this?" Marty asked, teasing him.
"Nooo! It was my brother," he said, as he giggled.
We arrived in the late afternoon, as our family went to Jake and Sean's place to serve Christmas dinner to the residents. We were very pleased at the turnout and we had a chance to talk to Mark Depew about how things were going.
"We've managed to get quite a few corporate sponsors, who have provided enough money for some great gifts for all the kids," he said.
Both boys were very happy that things were working out as they had hoped for. I was really happy at the work that Mark was doing to grow the Foundation's resources and for his expert guidance.
"Carol and I couldn't have chosen a better executive director, Mark," I said, as I gave him a big smile.
Before dinner, John, Susan and Dana were talking about the progress of the Old Firehall Gourmet and catering business. Things were going well and they had hired some more full time staff for the shop and two more kitchen workers for the catering business. Glen had helped out in the store during some Saturdays leading up to Christmas, for which he was paid.
"I wanted to help, but mom and dad wouldn't let me," Garth said, as he put on his pouting face.
"You just wanted to get paid," Glen said, as he poked him, which resulted in a tickling match between the two of them.
John was also going to start some cooking classes in the new year during the evenings and they were already fully booked.
"I guess if I can teach my two boys to cook I can teach anyone," he said, as he gave the boys a big smile.
Garth and Glen made some of the dishes for the meal and everyone else had brought something, as well. My sister had brought her usual turnip casserole and both Katie and Carol were in charge of making the caramel sauce for the Carrot cake pudding for dessert.
Glen did the Green beans, and sautéed them in EVOO(extra virgin olive oil) and topped them with goat cheese and Garth joined Glen to make the garlic mashed potatoes. Garth ran the electric hand mixer under Glen's scrutiny which apparently was quite an adventure.
"I did a really great job," Garth said, with a proud smile.
"After I reminded you to turn off the mixer before you took it out of the bowl," Glen said.
"I got a little bit of mashed potatoes on Glen," Garth said, as he snickered.
"A little bit? I had to change."
Garth's jokes never took a holiday and he had some new ones and more importantly, an audience.
"What animal do you never want to play cards with," he said, followed by the ubiquitous giggle.
"My goodness, the answer can't be as funny as your giggle, Garth," Katie said.
"A card shark," Carol, replied.
"Nooo!" he said, with an indignant look. "That's silly."
"We're waiting, Garth," Susan said.
Most of us politely smiled except for the boys who let out a loud groan.
"I liked my answer better," Carol said, as she grabbed Garth and tickled him.
The rest of the evening went well and everyone was stuffed, but very satisfied.
"This is the way Christmas should be," Dana said, with a big smile. "Family is important and I'm very happy with the one we have."
Even though Christmas was a busy time for the family, the after-Christmas hockey tournament in Collingwood left little time to recuperate. Our team was entered into the tournament once again, as was Garth's team, which meant that the boys and Rickie were doubly busy. The schedules of the games weren't going to cause a conflict, but Sean, Glen and Jake were giving up some hanging around time with their teammates to coach Garth and Derek's team.
Barney was left with Katie and Marty, at their request. They were thinking of getting a dog and Barney would be a very good test whether they were really ready for one.
"Now remember, he's a little difficult", Dana said, as we brought him into their house.
"Yeah and he likes to eat Kleenex", Sean added.
Katie and Marty looked a little doubtful as Barney took off into their kitchen to do some exploring. We quickly exited before they changed their minds.
The boys looked quite a sight as they came off the bus in the team jackets and aviator hats. Some of them had their ear flaps down and others had them tied up over the tops of their hats. Many of the parents got a big chuckle out of the spectacle.
As was our practice from last year, I had hotel rooms for the boys on our team. Since Garth's age group was younger, his team was staying in their parents' rooms. Our boys had already organized who they were going to partner with and Jake and Glen decided to bunk in together and Charles was with Pieter DeBoer, his defence partner. Carson and Stéphane were roommates which Doreen was very happy about. Stéphane had suggested the pairing, sensing that he might be able to help Carson.
Sean was with Fang Lee, who was new to the team this year. Fang had only been in Canada for three years, as his family had come from China. His father was a Professor who had been recruited by the Computer Science faculty of the local University.
Fang had picked up the language pretty quickly, but he wasn't a very assertive boy socially and didn't make friends that easily. He was also the weakest player on the team, but had made great strides in the last month. He was a good athlete and was benefitting from the skill development Mark, Rickie and I stressed in our practices. Sean had been the one to suggest the pairing, as he thought he would be more comfortable with him than some of the other boys.
"Fang would want to go home after the first night if he was with Darren," Sean said. Our resident jokester was still up to his old tricks, keeping the boys on their toes with his antics.
Both Stéphane and Sean were the captains of the team and the boys looked to them to provide leadership. The two boys were different in their style, but both were effective. Sean was the quiet one, who preferred to do his encouraging of his teammates one-on-one, whereas, Stéphane wasn't afraid to address the group when something needed to be said.
Stéphane was also very mature and possessed great people skills. Since he was new to the team, he refused to put his name into the mix for captain of the team, which the boys voted on, despite some of the boys urging him to do so. He stepped aside saying that he didn't feel he knew all the boys well enough if he was chosen, but I knew it was so there wouldn't be competition for Sean. I was sure Sean realized this and when he was chosen he asked the boys if it was alright with them if he named Stéphane as co-captain, which they agreed to.
Garth's team had two games on the first day and if they won both, they would play in the championship the next day. The team was reasonably competitive but we had a feeling that they wouldn't make the final.
Mandy and Charise didn't look out of place and were not the only girls playing in the tournament. Mandy skated like the wind, at least for a nine year old and also scored a goal. She was playing on Garth's line and she took a pass from Garth in their zone and took off down the ice. Because of her speed, she was able to out skate the only opposition player near her and she just pushed the puck towards the goalie when she got close and it went in. Garth was more excited than she was and he went to the referee and got the puck for her.
Charise was a good skater as well, but she was a rough and tumble girl who played defence. She was the youngest in the family and she had two older brothers, who played rep hockey. No doubt she had learned some of the more aggressive parts of the game from watching her two siblings play.
At one point in the second game, Charise took off up the ice with the puck and she lost it at centre ice, when she was checked by one of the opposition players. The other team then went on to score. We couldn't figure out what had happened, as this was not the way Rickie, Sean, Jake and Glen had coached the defencemen. This was also out of character for Charise, as she had good hockey sense. After the game we were waiting for the players to come out of the dressing room and we finally found out what had happened.
"Webster, being captain doesn't mean coach. We need you to play hockey not coach hockey," Rickie said, when Garth came out.
Garth was captain for the game and had decided to give his expert coaching opinion on the ice and he told Charise to take off with the puck.
"Niklas Lidstrom rushes the puck," he said, referring to the all star defenceman of the Detroit Red Wings.
"I thought you were a Leaf fan. Besides, Niklas Lidstrom knows how to stick handle... Charise does not," Rickie said, as he messed up Garth's hair, which ended up in a loud protest.
Before dinner after the first day's games, we all went down to swim in the hotel pool. After about a half hour, Garth and Derek needed to go to the bathroom and they asked if they could go by themselves. Susan and my niece Janet agreed and told them to be careful.
"Of course we'll be careful. We're not little kids," Derek said in disgust.
They came back about ten minutes later and they were flustered.
"Darren and his friend fooled us," Garth said, with a scowl.
"We walked into the Women's washroom, because they played a joke on us," Derek added, clearly agitated.
"This lady started to yell at us before we could get out," Garth said.
Darren had stood in front of the women's washroom sign in the lobby, obscuring the 'wo' and his friend totally blocked the men's sign from view. Darren assured them the washroom he was standing in front of was the correct one and pointed to the sign. They didn't notice the universal picture of the man and woman beside the doors.
Darren's parents knew him well and while Garth and Derek were telling us the story, they had pulled him aside to find out why he and his friend were doubled over laughing as they came back from the washroom. They were now making their way over to us with Darren and his friend, who had very sombre facial expressions.
"The boys have something they'd like to say," his mother said, as she pushed them forward.
Our team was having a good tournament, as the addition of Stéphane had made us a serious contender for winning the championship. Although Carson had shown flashes of his former self, he was still not anywhere near his potential. We were all being patient with him, even Rickie, who was showing great restraint.
Our second game was against the Collingwood team, which we knew we would have to be at the top of our game to win. They were a well coached, talented team, with a bunch of big boys who had grown over the year since we had played them. We felt that we had a very good chance this year and we were looking forward to the challenge. The winner of this game would go to the championship the next day.
It was a fairly even game for the most part, as Glen's line and Stéphane's line were holding their own. The problem was our first line of Sean, Carson and Brandon, which was being dominated by their first line. Jake was doing his acrobatic best against them as they had the pressure on us every time they were on the ice. Sean was getting frustrated and had taken two bad penalties, which resulted in goals.
We desperately needed Carson to pick up his game, but he wasn't very effective and was shying away from the contact as he was going through the motions. Rickie was trying to restrain his emotions and was careful how he spoke to Carson, but he couldn't hold it in any longer after the goal that made it 4-1. Carson didn't do much to check their best player, who easily skated past him and put a hard shot into the top corner of the net over Jake's catching hand. It was obvious from his body language that he was very disappointed with his performance as he took his seat on the bench.
Rickie quickly came over to him and said, "You're playing like you have eggs in your hockey pants and you don't want to break them. You could be the best player on the ice, if you wanted to be."
Carson replied back that he was trying his best and that he wasn't good enough.
"That's a load of... bull!" Rickie replied, restraining his language. "We need you to be Carson on the ice, not the kid that's just going through the motions out there."
Rickie didn't say any more and went back to the other end of the bench. I couldn't hear what Sean and Stéphane were saying to Carson, as they were sitting on either side of him. Carson wasn't saying much, but the other two were.
The next shift for Sean's line was very different. Between Sean, Stéphane and Rickie they had awakened Carson from his lethargy. He skated down our opponent's best player and checked him into the boards and took the puck away from him. He then passed the puck to Sean and the two of them raced up the ice, followed by Brandon. When they crossed over the blueline into the opponent's end, Sean gave Carson a beautiful pass and he let go a rocket that the goalie stopped, but couldn't control the rebound. It came out to Brandon, who tapped it into the net.
"Spencer, welcome back," Rickie said to him as he tapped him on the shoulder when he got back to the bench.
Both Mark and I gave him lots of praise before he went on the ice for his next shift. I looked up into the crowd and caught Doreen's eye and she gave me a thumbs-up as she had a big smile on her face. I didn't need to see what Dana's reaction was, as everyone in the arena had heard her when they scored.
That lifted our spirits and on the next shift Stéphane passed back to the point and Charles fired a missile into the bottom right corner of the net.
"The Red Rocket strikes again," I said to Charles when he had taken his seat on the bench.
Carson didn't let up and on the next shift he took control and set up Sean for the next goal. We ended up beating the team by the score of 6-4 and Sean's line had scored four out of the six goals. Carson dominated the game after the boys had talked to him.
We were happy that we had Carson back performing at the skill level we knew he was capable of, but we were sad that we had lost Darren for the rest of the tournament and maybe longer.
During the game, Darren had taken a check into the boards and his head had bounced against the glass and he went down to the ice in a heap. The boy who delivered the check was penalized for boarding and given a game misconduct.
The trainer assigned to the game was quick to come down from the stands and attend to Darren and took him into the dressing room for evaluation. Mark pulled out the baseline data from Darren's preseason concussion testing results from the ImPact program that we put all the boys through and gave it to the trainer so he could evaluate Darren properly. Ten minutes later he came back to the bench with his results.
"Your player is finished for the tournament, coach. I'm glad you had the data, it made things much quicker and we were able to make an accurate assessment."
After that, Fang had taken Darren's spot on the line and he was up against a couple of big boys from the other team, who were taking advantage of his lack of skill and aggresiveness. He had come off a couple of times talking to himself and although Fang wasn't socially assertive, he did have a temper. Even though we preached to the boys about verbal discipline on the bench we couldn't do anything about Fang, even though we strongly suspected he was swearing like a trooper, because he was speaking in Chinese. After the game his parents were waiting for him outside the dressing room. His mother was clearly agitated and was having a spirited discussion with her husband. When Fang came out, his mother took her gloves and smacked him on the arm and unleashed an angry outburst that had Fang hanging his head down in silence.
"I didn't think you could hear me," he finally said, after his mother had calmed down.
"We heard you and we don't want to hear that language again," she said to him in English for my benefit. "I must apologize for my son's behaviour, Mr. Burger."
The team from Orangeville was who we had to face for the championship game on the Sunday. We had watched them play and they were a big team and they played a rough brand of hockey. They had taken quite a few penalties in the tournament, most of them by two boys in particular, but they were talented enough that they managed to kill them off.
"Ok, girls. Play tough but clean. We can take these guys," Rickie said, as he got the boys fired up in the dressing room.
Apart from being a very good technical coach for his age, Rickie was a great motivator. He had the new Hockey Night in Canada theme song blaring from his iPod as well as a few other loud songs such as Bryan Adams 'This Time' and the Nikelback version of Elton John's 'Saturday Night', which was Rickie's favourite motivational song.
The game was a typical championship game that featured some great plays and spirited hockey. After the first period had finished we were ahead by the score of 3-1.
We were half way through the second period and there was a scuffle in our end after the whistle that involved Fang and one of the agitators from the other team. This was unusual, as Fang was not involved in these types of skirmishes. Whatever had sparked the conflict, it must have been serious, as the perpetually placid Brandon was also involved. What was most unusual was that Brandon was still agitated after the scuffle was broken up and was subsequently engaged in a vigorous discussion with the referee.
Fang and the other player ended up going to the penalty box with the linesman in between them. The two of them were chirping back and forth at each other as they skated over to the box. Fang was just about to step in when he stopped and turned to get at the other player, but the linesman got in between them. We were curious as to what had sparked the outburst and finally Charles, Pieter and Brandon came to the bench to change lines.
"He made some racist comment to Fang about him being Chinese," Charles said.
"What a jerk. He said the same word again when he got to the penalty box," Brandon added.
Now Brandon's spirited actions made sense, as he had no doubt experienced racist comments in the past related to his Jewish heritage and he was empathizing with Fang. They told us what term he had used and I immediately called the referee to the bench, as most OMHA leagues had guidelines that were clear about racial comments being grounds for ejection from the game and supplemental discipline to follow.
"Why is that boy not thrown out?" I asked.
"I didn't hear what the kid said, but the linesman told me. It's only words, coach. I can't throw a player out for that," the referee said.
"Excuse me! What about the tournament guidelines?" I asked.
He told me that they were using the Collingwood league's policies which weren't very clear on the issue. Apparently the referee was allowed the latitude to give a minor penalty in these types of situations, but there would have to be a subsequent incident before an ejection from the game could be considered. He had given the other boy a second minor penalty, which he was going to serve.
I was fuming as were our players and Mark and Rickie. We talked to the boys to calm them down and after Fang came out of the penalty box and returned to the bench we had a talk with him, as well. For the rest of the period, the other coach kept the offending boy off the ice, which we were very happy about. We would've been happier if he had sent him to the dressing room and told him to go get dressed, but we thought he was proving a point by making him watch.
We had regained our focus and we were able to score another goal, which made the score 4-1. At the beginning of the third period, Fang's line was starting the period and the other boy appeared. It didn't take long before they were into verbal jousting once again, at centre ice before the linesman had dropped the puck.
I called Fang over to the bench and substituted Glen. While we were talking to Fang to calm him down, the play had started... and then stopped abruptly. Glen was into a scuffle with the boy as apparently Glen had run him into the boards with his elbow high. Even though Glen had come a long way with his anger management, he was still a bit of a hothead.
"Coach, you better get your players under control," the referee said, as he had come to the bench after he had assessed penalties.
I was very angry at the position he had put us in and said, "Don't lecture me. This wouldn't have happened if you had the game under control."
He immediately reacted and gave us a bench penalty which put us two men short. Mark and Rickie got me calmed down and finally play started again. It didn't take long before something else erupted. The other coach decided to prove a point and left the racist out on the power play. Carson's temper got the best of him and he slashed the boy across his ankles in front of our net, which caused another altercation involving Pieter, Charles and Carson. While the referee was sorting out more penalties, I could see Sean and Stéphane talking together on the bench.
Sean came over and said, "Stéphane and I think we should leave the ice if they don't throw that kid out."
"We've talked to most of the guys and they agree," Stéphane added.
I told them that was a serious course of action, that would likely result in a severe sanction, if we weren't successful with the referee. I decided that they were right and told them I would make the decision as I didn't want them putting themselves in jeopardy. We called the referee over to the bench.
"You've put us in a heck of a position. I won't put my player on the ice to endure more racism, which isn't fair to him. He was the victim, yet the perpetrator is free to play and offend again. Because of this, some of my other players are taking it upon themselves to exact revenge from that racist on his behalf. We're going to leave the ice if you don't eject that boy from the game."
Needless to say, we weren't successful and we went to dressing room. The referee was dumbfounded when we started to pack up and gave me a warning of what the consequences would be. After we had been in the dressing room for five minutes, the referee came to the door and we confirmed our position once again.
Fang and his parents were apologetic after the game and I told them it was not their fault. The tournament organizer also told me that he would be making a full report of my actions to the OMHA (Ontario Minor Hockey Association), which would be added to the referee's report.
"I hope you know that your report will likely escalate things and you better be prepared for what happens next," I said.
We took the boys out to Montanas after the game before they went home with their parents. The poor waiters and cooks in the restaurant didn't know what hit them, as they had their all-you-can-eat rib special which the boys took full advantage of. Regardless of their size, they all packed away at least two helpings each. It took some of the sting out of the events at the rink, but all of the boys were subdued. They were also going out of their way to make Fang feel better as he was blaming himself.
As we were leaving the restaurant, I put my arm around Fang's shoulders and said, "You did nothing wrong, young man. We have lots of hockey left in the season and I'm sure we'll have a good chance at winning our league championship." He finally smiled.
It was a sombre ride home as Jake and Sean were sad at the fact that we had defaulted the game and gave the championship to the Orangeville team. They were also mad at the rules and the inability of the adults involved with the tournament to recognize the seriousness of racial slurs and deal with it appropriately.
"Fang felt really bad and I told him it was that jerk's problem not his, " Sean said.
"Just because it's a hockey game, doesn't mean you can say anything you want to another person," Jake added.
Despite the fact that we were all terribly disappointed at what had transpired, we were content in the fact that we had done the right thing. We also knew there would be serious fallout that would take a lot of effort on my part to defend.
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