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I beat on the ice with my stick. My right winger, Elo Gugläken, was by the boards, puck on his stick, looking for someone to shuttle the puck to.
“Goog! GOOG!” I bellowed and beat on the ice harder. The tall, blond Finn shoved the puck to Tim Clang, one of our defenseman, who then had his pocket picked by one of the Colts forwards. That set up a two-on-one. Both opposing players raced at our goalie, Alfie Woods, who never stood a chance. The puck was in the net before Alfie could react properly. I threw my head back and looked at the rafters of the Carlisle Bank Center – or CBC as it was affectionately known as – hoping to see an explanation for that short-handed goal against us.
All I saw was a loose balloon bouncing around, which kind of was a simile or something for our season. Was it a simile? Fuck, who knows. I always hated English class. I also kind of hated the score of this game. How had we fallen behind so quickly?
I skated to the bench as the Colts celebrated getting goal number four. You could feel the irritation flowing off Alfie all the way over here at the bench. When he came off the ice he was going to go batshit. He’s known for being kind of explosive. Not that I blame him. That kind of stupid turnover is why the Rush were floundering in the middle of the Atlantic division pack.
“Taz, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you,” Goog said behind me as we climbed over the boards.
I flopped down next to my line mate and buried my face into a towel. “I never saw you over there, I swear.”
“How could you not see me, Goog? What are you, Ricky Vaughn or something?” I threw my helmet off and scrubbed at my wet hair. Clang came off the ice, sat down beside me, and let loose a string of expletives that would make a sailor wince. My fellow alternate captain was mad at himself, the Colchester Colts, the AHL, and probably the fans who were sort of making booing noises. Totally justified booing noises, but still…
“Who does he play for?” Goog asked with a nudge to my side.
Peeking out of the sweaty towel, I found big blue eyes staring at me. Honestly, you just could not stay mad at Goog. He was like a puppy. A big, happy, obviously nearsighted puppy.
“The Cleveland Indians,” I replied and got a look of complete confusion. “In the movie Major League, he was a pitcher who needed glasses. You’ve never seen that movie?”
“No. I’ll watch it though. You think I need glasses?”
“I think we all need something. Just not sure what that something is,” I sighed and hid my face back in that towel. The end of the third period came mercifully quickly. We all filed to the Rush dressing room, heads down, hangdog expressions on our faces. I glanced up to see someone I’d never seen before lingering in the hall, looking lost and more than a little anxious. He looked like a numbers guy. You know, smart and lean, glasses, clever tongue and quick-minded. The type who squirms and wiggles under you in bed and keeps you on your toes out of it. I’d always had a soft spot for sweet little bottoms, take that any way you want.
We were just about at the dressing room door – and that hot little glasses guy – when Alfie blew through the line of downtrodden men.
“Move aside, Tazinski,” Alfie snarled. I stepped to the side and motioned for the big, angry man from Alberta to enter first. He did, slamming the door in my face. The guy with the glasses drew back and threw me a shocked look.
“You don’t want to go in there for a few minutes.” I handed off my sweaty gloves to an equipment man, wiped my hand on my sweater, and held it out to cute and confused. “Nick Tazinski, alternate captain, second line center. You can call me Taz for short, everyone else does.”
“Michael Campbell.” He grabbed my hand and shook. “The Railers asked me to work with your team, teach you how to use analytics to hopefully help your win/loss percentages and—”
Something big and solid hit the door, making Mike jump and drop my hand. His chocolate-colored eyes were wide.
Yep, I knew it. A numbers guy. Nice. Wonder if he’s a gay numbers guy. That would be one good thing to come out of this miserable night.
“Uhm, is this normal, Nick?”
“Oh, Alfie? Yeah, totally normal.” Vile words leeched out of the dressing room, many in a mangled mush of French and American. We all kind of just chilled, even the coaching staff. Mike seemed less than sure about the carnage occurring on the other side of that thin door. He was really cute, with a sexy mouth and perky eyebrows. Guess the next thing to do was to find out if he was into men and go from there. “Seriously, Mike, you can really call me Taz. It’s short for my last name and because I play like the Tasmanian Devil, you know, that cartoon character? I’ve been Taz since I was in peewee. I even got him tattooed on me. Check this out.”
I jerked my sweater off and undid my shoulder pads, tossing the pads and jersey over my head, baring my upper body so Mike the Stat Man could see the inkwork on my pectoral. It was the Tasmanian Devil of Looney Tunes fame, spinning in a whirlwind with a hockey stick in his hand. Mike’s gaze kind of locked onto my abs and chest for a long, long moment that pretty much answered Nick question number one. Alfie ripped the door open and heaved a cart filled with clean towels into the corridor. Mike’s expressive eyebrows flew to his hairline.
“Welcome to the Rush,” I shouted over the irate goalie calling all his teammates worthless bags of skating shit.
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