Blame it on the Wind Chill

Chapter 16

“Holy, that is sick,” my voice cracks, in between the shift where Lubomir Visnovzky levels Nikolai Kulemin in one of those bone-shattering hits he likes to shower me with at warm-up, before a streaking Koivu picks up the loose puck and slides it five-hole between Jiggy’s pads. Whenever I get excited, I acquire the voice of a thirteen year old boy. “Sick,” I clarify. This new checking system is gold. “3-0.”

Becky laughs into the Leafs logo pillow, hugged tightly between her knees and chest. “Buddy, you got lit up already.”

Devan frowns. “Shut up. You’d be awful.” He chucks the controller at Travis ands sighs heavily with defeat. “I’ve been playing a lot of Call of Duty lately, so I apologize for the rusty skills. And anyway, how do you expect this Joe to play against a pro? That game had unfairness written all over it.”

With the manly pout and defensive Carey Price B-Boy stance on display in front of me, Devan resembles a little kid who just had his ice cream stolen by the stray monkey at the zoo. Regression. That’s what it’s called.

For the record, I socked that monkey. Curious George had no chance.

But, in all fairness, I admittedly do break out the latest NHL game quite often, whether it’s alone in my bedroom or with the team on the road. I’ve gotten rather good at it, so it’s especially handy when I need something to assert myself as a virtual all-star with the boys, in hopes of eventually being one in reality. To one-up Bobby Ryan.

“Leave it to me to win one for Team Canada. I got this,” assures Travis, who’s about to be incredibly sorry he ever brought nationality into this. “Why? Parce que j’ai le jeu, mes chiennes. Translation: ‘cause I got game, bitches. Rebecca, grape.” He snaps his fingers and opens his mouth, waiting for the instant gratification, or instead, a fistful of purple cannons ricocheting off his face. “Becks! This is not like we rehearsed.” He picks one caught between his thigh and the cushion, makes a face, but pops it into his mouth anyway.

“I just wanted to be fed like A-Rod,” he whines bitterly.

Becky snorts. “Do I look like Cameron Diaz?” I take a brief moment to study her. I won’t say stare, but that’s pretty much what I’m doing. She’s got these visually stunning eyes that disappear into little crescents when she smiles, like the ones still imprinted onto my arm after this morning’s episode. They seem to penetrate, unlike the Leafs’ offence, and sometimes I catch a little sparkle in them. A devilish glimmer—a mystery. Like now, as she continues to harass Devan undiplomatically, and it’s making him redden to a shade that camouflages with the Canadian flag mounted from wall to wall behind the vintage Ms. Pacman machine.

To answer that rhetorical question: no, she does not look like Cameron Diaz. At all.

But she’s not half bad-looking, either.


Ask any hockey player, analyst, or vlogging fan reactionist, and they’ll tell you the importance of vision. Vision, not in necessarily in a figurative sense, but the literal thing: you need good eyesight. Not that possession of the 20/20 is an absolute mandate, because a Jonas-Hiller-sans-glasses will heatedly remind you of his merits as a near-sighted netminder, before crashing into a glass wall and leaving the game with vertigo. I used to wonder if every side is a blind side for him. To test that theory out, I wore an eye chart tie to one of his dinners. After watching him spend half the night squinting at me, or perhaps narrowing his eyes out of rage, I cannot confirm nor deny my hypothesis. Not that anything should be inferred by my inability to neither confirm nor deny.

Once you get down the seeing-the-game-in-HD part, perhaps with medical aid from Lasik, a proud sponsor of the NHL I shall shamelessly plug in the hopes of getting a commercial deal (popular injury pastime), then we can begin to discuss vision as an abstract entity. On goes the sniper vision goggles and your next task is to master the concept of seeing the ice in a way such that you’re always a play ahead. To guess what happens next, minus aid from the magic eight ball as per those Habs. To predict mistakes from your opponent, as well as your own, so that you can position yourself to snatch that puck away from Eagle Eye Nikolai and feed Luca Sbisa, who throws the pizza in the oven. Italy-born people are not programmed to miss that.

Travis lets out a stream of expletives, furthermore demonstrating the grasp he has on that Canadian bilingual thing. “Calisse! I used to think I was good at this game, you know. I-I used to have self-esteem.” He slams his palm down on his knee, grappling for words. “You win. Again.”

I’ve always felt bad that I never picked up French lingo, despite all the Canadians I play with. Not even the informative tutorial that was Jonathan Toew’s YouTube stardom could educate this lost cause. I can however spell Cammalleri in French. Nice try, Laraque.

I try to fight it, but the smug look is emerging on my face. “I’m sorry,” I offer, half serious, half laughing. He glares. At some point this match just turned into that Canada versus Slovakia game in the women’s tournament in Vancouver when the Canadians were condemned for being too good. I can’t help it if the only one who’s winning more than me is Charlie Sheen.

He falls back on the couch and rests his egg-shaped head on Devan’s stiff shoulder. “I just wanted to be the very best,” he sniffles, and I can’t tell if he’s being serious or not. Maybe it’s the combination of alcohol and processed sugar, coupled with the knowledge that the Leafs are about to take the ice, that is emotionally toiling enough to make a grown man cry. The three of us are sitting/lying/crying on that ugly couch of his as I lazily reach for the remote and start pushing buttons, blindly, until I hit the game channel.

Devan tries to shake the disheartened boy loose; the kid’s getting a little too close and grabby from my perspective, and from what I’ve always known of Porter, he’s an affable guy, but does not do the consolidating thing well.

“Enough with the theatrics, ladies,” scolds Becky in her maternal voice. She licks the salt from her fingers after having eaten a handful of chips and kindly passes the crinkly bag along. “And you,” she says, singling out Travis. “Suck it up, buttercup.”

Sprawled on the floor, she sits cross-legged on an animalistic fur rug that’s probably less hunter-in-the-woods and more streamline décor à la IKEA. A display of snacks is laid out front of her in a circular formation that she composed whilst Travis, Devan, and I were laying it out on the ice. Her creative-artistic skills baffle me. I was never able to get a circle this round.

I sigh. Even with a compass.

Not to go unnoticed, there is a diverse variety of refreshments for all your rookie weight gaining needs and more. I wouldn’t be surprised if little Skinner had a few of these soirees himself prior to his draft combine weigh in to tip the scales in his favour. Going clockwise, there are the chicken wings, rice krispie squares, chocolate chip cookies, two large Snickers bars that we will all have to duel for, Pocky, packages with vivid marketable characters and Japanese writing, and miscellaneous candies that I assume to be the remnants of someone’s Halloween stash.

On a side note, getting back to vision and witchy premonitions, I can only picture on Randy Carlyle’s face if he were to see my progress thus far, less than forty-eight hours into this temporary offseason-esque situation after receiving the abrupt so-long text. The strict training regimen, rehab, and rest program I received from the trainers thrown out the airplane window in favour of a get-together with people I vaguely know in a tempting environment with enough toxic foods to make one of those Biggest Loser trainers collapse of heart failure, despite their fitness. Like Luke Schenn in every third period, I realize I’m putting myself in a bad position.

I chuckle at the fact that I’m making the most of my free time exercising my metabolism through chucking blocks of bad carbs down my throat, and challenging my blood alcohol level with each sip of Molson I take. Gary Roberts will never accept me into his program at this rate. I decide that I’m just overanalyzing things. I’m different when it comes to hockey; I don’t second guess. I do it. USA Olympic champion Lindsey Vonn listened to “I’mma Do It” by Fabolous before her races. Should I start doing that before my every attempt to have a social life?

I tell myself to relax and live a little. I’m a teenage boy with an underdeveloped frontal cortex, what do you want? Besides, plenty of hockey players party and club like there’s no tomorrow, only to realize they have an early flight the next day. Max Talbot must be an expert in flying under the weather. Or maybe the team coordinated it so that the airline serves hangover food in addition to the kosher and vegetarian options.

Okay. I chew my lip. If pictures from this evening get out, like Ovie’s scandalous night life on a photo timeline, someone in this room is gonna get-a hurt real bad. It’ll be like Clue.

Only, isn’t it a little bit thrilling to be deviant once in a while? To go against society’s expectations? To have a break, and have a Kit Kat, like the one I’m munching on while watching Kevin Weekes and the pre-game program, setting the stage for this next chapter of the timeless love story between the Buds and the Habs to be written onto ice.

“That’s my boy! Repping Scarborough!” joys Travis with heartfelt enthusiasm, referring to the colour commentator. “I’ve been waiting Weekes for this.” He laughs at his own joke and makes an S-shaped symbol with his fingers over his heart. Too generic. If gangster was what he was going for, he might as well have put on a Raptors cap—with the shiny sticker—backwards and ended off with a quintessential So-You-Think-You-Can-Dance “for real” shoulder pose.

Seeing the players get on the ice sparks something within me. A voice in my head is saying: You should be out there.

I wonder if Becky is picking up on my weirdness because our eyes meet, over the brown paper towels we’re using as makeshift dinnerware, in spite of the museum of campy, 70’s decorative plates just up the stairs. Aunt Helen would shudder at the thought of food touching surfaces predominantly designed to dry hands and kill spiders belaying down your eight foot ceiling of a cliff.

And when Travis and Devan start a heated conversation about the upcoming election, upon seeing a ludicrous Conservative attack ad, her foot gently taps mine, as if to say, I feel you. I tap her back, brushing my librarian-style argyle socks, courtesy of Niedermayer, against her ladybug ones. She smiles.

(I wish I could feel her, too.)

The momentary game of yes-touch-backs is interrupted by the ringing of a cellphone with the Hockey Night in Canada ringtone.

Becky recoils, breaking eye contact, and takes out her phone. “What?” she says, not rudely or annoyed, but rather as if this is the way she always answers the phone. In hindsight, with the classic, formerly unique to CBC, orchestra music setting an undertone, I feel that salutations in a booming hockey announcer voice are only appropriate. A little Antero Mertaranta would be nice too.

The conversation is short and to the point. “It’s Noelle. She just said ‘open up, bitch’ and hung up.”

Who’s Noelle?

Travis’s eyebrows dance. “With no other information? See, that could be interpreted for multiple meanings.” Becky gives him a hard stare, like what are you saying? “Fine. I’ll get the door.” Becky follows behind him with a hand on his shoulder guiding, or pushing him in the right direction to save her friend from the Uncle Eric treatment.

I can hear her scolding him from upstairs—a reminder to drink cautiously because his sister and her fiancée are supposedly coming over later. He mumbles something back about specializing in hospitality under the influence.

Next, Devan goes off in search of kryptonite, Oz, or something, and then it’s just me. And Jodie, who finally takes a seat next to me on the couch where Travis’s ass indentation still remains like a ghostly shadow. There’s an overpowering scent of some sort of fragrance, mixed with the tropical flavoured gum on her breath. I feel like I’m sitting next to a bag of potpourri. Aunt Helen would approve.

I’d forgotten that she was here; she’s a little silent. A concept that does not register in the mind of Pierre McGuire, but whatever. She’s been lurking in the back this whole time, the stay-at-home defensemen to the 1-3-1 people arrangement that was happening. I stole a look at her earlier in the evening, wondering why didn’t join us in closer proximity, only to find her texting uninterestedly while leaning against the back wall. Very billboard model by means of Toronto’s fashion district. Her eyes were vacant enough.

But now she smiles flirtatiously, snapping her gum erotically, and I realize I’m staring at her. I blush, which contradicts the fact that I really don’t want to give her the wrong idea.

What I am fixated on, is not her heavily made-up eyes, or even her overall attractiveness, but her eyebrows.

She’s done this thing a lot of girls do and it always baffles me. You have eyebrows. You shave off eyebrows. You paint on new eyebrows. Why do you do that? What are you, sitting in front of that mirror going, “Nice try Mother Nature but I think I can do better”?

That would be the equivalent of me pencilling in a Fu Manchu for a Movember update picture. I promised my mobros I won’t do that again. I’m not ruling out Miracle Gro, though.

Sometimes I think Mother Nature held out on me. It would be too much if I were athletic and sexy…or do those come hand in hand and I’m the freak of nature? Doesn’t matter. I make it work. But I might have to start going to the Leafs captain for hair tips. Watching Phaneuf do a saddle stretch in warm-up and the way that faux-hawk stays intact under his helmet, I suddenly know why McGuire is so infatuated with him. There might be some super glue element going on there.

“So would that be okay? Uh—hello?” She waves her hand in front of my face, madly. I can see the urgency on her face translating to fear that her favourite Duck might’ve turned into an unresponsive human vegetable.

“What?” I say, stupidly. “I mean, pardon? Sorry.” She must’ve been talking for a while, none of which I actually caught. Gears are turning in her head now. I was lost in your eyes, I can feel her construing as the reason for my inattention. Oh God.

She flutters her eyelashes bashfully. “I was just saying that you are one of my favourite players of all time.” I wonder how many players of all time she’s actually familiar with, but the stretched comparison brings a smile to my face. “I’m a huge fan, obviously, and it would mean a lot to me if I could get a picture with you. Or if you have time while you’re here we can hang out, maybe?” She looks at me expectantly and I don’t know what to say. It’s easier to turn down prom proposals by letter, but I’ve never had the pleasure of being cornered in person. And Cabbie hasn’t gotten back to my email on how to handle fan requests yet.

“Just a picture then? It’ll go right next to your junior photo on my nightstand,” she ups the ante, and I suck in a breath. Those 8x10s are more unforgiving than a rookie card. This sort of headshot should become illegal, as well. Expansion on rule forty-eight—I’ll write it myself. “Becky can take it. She’s into the photography thing, you know.”

I was thinking more of a blurry, phone picture that she might upload to Twitter, and unlike a slumbering Patrick Kane, I would be aware of it. But this high quality photography scenario that I’m imagining is reminding me of everyone’s least favourite day at the Honda Center, opposite of those beauty queens in Edmonton.

“Okay,” I agree at last, albeit with zero intention to keep my promise. It’ll be better for everyone that way.

She side hugs me and exhales the following audible:


This blasting on my left ear drum, coupled with the symphony of voices and scuffling feet upstairs, is almost giving me a head injury. I feel detached for a split second. Like Ron Wilson in the middle of the third period, taking in the kiss cam or something.

Then I see that girl, that long-haired, mysterious girl, leading an odd man rush of people I suppose I’m about to meet down the narrow Beringia strip of stairs.

And I’m reminded why I’m here.
♠ ♠ ♠
Thank you all so much for continuing to read. Really, it means a lot. I realize I have a severe editing problem, but I hope you guys like it!

References to vids you probably have all seen before: Epelle Cammalleri and French Lingo with Toews.

As well as Mr. Mertaranta and Canadian comedy (the eyebrow joke was in one of those parts).