Back It up, Baby

True Patriot Love.

“Lily,” I looked up from where I was undoing my pads. I had zoned out after practice and created this barrier between myself and the team. Not on purpose of course, I had just been super focused during and it carried on afterwards into reflecting on drills I had done well on. I was shocked when Coach stopped in front of me, tapping his clipboard on my shoulder. “You start tonight against the Sharks and you have a meeting upstairs with Ray and myself in thirty. Don’t go home before that.”

I grinned and nodded, “okay, let me shower and I’ll be right up.” I raced to get my stuff off after that. Since my birthday incident three days ago, I hadn’t heard anything from the organization with the exception of Leah. She had me permanently moved into James’ room for away games, places Beau with Brandon and leaving Evgeni on his own. I had thanked Leah profusely for handling it so well and apologized just as much. From what everyone else could tell, what had happened wasn’t my fault and wasn’t as big of a deal as it could have been had there been pictures but, I knew I was just as much at fault.

Beau had been punished by being scratched for last night’s game. I hadn’t really talked to him either, not that I wanted to. Brandon had packed up all my stuff for me while James watched me while I slept through my drunk stat and even tried to nurse my hangover the next morning. I stayed at home instead of going to Brandon’s when we got back to Pittsburgh. Boys were already screwing up my brain, I couldn’t let them ruin my career so, all of them needed to be cut out.

Once I was showered and changed, I raced up to Ray’s office, giddy as could be. There was nothing more terrifying and thrilling as find out you finally get to play. I was let in immediately and was almost skipping with joy into the office when I stopped dead in the doorway. My eyes narrowed as Ray, Coach and Michael Wright, coach of the World Juniors Team Canada, raised to their feet. Shaking it off, I politely held out my hand, “Mr. Wright, nice to see you again.”

“As you, Miss Larch. Sorry it has to be under these circumstances,” he laughed, taking my hand but, turning himself towards the only two people in the room who really mattered. I let go and turned to Ray, extending my hand and exchanging pleasantries with him as well.

Ray chuckled, “I saw your little tantrum today as I was observing practice.” He took a seat, cueing the rest of us to follow suit. I frowned, sinking into one of his chairs.

“Kuni was being a goof, someone had to put him in his place,” my honesty was met with a chorus of laughter. It was all true though. Chris had been literally pulling my hair all practice so, I thought, picking up a puck and throwing at him was fair retribution.

“Well, it was one way to stop a puck I suppose,” Coach raised an eyebrow. I had also laid across my net and refused to move until Chris left me alone. I shrugged it off and grinned. He then turned towards Michael. “Don’t let her fool you, Lily is the biggest goof of them all but, she works extremely hard. That’s why she’s starting tonight.”

“Forgive me if I’m out of line,” I sat forward, scanning over the three men. “But, I think we can skip all the small talk. I know why Mr. Wright is here so, can we please move onto that. I don’t mean to be rude but, I have my game day routines.”

“Of course,” Ray grew very serious suddenly and I felt like I was sitting in the principal’s office in middle school. “Lily, we asked Leah to talk to you about rejecting Team Canada’s offer first to get a little bit of a glimpse as to why you would turn down such an honour. Obviously, she has reported back to us and we’re quite concerned. First of all, you may not like it, but we own your rights. Any decisions between you and the IIHF must be cleared through us. We’re not angry with you, we understand you’re not used to this.”

I nodded, not sure of what to say. Suddenly I felt like I had signed my life away the day I got drafted. For an organization that could make you feel so cared about, they could just as quickly make you feel like a product to them. Ray frowned, “of course, we’ll always take your concerns into consideration which, leads us to our second problem. Can you please explain to us why you are turning down this amazing opportunity?”

Turning, I faced Mr. Wright. I decided to take a different approach then just an explanation for them to understand. I smiled as sweetly as possible, “Mr. Wright, do you remember our first meeting two years?” He nodded, uneasily but, with a calm grin on his face. I looked at ray for a second, “if you didn’t already know, Mr. Wright coached Team Canada last year as well. Anyways, sir, do you remember how you asked me who I was training with, what my save percentage was and even commented how I was the best goalie from Northern Ontario you’ve seen in years?”

“Miss Larch, I can’t remember every comment I’ve ever made to prospects,” he sounded amused with my questioning. I never broke eye contact.

“But, I can remember everything you said to me because I was so sure that my stats would have at least gotten me an invite to camp but, it didn’t,” he shrugged, opening his mouth to justify it but, I cut him off quickly. If I didn’t keep talking, I’d lose my momentum. “I got over it. I was heartbroken that I was never asked and I sure as hell could have done better than the so-called talent you had on the ice but, I got over it.”

Coach mumbled my name, my temper must have been making my voice rise even though, I couldn’t quite hear it yet. “I got over it and put up the best numbers in all of the OHL, second in the CHL. I heard nothing from you. Draft day came along and I saw you talking to MacKinnon and Monahan and Drouin and telling then how if they weren’t NHL ready, they knew who to call when it came to World Juniors. You came up to me and told me good luck and that my goaltending that you got to see at its best against the London Knights gave you hope for Canadian goaltenders talent but, you never said to me about Juniors. I thought maybe I’d get a call after I went 5th overall, nothing. It wasn’t until the Penguins decided to keep me on for good did I hear from you. If you can explain to me why it took that long for me to become a possibility, I will get a new explanation.”

“Your goaltending was amazing but, management thought your temper was an issue,” his answer caught me off guard. It was not at all what I was expecting. I thought he would say something about me being a girl, I never thought it would be something I could control. Michael Wright sat up in his chair, “that game I watched, you were absolutely amazing. One of the best young goaltenders I have ever seen at your age but, it was also the game that you threw your stick into the opposing teams bench and got yourself suspended. You were a liability, Miss Larch. When Mr. Shero decided to take a chance on you, Hockey Canada decided that as long as we could see you controlling said temper during professional games, we could offer you a starting spot. There’s your answer.”

My smug, something to prove, poise was gotten. I was shot down by logic and a weakness and was left completely speechless. I guess it showed because Coach spoke up, “Lily, we have agreed to keep you under 8 games before Christmas but, you have show Coach Wright that you can control the tantrums on and off the ice. Every single person thinks World Juniors is a remarkable experience for you. If you don’t believe us, ask any of your teammates.”

“Don’t let something you’ve built up in your head keep you from being great on an international scale,” Coach Wright said. I nodded, taking it all in. This was a huge deal and they were right, it was wrong to turn it down. Now, I felt stupid and ridiculous but, also a little relieved. Coach Wright leaned closer to me, “I wouldn’t have flown here if I didn’t think it was important.”

I looked down at my hands and then back up, “I get to start tonight and I have a tentative starting job for the World Juniors? I’m going to be one busy girl over the next couple months.”
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Moving to a ski resort on Saturday so, the writing process might be slower than usual. I apologize in advance.