“Did you see how that new kid skates?” Alex whispered to me as we sat on the players’ bench. “He crashed into the boards twice because he couldn’t stop fast enough.”
“Just our luck,” I agreed. Our hockey team has players from lots of different schools every year. “Look at the new guy on the Fliers,” I told Alex. “He zips around the ice like his skates are jet-propelled—and we get Sam. Sam trips over his own hockey stick.”
“No wonder we’re getting slaughtered again,” Alex sighed, glancing up at the scoreboard. Its red light said, “PENGUINS 1, FLIERS 7.”
The clock buzzed, and the coach signaled Alex and me to replace Sam and Joe as they came off the ice to rest.
The Penguins skated hard, but we just couldn’t score. The one time we managed to pass the puck into Flier territory, the Fliers’ new guy intercepted it. Stickhandling it down the ice, he sent the puck flying into the net under our goalie’s outstretched leg.
When the clock finally buzzed the end of the game, the Fliers had racked up ten goals. We Penguins still had only one.
“We’ll get them next time,” Sam said as the team headed to the locker room.
“Sure, Sam,” grumbled Chris, our star right wingman. “Are you going to shut down their new guy? First, you have to learn how to stop when you’re skating.”
“Guess so.” Sam shrugged his shoulders.
I felt a little sorry for him, but Chris was right. Sam didn’t seem to know what he was doing on the ice.
The locker room cleared out without much more conversation. When I zipped up my duffel bag, I noticed that Sam was still sitting on a bench with all of his equipment on. Maybe he wanted to hang around, but I couldn’t wait to forget about that game.
The next day, we had practice after supper. When I stepped onto the ice, Sam was already there. His face looked sweaty, and he was breathing hard.
“Did you figure out how to stop yet?” Chris asked him, zipping around the ice.
“I will,” Sam said, ignoring the jab. I had to admit to myself, at least, that Sam didn’t let anyone beat him down. He just kept racing down the ice and practicing his stops until his jersey was soaked from falling on the wet rink.
“Sam must be a little crazy,” Alex said as we leaned against the boards to catch our breath after a drill. “He’s wiping up the ice every time he tries to turn or stop. Doesn’t he know when to quit?”
“He does seem a little clumsy,” I agreed.
“A little! A clown with floppy shoes could do better.”
Ftweet! Coach blew his whistle, and we started a scrimmage. I was glad that Sam had been put on the other team. Who could win with him falling all over the ice?
All week I kept expecting Sam to quit. “How much fun could it be for him?” I asked Alex. “He constantly crashes into the boards, and everyone razzes him.”
“He doesn’t look like he’s ready to give up yet,” Alex answered. “He’s always already on the ice, practicing, when I come, and he’s the last guy off afterward.”
That Saturday we played the Rockets. For the first two periods, we actually kept a one goal lead. Then our team fell apart. Chris got a penalty, and we were shorthanded. The Rockets took advantage of their power play. Their left wingman hooked the puck away from Sam and sent it skittering down the ice. Two seconds later, the puck went flying into the corner of the net. The scoreboard glowed with the tie score.
The Rockets won the face-off. Their team passed the puck down the rink again. It ricocheted off the boards and went right through Sam’s legs. A moment later, the Rockets’ right wingman slapped the puck hard into our net. The Penguins lost by one goal.
“We’ll never win,” Chris complained as we headed to the locker room. “Not if we let the puck slip through our legs.”
I figured that Chris had made a few mistakes, too—like landing in the penalty box—but I said nothing. I didn’t want him picking apart my game next. As usual, Sam sat on a bench with his equipment on while everyone else changed and cleared out. I waved good-bye to him. He looked exhausted.
The team didn’t have much spirit left when we showed up for practice on Monday. We’d lost five games in a row, and everyone felt discouraged. Everyone, that is, except Sam. He was out on the ice practicing. I was still on the players’ bench when it happened. Sam actually flew down the ice and stopped on a dime.
“Hey, Sam,” yelled Alex, “way to go!”
Sam grinned and raced down the ice, sending a shower of ice flakes flying as he stopped again.
“I’m seeing a miracle,” Chris shouted.
Sam laughed “Here’s another one!” He raced down the rink and stopped right in front of Chris.
One by one, the whole team started to watch Sam. We all knew how hard he’d worked, and we felt happy for him. Suddenly Sam slipped and went sliding into the boards—but he didn’t jump back up.
“Sam’s hurt,” I said, and the rest of us hurried down the rink.
“Are you OK?” Chris bent over Sam and brushed the snow off his legs. All at once, Chris’s hand froze in midair.
“I just had the wind knocked out of me,” Sam told him.
“There’s something on your leg,” Chris finally said. “I felt it.”
Sam put his head down and took a deep breath. Then he looked at the circle of faces around him. “I didn’t want anyone to find out, because I don’t want you treating me special. I was born with a bad leg, and I have to wear a brace. But I can manage just fine. Now that I’ve finally impressed you with my stops, I have to work on my turns.”
No one said a word as Sam got up and skated down the rink. “Come on,” he hollered. “Coach is here.”
That day something happened to our team. We started practicing harder than ever before. We figured if Sam could learn to stop, we could all push ourselves a lot more, too. Sam had shown us that a fighting spirit and extra effort could accomplish amazing things.
During the next game, our team scored five goals and tied the Minnows. Sam still fell down every time he tried turning fast, but the whole team was improving.
“We’ll get them next time,” Sam said as we headed into the locker room.
This time Chris looked at Sam and grinned. “Yeah,” he agreed. “We just might.”