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There was a TV commercial break so we had a few moments to kill.
I looked at him and smiled. “How’s it goin’?”
He turned slowly and gave me a Clint Eastwood glare.
I said, “Ooo, nice mock seriousness.”
This time he gave me a puzzled look.
I checked the back of his sweater for his name.
“So, you’re Taylor, are ya? I’m supposed to cover you, I guess.”
“Think yer funny, do ya?” he growled.
“You’re the second guy to say that. Hey, by the way, that’s some scar you’ve got.”
The TV break ended, the ref blew the whistle and we readied ourselves for the face-off. The Leaf centreman drew the puck nicely into the corner behind me.
“I’ll get it,” I said.
I caught a glimpse of Taylor following me into the corner. A second later he slammed me into the boards, much to the delight of a little boy in the front row whose eyes I met as my face was rammed into the glass. I slowly crumpled to the ice like some Saturday morning cartoon character. I struggled to my feet just as the whistle blew for another face-off.
Skating on wobbly legs back to the circle, I once again lined up beside Taylor. He looked pleased with himself.
“Take it easy, will ya,” I said.
“Yeah, yer real funny, all right,” he snarled.
I turned to face him and put my hands on my hips.
“Hey listen,” I said quietly, “you are one of the charity players, aren’t you?”
His eyes grew wide and he turned beet red.
“Why you son of a—”
He dropped his gloves and took a swing at me just as I retreated a stride. He missed my face by a whisker, but I felt a stiff breeze from his anvil-like fist.
Fortunately, the refs intervened at that point.
“What was that for?” one of them asked Taylor, holding him back.
“That sonofabitch called me a charity player.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked the ref.
“I dunno. Sounded like trash talk.”
He glowered at me. “Call me a charity player once more and see what happens.”
We both got two minutes for roughing, despite the absence of any actual contact.
Five minutes after serving the penalty, I saw Taylor return to the ice. The coach tapped me on the shoulder, pointed at Taylor and ordered me back out.
“Umm, no thanks, coach.”
“I think I’ll pass.”
“Yeah. That Taylor guy? He’s taking things way too seriously. I mean, I think he’s trying to kill me.”
“Well, if he doesn’t, I will!” the coach bellowed as he opened the gate and pushed me onto the ice.
Back at the face-off circle, my new nemesis was again wearing his death stare.
“You know,” I said as we waited through another TV break, “I think we got off on the wrong foot. I shouldn’t have mentioned the scar. I can be a little insensitive sometimes. Why don’t we just—”
He cut me off. “I still remember what you did to me in junior, Jones.”
“You look different with the beard but—”
“Did you say junior? No, you must be thinking about someone else. I didn’t get to junior. I only got as far as minor bantam. Queensway Minor Hockey Association. I was with Bert’s Plumbing, we beat Lakeshore Trucking to win the championship. It was a great—”
“All right, I’ve had it with you!” Taylor said as he dropped his gloves again.