The next day Coach Whit Chandler called Coach Ray Reynolds, the coach of the juvenile division. Whit was aware of Reynold’s reputation for leading his teams to the top of their division. Although he didn’t particularly like the juvenile’s coach, Whit respected his success and was willing to ask for Reynold’s help.
“Hi, Ray. This is Whit Chandler. How are you?”
“Good. To what do I owe this honor?” Coach Reynolds asked in his usual gruff voice.
“I need your advice Ray. I don’t know what to do about my goaltending situation,” Whit said.
“Yeah, if I was you, I’d be feeling the heat too. I was at your game last night and saw that you tried using a different goalie.”
“Man, that turned out to be a disaster, but I was desperate. Rick Miller just hasn’t been cutting it as our starting goalie. What would you do if you were in my shoes?”
“I agree with you that Rick Miller has far too many weaknesses as a goalie, but I like the kid. He has guts. I watched another one of your games in which Miller took a powerful slap shot to the shoulder. It must have hurt like hell, but Miller sucked up the pain and stayed in the game. That indicates to me that Rick is a real man. If I was you, Chandler, I’d stick with Miller in goal. The kid needs some help though. I’ll tell you what I’m willing to do for you. If you can book and pay for some ice time at the St. Vital arena, I’d be willing to teach Rick some new skills. I’ll also bring along my number one goalie, Brent Peterson to help show Miller some techniques that he has mastered.”
“Consider it done. I really appreciate this Ray. I owe you a few drinks for this one. I’ll phone the arena right now to book some ice time.”
After hockey practice was over, Rick called Misty.
“Hey, are we still on for lunch today?” Rick asked.
“You bet,” Misty answered. “Where shall we go?”
“I really like the chili and fries at The Red Top.”
“And I love their burgers and onion rings. So, we finally agree on something,” Misty teased.
“Yeah, miracles still do happen, I guess,” Rick said with a chuckle. “So, we’ll leave right now. I’m getting hungry after a gruelling hockey practice. Just meet me at my car.”
“Just what I always wanted. A man who takes charge,” Misty said.
In under five minutes the two neighbors arrived at The Red Top Restaurant. They were greeted by one of the weekend staff.
“What can I get for you guys? Do you want a menu?”
The waitress’s name was Marlene. She also attended Maplewood Collegiate. She was in Misty’s chemistry class. Many of the students at Maplewood held part time jobs in the evenings or on the weekend. Rick had passed Marlene in the halls several times. Rick found Marlene to be attractive, but he wouldn’t put her in the same league with Misty.
“Hi, Marlene. I’ll have chili, fries and a hot chocolate. And what will you order Misty?”
“I’ll have a Red Top burger, some onion rings and a Coke.”
“I’ll get your hot chocolate and Coke right away.” Marlene said.
“So does Sasha know that we’re having lunch together?” Rick asked.
“Oh yeah. I told her this morning at breakfast. She’s cool with it. She just started seeing this guy called Cole. He’s not as good looking as you Rick, but he’s very intelligent like you are. I think Cole might be a socialist or even a communist. He looks like one too. He is tall, skinny and has a black goatee and if I remember correctly, he wore a badge on his sweater that said Young Socialist Party of Canada. Cole brought over some books for Sasha to read. One was Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book and another one was The Communist Manifesto. Sasha hasn’t shown much interest in politics before, but I think she’ll read his literature just because she likes Cole so much.”
“Well, I’m happy for her. I hope Sasha’s found herself a nice guy. And I’m relieved to hear that she’s not upset about us having lunch together,” Rick said.
“No, there’s no need to worry Rick. Sasha’s over you.”
“So, Rick. How was your practice this morning?”
“It went very well. I am actually enjoying playing hockey for probably the first time in my life,” Rick answered.
“How long have you been playing hockey?”
Before Rick could answer Marlene had brought over Rick’s hot chocolate and Misty’s Coke. The sun shone brightly through the window highlighting the beauty of Misty’s face. Misty appeared so ravishing to Rick that he found it hard to focus on his answer to her question.
“Since I was seven years old,” Rick managed to get out.
“And you haven’t liked playing hockey until now?” Misty asked looking baffled.
“It’s what you call the power of peer pressure. My teammates wouldn’t let me quit. I was the only kid who wasn’t afraid of getting hit by the puck, so I was the only goalie they had,” Rick explained.
“So what’s changed it for you this year?”
“There are several reasons. For one thing we have a different coach this year. Our former coach developed heart trouble and his doctor ordered him to quit coaching hockey. So now we have a new coach, Brad Keenan. He goes to university and he’s a really cool guy. He’s taken most of the pressure right off me. Plus, I’m the oldest guy on the team this year and the younger guys look up to me.”
“Wow, I never would have dreamed I’d be having lunch with a jock,” Mindy said.
This made Rick laugh. “Yes, but a very enlightened jock.”
“I always wanted a guy with a good sense of humour,” Misty said, starting to laugh.
Whit Chandler was only able to procure a 10:30 PM ice time slot for Rick’s crash course in goaltending. Throughout his whole career Rick had never had a coach teach him how to play goal. All he got from them was criticism of his performance. On Wednesday, December 5, 1967 this suddenly changed. As promised Coach Reynolds brought along his number one goalie Brent Peterson.
Coach Reynolds told Whit Chandler to stay in the stands and just observe as he and Brent taught Rick. To start off Coach Reynolds sent Brent to the net. He asked Rick to closely observe Brent’s posture and how he always kept his goal stick flat on the ice. Next Brent demonstrated how he cut down the angles. Brent showed Rick how to stop different kinds of shots. High shots, low shots, slap-shots and wrist shots were all included in Rick’s crash course in the art and science of goaltending. Coach Reynolds put Rick in goal to practise what he’d just watched Brent do. When the one-hour session was over, Rick was completely exhausted. He was so tired that it took him a long time to take his equipment off. Brent walked up to Rick and sat right beside him on the bench in the dressing room.
“I just want to tell you that you did really well out there tonight, but we still have a lot of work to do. Coach Reynolds will book the ice time again for sometime next week. In the mean time I’m going to give you some homework.” Brent handed Rick a copy of Lloyd Percival’s Hockey Handbook. He told Rick to read and study the chapter on goaltending and to start practising some of the suggested exercises on his own.
Rick attended and participated in two more private training sessions with Brent Peterson and Coach Reynolds. Rick had absorbed a lot of new strategies to help his individual play. On a Thursday night following his last practice, Rick saw his newly acquired skills start to pay off. The Cougars were playing a team from the north end of the city. The Cougar’s opponents were ranked very close to the Cougars in the league standings. Northwood’s strategy for the game was to intimidate the Cougars with a punishing physical confrontation. The Northwood Raiders did everything in their power to engage the Cougar players into fights. They hacked, slashed, tripped and tried every illegal tactic to draw the Cougars off their game. The Cougars were a relatively small hockey team that was not known for aggressive play on the ice. The Cougars really had only one player that was a scoring threat and a Raiders player managed to engage him in a fight during the first period that led to his expulsion from the game.
By the start of the second period Northwood had the Cougars on the run. The smaller team was by now totally intimidated and their one scoring threat was out of the game. The Cougars now did not believe that they could win this game. Their revised goal was to get out of this arena alive. The game officials appeared to have been bought off by the Northwood Raiders. They refused to call penalties on even the most egregious infractions. Several of the Cougars white road jerseys now displayed blood stains.
Amazingly after all this mayhem the game was still scoreless going into the third period. The reason was the outstanding play of Rick Miller in goal. Rick stopped shots from every conceivable angle including three breakaways. This heroic effort by the Cougars goalie caused Northwood to become frustrated and dispirited. It was as if Rick’s superb play had drained the fight right out of the Raiders.
The Cougars capitalized on some late game lackadaisical play by Northwood and scored two quick goals. With time running out the Raider’s coach chose to pull their goalie in order to acquire a sixth attacker. This strategy backfired when the Cougars scored an empty net insurance goal.
At the final buzzer the Cougar players left the bench and mobbed Rick. They knew who had won the game for them.