A Slap Shot Straight to the Heart

While his marriage floundered, his hockey team flourished

Dan is the youngest member of the team. He reps the whole Gen X thing superbly with a soul patch, unkempt hair, and black T-shirts advertising punk bands he used to tour with in Canada. During one grueling game last season I asked him what he does to stay in such great shape. "What, me?" he said with a slow laugh. "It's pretty much limited to smoking pot and drinking beer."

Like much of America, Miami is a rootless society. The Wildcats reflect this nomadism. Norm hails from Detroit. Bob learned to play ice hockey in a converted barn in rural Ontario. I'm an economic migrant, here for a job. I have no real ties to Florida and no plans to build any. Someday I'll move on, and another player will take my place at the left wing.

While I'm here I'm lucky to play with Dan. He scores our second goal and sets up two others. So excited are we to have him back in the lineup that we almost overlook the return of the Rocket, who decided to rejoin us just in time to score the game-winning goal as we down the Dragons 5-4. The fuckers.

Steve Satterwhite
Steve Satterwhite

Afterward we adhere to our tradition of recognizing momentous victories with ceremony by retiring to the College Park Inn for pizza and frosty mugs of Budweiser. Gotta stay in shape.

It's the first beautiful day of the fall, the first real break from the oppressive heat. In the morning the wind races past the bridal shops of downtown Coral Gables as I wait for my wife to show up for our last counseling session. We had been meeting with a marriage therapist regularly for several months. Today is our last scheduled visit.

Two weeks earlier, at a friend's wedding reception, our trial separation became permanent in a midnight argument on the lawn outside the Coral Gables Woman's Club. Today's meeting is a formality, almost as if we wish to notify the counselor that we won't be needing her assistance any longer. Sitting uncomfortably far apart on a couch, we tell her. The therapist concurs, actually gives her blessing, then escorts us out.

That afternoon we meet at the house. Her eyes are red and moist. My throat is so choked up I can't swallow. We sit at our dining-room table, trying to divide up the money in our bank accounts. We talk about my 401K, about getting the gas bill changed to her name. I brought a fresh notebook and a pen, as if I've done this before.

"I just want to get through this," she says, wiping a tear from near her mouth. I think of a photo of her taken in college, in which she's wearing a red sweatshirt with the cuff of her sleeve dwarfing her tiny hand. I think of her at our engagement party, when we broke away to walk on a carpet of brittle autumn leaves. I think of us dancing in our living room only three weeks before. I try to hold back my tears.

When we finish our audit, I head back to work and try to concentrate on a big, complex project that is due in three days. I sit at my desk in my cubicle, rocking back and forth over a crinkly piece of paper dropped on the floor. No work gets done. I just roll. For hours. Back and forth.

"Who are you guys?" asks Bob as we walked past the opponent's bench at the rink.

"I don't have a clue," replies a fellow in a blue jersey.

"We're the Lighting," answers his teammate.

"No," corrects another teammate, "our name is actually the Thunder."

Tonight should be no problem.

When the temperature drops, the energy level rises at the rink. Our whole team turns out, everyone with a bit more pep. Javy hunts for some cloth tape to build a knob on the end of his new stick. "I heard you guys did all right without me," says Geoff, showing up after a week's absence. "I had to take some classes for work, computer classes, you know, to make my own Website and such." As punishment for his misdirected priorities, we make him the Rocket's skating partner.

Circling the ice during warmups, Tom displays proper Wildcat spirit. "I fell off my bike this weekend," he relays as he glides around the face-off circles, up to the line that divides the rink in half, then back down behind the net. He'd been riding along Red Road when he lost control of his bicycle and crashed onto a coral-rock marker. "I punctured an artery just below my knee," he recounts. "It was pretty cool. The blood was shooting all over." He wrapped up the wound with a T-shirt and limped home. "I had to go about twenty blocks to get home. When I got there I took off the T-shirt and the blood was still shooting out. I was like, Hey, man! I've got a problem!"

Four stitches later, a bandage wrapped tightly around his kneecap, Tom is out on the ice. In recognition of his valor, the game is played in his honor, the first-ever pregame dedication to a guy who actually bothered showing up.

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