The SEJHL goalie fails to stop the first shot, and the team's first shooter fails to score. This happens again in the second round. Rocket skates out to take the third shot. Alone on the ice, he looks smaller than ever. He skates forward from the center line, weaving the puck from side to side. With a neat tap, he slides the puck just to the right of the goalie's skate and into the net. In the end, however, the All-Stars lose to the CHA Select, 4-2.
However, the four Miamians emerge from the locker room unfazed, clutching maroon-and-gold envelopes and talking excitedly. They'd been approached by a recruiter to attend Robert Morris College in Chicago, which has a Division 1 Club team in the American College Hockey Association. (There was a little confusion at first one of the players calling it Philip Morris College.) As the foursome stands in the hallway, the USHL players begin filing in for their 1:30 p.m. game. They are hulking broad-shouldered and topping six feet their faces scarred. The Miamians are too giddy with their good fortune to notice. Rocket and Devin may still be in high school, but for Richie and Victor the only problem is how to break the news to their girlfriends that they will be moving away next summer.
They head to the dormitory cafeteria for lunch. As they step out into the cold, everyone is shivering in hooded sweatshirts, except Richie, who is snug in a leather coat with a sheepskin collar. Over potato salad, soup, and sandwiches, Victor wonders about how he can fit in both the fire academy and Robert Morris, as he dips Doritos into chicken-and-wild-rice soup, to the disgust of everyone else at the table.
"I have to go call my number one," says Victor, suddenly standing up.
"Your mom?" asks Rocket.
"My girlfriend would kill me if she knew I said that," says Victor, opening up his cell phone.
The SEJHL team has planned to reunite and watch the USHL Tier I team play later. They are aware of what differences to expect between their level of play and that of their Nordic counterparts. "There will be a lot less hitting," says Rocket. "Not as much getting stuck in a corner with everyone trying to get the puck."
This, it turns out, is an understatement. The Schwan Super Rink is now packed for the USHL showcase. At least 80 scouts have come to watch the games, including representatives from every NHL team. In the central lobby, whose windows overlook the four ice rinks, the tables are packed. One grizzled group of men in hunting caps and Green Bay Packers hats are members of some sort of fraternal order called the Buffalo Club. Their anoraks, embroidered with a large buffalo on the back, read, "A Breed Apart: Where cowards won't go and the weak die along the way."
The Miami players seem awestruck. "We saw a scout for the New York Rangers in the bathroom," says Rocket.
"And one for the Blackhawks," says another player.
Watching the game, they are quiet. It's difficult to believe that the players on the ice are even the same age as the Miami guys. The differences are clear: fewer goals, faster pace, the checking more efficiently incapacitating. The USHL game is clean the players in constant motion around the puck, always alert for opportunity.
The Toros watch quietly, deciding to leave after the second period to visit the Mall of America. "I'm freezing," says Rocket, shivering in a thin white sweater, as they stand up to go.
The SEJHL wins its game against the CHA All-Stars the next day, and the Toros leave the ice rink immediately afterward to catch a 3:00 p.m. flight back to Fort Lauderdale. No more scouts approach them, but it doesn't matter. One chance to play college hockey is all they want.
The Junior Jamboree will continue for the rest of the day. Windows surrounding the atrium reveal skaters slamming each other against the boards and passing to their teammates. In a small drama framed by one window, a player in a green jersey suddenly clocks another in the face with his stick. As the injured player skates off, a trail of blood marks his path off the ice. Play resumes, the teams unceremoniously skating over the frozen, bright red blood.
Joe Timpone was unable to abandon his hockey program duties at Kendall Ice Arena to attend the showcase in Minnesota. Although pleased with the results, he had some misgivings about the goals of the SEJHL team coach, who did not give the Miami players much ice time. "They got a lot out of it," Timpone says. "They proved to themselves that their level of play is as good as anybody else out there, even though they didn't have impacts in the game itself because the coach didn't give them the opportunity to show what they can do." But he points out that the Miami players were the only ones on the team to have been approached by a college, something he is more proud of anyway. "Junior Hockey isn't about winning or losing," he says. "It's about moving kids on to college."