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The breeze -- still armed with a February bite -- dragged itself across the open fields, swirled around the man-made pond adjacent to a small garden, and wrapped itself around me, a solitary figure hunched over on a bench at the outdoor roller hockey rink.

I settled in against the cold steel of the bench, watching two boys -- maybe 12 years old at most -- swing and shoot and pass at the far end of the rink. Under the blustery afternoon's grip, in a knit cap, a gray hoodie, a Jeremy Roenick replica jersey and a pair of sweatpants, I shivered and held my breath.

It had been many months since I skated on a rink, and my first few strides felt flawed in my brother's skates, a pair of Bauers with three wheels -- or what used to be wheels -- on each. Both boots sported duct tape, and the front of the left one sported a healthy gash across the toes. Kicking off rust and fighting the friction of worn-out wheels, I stumbled from the bench into the zone. A few laps around the face-off circles and a couple pivots later, I found my edges, made my way back to the cold steel of the bench, and waited.

They arrived about 20 minutes later, the brothers Shane and Wesley. We'd grown up a block apart, and we made playing hockey a daily routine.

As soon as Shane, in full goaltending equipment, moseyed to the net at the far end of the rink, I hopped off the bench, skated another couple of loops around the zone, picked up a yellow street hockey ball and cruised toward the net.

It's a dance we'd done thousands of times before. One on one. Shooter versus the goalie. We'd played this game for hours in the driveway. We spent full weekends on the corner across from my house. On asphalt in the blistering sun and unrelenting humidity. On ice during practice at the rink.

And, once again, in the teeth of a blustery afternoon in February.

I stopped skating when I reached the slot between the face-off circles. Halting your legs and coasting is a cardinal sin if you're a forward. It allows the goaltender to read your movements, eliminating the shooter's advantage of a surprise.

But, despite coasting, despite the rust, I still owned the advantage of knowing the goaltender.

Shane's slow with his glove -- when he doesn't anticipate, anyway -- and to compensate, he'll leave his blocker side more open. His blocker side is my short side, so to hit that side of the net, I have to pull the shot across my body without pulling it wide of the net. It's a tough shot to make, rust or no rust.

That's why I decided to make a move.

Shane knew what was coming. As I hit the bottom of the face-off circles, he dropped to a crouch. I could have lifted the shot over his glove, but I already committed to my move. At about three feet from the paint in front of the net, I shifted all of my weight to my left hip, swinging my stick forward, around the ball. Shane leaned to his right, dropping to one knee. His stick sat flat on the ground.

The ball sat on the back of my stick's blade. I curled the it around the grounded goaltender's stick and pushed it into the open net as another burst of February air skittered across the rink and danced around the moment.

I was back.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 26th, 2013 11:24 pm (UTC)
I saw the play on YouTube. You were offsides.
Feb. 28th, 2013 12:17 am (UTC)
We phoned Toronto. The video was INCONCLUSIVE!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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