A Second Chance -- 66

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A Second Chance

By Dawn Natelle

The little yellow bus is back. This is one of the additional stories that I plan to offer at about once a month: Dawn

July 4, 2016

There was chaos in the Barron household on Monday morning. Luckily Maria and Geoff had the day off, so Rachael had help getting Bobby up and ready for his first day of Hockey Camp. For the next two weeks, the boys needed to be at the local youth arena by 8 a.m. Marc Hafleur drove in with them, since today was the first day Larissa and their mother were doing their French classes at the library.

Today the entire family, other than Grandpa, was going to the arena. For the rest of the week, it would be just Rachael going with her brother. One of her parents would drive them at 8, and pick them up at 4:30. The boys would get two full four-hour sessions at the camp, with a half-hour lunch. They would not be on the ice for both sessions, however, with half the time being strength and conditioning training in the gym. This allowed the group to be split into two sections, with Atom and PeeWee ages (9-12) in one group and Bantam and Midget (13-16) in the older group.

They got to the arena at 7:30, and learned that the younger players would be on the ice first. Marc had a bag of brand new equipment. As a goalie Bobby had been told equipment would be provided. Sam Weaver, the former NHL journeyman player who ran the camp, met Bobby and looked a bit surprised. "You are a bit smaller than I was expecting," the man said. "But I think the equipment we have for you will fit. We only have the two sets, and the other goalie picked the smaller set."

Sam helped the family get Bobby into his gear. It was almost laughable. The pads rode up to almost his stomach, instead of mid thigh. The chest protector looked like one of those bulky ones that baseball umpires wore in the 50s. The helmet and face mask was at least an inch too large for the boy's head, and the blocker and glove were also too big.

"You can't go out like that," Maria insisted. Too-large equipment would be unsafe in a real game, and probably here in camp too.

"Please Momma," the boy entrapped in the too-large equipment begged. "I really want to do this. Please let me play."

Then Sam handed him a goalie stick that towered over his head. "We have his goalie stick in the car," Rachael said. "Can someone get it? And Mr. Weaver? Is it possible to adjust the equipment at all?"

"I think so," the man said, and he started making changes, tightening all the belts to their smallest positions. The result was that the equipment was still too large, but Bobby could at least move around in it. He could barely skate though, and when the boys (and one girl) went onto the ice, he was unable to keep up with the others, including the goalie.

But when drills started, and he was in the net, the lack of mobility was no longer as much of a problem, and he was able to stop more than half the shots made by the boys his age (Atom) and nearly half of the shots by the PeeWee players, who were one or two years older. He had a huge grin on his face the entire time.

Maria, Geoff and Rachael sat in the stands and watched, as did one or two other parents. At one point, another man came and sat with them. "Which boy is yours?" He asked, "or is it the girl? She isn't bad."

"The goalie," Rachael said. "The one at this end."

"Isn't that equipment a bit too big for him?" the man asked.

"Yes it is," Maria said. "Geoff and I were talking about buying some for him that fits."

"I am the coach of the local PeeWee team," the man said. "Frank Scott. I like to come to the camp to see the new boys, and whether any should be invited to our training camp in August. Your boy has good reflexes, but you can't tell how good he is when he is wallowing around in Bantam-size equipment."

With that the man darted off, and came back several minutes later with a full set of goalie pads. "These are from the Atom team locker, and will fit your son much better than what he has on. I don't recommend parents buy goalie equipment for their boy: it costs well over a thousand dollars, and you can seldom get more than a year out of it when they are growing. This is our backup set, and I can loan them to you, or the camp, for the next few weeks."

With that he went down to ice level, and spoke to Mr. Weaver for a bit. Then Sam had the boys do skating drills for a few minutes, and an excited Bobby came over to change equipment. He was talking a mile-a-minute about the experience, and was on a high from the activity. In a few minutes he had changed into the Atom gear, and was back on the ice. You could see as he skated to the net that he was more mobile and able to skate better. The shooting drills then continued.

Now Bobby was stopping almost anything sent his way from the Atom players. And he stopped most of the pucks from PeeWee players. Mr. Scott whistled at one particular save.

"You boy will definitely make the Atom travel team, probably as the number one goalie. In fact, I want him to try out for my PeeWees as well. I'm pretty sure he will at least make the backup slot, and by the end of the season, he might be the number one goalie. He won't be officially a Peewee till next year, and I bet he will be the number one goalie for us that year."

He watched the boys play for a while, then spoke again: "Do you know who that big boy is? He definitely will make my team this year."

"That is Marc Hafleur," Rachael said. "And he is Bobby's age. So still an Atom."

"The Atom team might make it to the provincial finals this year then," Mr. Scott said. "I'm going to try to get Marc on my team as an underage player this year too. And next years, when they both are PeeWees, that team should go to the provincials too."

Geoff looked as proud as if Bobby was his natural son as he sat in the stands with Maria, watching the boy play. There were a few seconds of concern when a PeeWee slapshot caught Bobby full in the mask, knocking him to the ice. But his main concern was whether he had stopped the puck, and when he saw it next to him, the smile on his face seemed even bigger than it had been.

The boys got off the ice at a few minutes to noon, and Sam skated over to the Barrons. "I wonder if you folks would mind letting Bobby skate the afternoon session as well. It will be against older boys, but we only have one goalie in that age group. He is a Bantam, and I'll have him facing the older boys. Bobby will only have Bantams, and a few Midgets who aren't up to the same level as the others."

"Those boys are teenagers, aren't they?" an alarmed Maria asked.

"They are," Sam said. "But Bobby is a far better goalie than the other one we had this morning. If he wants to improve, facing older boys is one of the best ways to do so. I think he will get a lot more out of being on the ice than doing the conditioning training."

"Please Momma," the youngster begged.

"Okay, but if you get hurt, then all bets are off," Maria said.

"I won't," Bobby bragged. "I just have to stop all the shots."

"Well, don't be stopping any more with your face," Maria said. "I almost had a heart attack when you went down."

"But I stopped it, didn't I," Bobby crowed.

"Go on now," Sam said. "No sense taking your equipment off like the other boys. Just your skates. Then go get your hotdog in the gym.

Because he didn't have to take off his equipment, Bobby was the first of his group into the gym, which was full of the older boys, who had been doing the conditioning training. He got into the rear of a line snaking out from the kitchen at one end of the gym, where a harried woman was serving hot dogs and milks as fast as she could.

Rachael walked up to the woman and asked: "Can I help?" The woman just nodded. "I can't pay you, but I'll give you a free hotdog after we get through this. You hand out the milks."

Rachael got behind the counter, and the line started moving quicker. A few boys wanted two dogs, or two milk, but the lady told them to come back for seconds after everyone had been served. The second helping would cost them though, as the camp only offered one free hotdog and one milk.

After all the boys were served, the woman was so grateful for Rachael's help that she offered hotdogs to Rachael and her parents, as well as free seconds for Bobby, who took advantage of the extra food. As a goalie, he was moving around a lot, while other players stood idle on the ice for long periods as other boys took the drills. He had worked up a good appetite.

The half-hour lunch break was over, but Rachael stayed another half hour to help the lady clean up the kitchen. After lunch the younger boys moved the tables to the wall, and used push brooms to sweep the floor before starting their conditioning training. The older boys went to put their equipment on. By the time Rachael go back into the arena, the boys were back at shooting drills.

Bobby was doing well with the older boys. He looked tiny now compared to the first group, who had at least half the boys his age. Now most boys were four years older, and some looked like men, older than Rachael. As Sam had promised, most of those were at the other end of the ice, with only a few at Bobby's net.

At first Bobby was letting a lot of shots in. These boys were better able to raise their shots, and with Bobby so short, he wasn't able to protect the top of the net from high shots. Sam had ordered the boys not to use slapshots, which were harder to control, and also more threatening-looking to Rachael and Maria in the stands.

As the session went on, Bobby started stopping a few more shots, including the high ones. He learned to jump up and let a shot bounce off his shoulders, or snag a shot with his glove. He was still only stopping one shot in five, but Rachael noted that the goalie at the other end was doing no better. Of course he was facing the better players, and the coach down there was not yelling as much when a player used a slapshot, but Bobby was holding his own.

At the end of the session, almost every boy on the ice, from both ends, came by to slap their sticks against Bobby's pads: the eternal 'good job' message from hockey players to a good goalie performance. The young boy basked in the approval he was getting.

The next two weeks went fast. Rachael started going into the kitchen at 11 to help set up for lunch, as well as cleaning up. The woman working there, who apparently worked the concession stand in the arena during the winter, offered her a regular job, although Rachael had to decline, not wanting a job to interfere with her activities in school.

At the end of the two-week camp, Bobby was invited back to the second camp, due to another goalie shortage, at no cost. He gladly accepted, and then Rachael had to get her parents to agree. It was not a hard sell. It was clear that the boy loved the camp, and was making friends, including with boys older than Rachael. Marc was signed up for the second camp as well, so the routine of going to the arena continued all through July.

In late August Bobby attended two tryout camps. He made the first string goalie position at Atom, with Marc becoming the team's top defenseman. Mr. Scott also named him second-string goalie for the PeeWees. When the season started, The Atom team won its first 12 games, with Bobby getting four shutouts. The streak was broken when the other goalie was given the start, letting in four goals in the first period. Bobby played the rest of that game, and let in only one goal, but the team lost 5-4.

The PeeWees played four games before Bobby got into net, winning two and losing two. Marc was the fifth defenseman on the team. With his size, he didn't seem out of place among boys three years older, although he played a more defensive game, not making the end-to-end rushes that so often led to goals in the Atom games.

In the fifth game of the season, the first-string goalie let two goals in early in the first period, and then took a slapshot to the head. Bobby was called in to replace him, trailing 2-0, but held the opponents from scoring again. His team tied the game in the middle of the third period, and in the last minute Marc let a shot go from the blueline that caromed off two opponents and then went in.

After that game the team alternated between goalies, and just made the playoffs. Mr. Scott made Bobby the playoff goalie, and he started every game, winning the first series, and losing the second series four games to three, with Bobby unable to play the final, due to a conflict with the Atom team.

As Mr. Scott had predicted, the Atom team had dominated their league, with Marc the leading scorer for the team, and the league, in spite of playing defense. They won the league playoffs, and went to the provincial championship series, winning four games to two, with Bobby in net for all six games. The team also won five tournaments that year, while the PeeWees won one tournament and lost two, although reaching the finals in one.

Bobby had a cheering squad with him for all games. Maria and Geoff went to every game. Geoff even bought a new van for the bakery which was able to carry seven boys when it was set up with seats. They travelled to every game, and Rachael went to 90% of them, unless there was something urgent at school.

By the end of the season, in early May, Rachael's goal from a year earlier for her brother was met. He was now buff and popular as a local hockey star. But the most impressive thing was that he had taken over Robert's unofficial position in the middle school, preventing bullying of any of the younger or smaller students.



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