A shrill blast from the coach’s whistle got everyone’s attention.
"Let’s do something different this morning! I want to see some one-on-one drills!" Farrell’s gravelly voice called out as he skated over to center ice, puck in hand.
"Aw, come on, Coach!" Rick Dahlgren griped, sullenly. A two-time Norris Award winning defenseman in his mid-twenties, at thirty-two he was still considered one of the best defensemen in the league.
Rick looked at Al, mild disgust gleaming from his eyes. "That means I have to defend against ol’‘Stone Hands’ Bowman." He wheeled around to face Cole. "Jesus H. Christ," he complained, loudly, enjoying the audience. "You might as well send out Snow White or one of the freakin’ skating dwarves! At least that would be more of a challenge!"
The chattering amongst the players stopped as Cole turned, then deliberately skated over in front of Dahlgren. He stopped sharply in front of Dahlgren, the finely honed edges of his skates sending a shower of ice shavings cascading in a fine spray onto the tops of Rick’s black leather skates. Still edgy from the physical effects of the previous night, Cole’s quietness was a stark contrast to Dahlgren’s loud braggadocio. He was tired of the constant ragging, the demeaning petty comments. "You’re pretty sure of yourself, Ricky," Cole looked at him levelly. "Personally, I’d put my money on the freakin’ skating dwarf."
"Who in the hell do you think you are, Bowman?" Rick sputtered contemptuously.
"Someone who could beat you, given half a chance."
Dahlgren snorted derisively. "Oh, come off it! You couldn’t get by me without running me over, you big goon! And that ain’t skill!"
Farrell skated swiftly over, coming in-between the two men. "Ladies, ladies!" he mocked, enjoying the exchange immensely. "Why don’t you two put your money where your mouths are? Shall we have a contest? To the winner, one hundred dollars to be paid by the loser! The stakes are one goal, fair and square. That’s the point, isn’t it?"
"He’ll never do it, Al," Dahlgren snorted contemptuously.
"You’re on," Cole accepted, grimly.
Dahlgren grinned broadly, confident. "Alright! It’s a deal."
Their teammates moved towards the boards, giving room at center ice. Farrell, playing referee, positioned himself in the middle of the circle, puck in hand, as Bowman and Dahlgren pulled gloves tight, adjusting equipment, then assumed the standard face off positions. One hand raised high into the air, Al glanced back and forth at both men. Dahlgren’s expression was mocking, but sure. Cole’s brown eyes were focused, determined.
Farrell dropped the puck at center, and Cole’s sure hands were rapid as he deftly beat Dahlgren’s stick to the puck. He cut and circled sharply to the left, avoiding Rick’s attempts to poke-check the puck away from him and skated in closer to the goal net.
Cole faked twice to the left already and he watched Rick’s eyes, as Dahlgren played him. He edged slightly closer to the goal post, and the two men skated in sync, almost as one, as Cole kept the puck away from Dahlgren’s ever reaching stick. Their eyes locked briefly--barely inches apart--as Cole brought his right arm, guiding the stick, back for momentum. Dahlgren, cautiously anticipating that this time Cole would not fake again, moved in tandem with him. And, in the split-second it took Dahlgren to adjust, then realize his error, Cole faked one more time, adroitly manipulating the pine shaft of his stick, and a sharp sure-handed shot sent the puck careening past Rick Dahlgren deep into the goal’s webbing. The small audience in the arena erupted in approving cheers.
"Goal!" Al Farrell called out. "Pay the man, Dahlgren!"
Rick looked at Cole, a grudging respect in his eyes. "Damned lucky shot, Bowman" he commented, grumbling.
Dmitri pulled up alongside Cole, a broad grin lighting his face. He brushed his lank hair out of his eyes as he whooped, "See, Bow! I tell you! That was awe-soom!" he declared loudly, slapping Cole across the shoulder pads with a gloved hand.
"Thanks, Dmitri!" Cole smiled back at the blonde boy.
"Vas good timing, too!" the Russian commented, approvingly.
"Why’s that, buddy?"
"Somevone scouting today."
"Who is?" Cole asked, perplexed, glancing around. "What are you talking about?"
"Scouts. Dey here. They are here," he corrected himself. "Een stands, there. I know that von from vhen I feirst come over to States."
Dmitri motioned with a nod towards their right, and Cole turned just in time to see the backs of two people, heading out of the stands towards the concourse. His eyes narrowed in puzzlement. He shook his head, wondering at his imagination. From the back, one of them looked an awful lot like Mitzi.