Father Leboutilier worked the boys hard. He pushed them to do the drills and then to transfer that discipline into the scrimmage. He outlined what he wanted to see in the scrim of snow on the ice. Circles. Arrows. The math and the science of it all. Once they understood, they skated languidly back to their positions, their faces pulled into concentration. When the puck was dropped they moved deliberately, the scratchings and doodles on the ice suddenly coming to life. It was thrilling to see. They skated hard. They were big, lanky Indian boys and their angular faces were grave. As they pumped their legs and swung their arms in pursuit of the puck, zipping by me in a blur, they were warrior-like. When the whistle blew they turned as one. Some of them dropped onto the ice, legs splayed, chests heaving. Others leaned panting on the boards in front of me. Their faces burned with zeal and joy and their breathing was like the expelled air of mustangs. The clomp of their blades made me think of hoofs on frozen ground. This was the game. This gathering of brothers, of kin, joined by the exuberance of effort and challenge and strain, breathing the air that rose from the glacial face of a rink under a bleak sun.

The team was preparing for their first organized game against a town league team from White River. They practiced aggressively. Father Leboutilier whistled them down only when there was a flagrant misplay or a breach of the rules. The pace was breakneck. They poked and pulled and elbowed mightily to free the puck and send the game careering down the ice again. Then one afternoon someone screamed and a player fell to the ice clutching his leg. Father Leboutilier skated over quickly, knelt down and cradled the boy’s head in his gloved hands. After a few minutes a couple of the boys helped the injured player to his feet. He leaned on them as they skated him slowly to the boards.

“I’m okay,” he said.

“You can’t stand on that ankle,” Father Leboutilier said.

“I’m okay,” the boy repeated.

“I’m sorry. I can’t let you play when you’re hurt.”

“We ain’t got no one else. How you gonna make a team?” the boy asked.

The words were out of me before I’d thought them through. “I’ll go in for Wapoose,” I said.

The Father looked at me in surprise. “You skate, Saul?”


“How did you learn?”

“By myself. In the mornings. After I cleared the ice.”

The others were watching me, their eyes glittering obsidian from beneath the rims of their helmets. I was just the ice cleaner, the Zhaunagush in their midst. They’d been content enough to just leave me alone but I was still the outsider. The Father rubbed at his chin with his glove and stared out across the field. “Well, I suppose you can fill in for the scrimmage.”

I ran to the snowbank to retrieve my stick. When Father Leboutilier handed me Wapoose’s skates, I went to the barn to get the wadding of paper I kept there and stuffed it in their toes then slipped my feet in and laced them up tight. The Father was grinning as I leaped over the boards. I skated once around the ice. Slowly. Getting my legs under me. Father Leboutilier nodded, and when I got back to where the team was, he put a hand on my shoulder and directed me to Wapoose’s place on the right wing.

I could barely breathe. My whole body was quivering. Once the puck was dropped I lagged behind the play to study it. When the players moved up ice I skated on my wing. The other boys ignored me.

I stayed at the edge of the scrimmage, the play rolling its pattern out in front of me. Then, suddenly, I saw it clearly. I saw the direction of the game before it happened and I moved to that spot. Now I bent to my skating, spreading my feet a little wider and keeping the full length of my stick blade on the ice.

There was a collision at the blue line and the puck squirted free. It spun like a small planet in a universe of white. Everyone reacted at the same time. I could hear the clomp of their blades. But I pushed hard, evenly, and I was at full speed in three strides. I scooped the puck onto my stick and cradled it as I pumped with my other arm. The goalie yelped and backed slowly toward the mouth of the net. I whisked across the blue line and there was only me, the puck and the net. I was flying, skating as fast as I could go, and then time slowed to a crawl. I could hear my breath, the yells of the other boys behind me, feel the pump of blood in my chest, see the eyes of the goalie squinting in concentration.

When I was twelve feet out I leaned back on the heels of my skates and pushed the puck out in the space between my knees. I shuffled it back and forth like Beliveau. I wriggled my shoulders and then I pulled a broad feint to my left and the goalie took it, sliding over on one padded knee with the paddle of his stick on the ice. Once he’d committed I tucked the puck back neatly between my legs, like I’d done so many mornings with the horse turds, reached back with my stick and caught the puck in the middle of my blade. I flicked my wrist and the puck slipped neatly into the right angle where the crossbar met the post.

I spun on my skates and slid backwards into the boards behind the net. I was too shocked to raise my arms.

The other players turned in a long slow curve to stare at me in amazement. Father Leboutilier stood at centre ice, a giant grin on his face.

“You taught yourself the game, Saul?”

“Yes. From books and the games on television.”

“That was a pretty snazzy move. You taught yourself that?”

“Yes. I practiced stickhandling with turds.”

He laughed. He rubbed my head with one glove and then motioned the other boys over. “Can you play centre, Saul?” Father Leboutilier asked.

“Like Beliveau?”

He grinned. “Yes. Like Beliveau.”

“I can try.”

“Good. Ottertail, you take the right wing.”

“I play centre,” Ottertail said with a hard look at me.

“Let Saul try it. Just for the scrimmage.”

Father Leboutilier blew his whistle and I lined up to take the first faceoff of my life. I lost the draw, but once the scrimmage began, that curious sense of being able to anticipate the play took over. The puck seemed to follow me. Father Leboutilier just let us skate and after a while our plays became sharp and crisp and we were all together in the thrill of the game. When Father Leboutilier finally whistled us to a stop, the older boys skated to the boards and leaned there. I dawdled behind them, unsure of what to do. But as I drew near they made a spot for me among them. We stood there like stallions home from the range.