We played the town team three weeks after Father Leboutilier first let me skate with the bigger boys. My teammates laughed when they saw me in my uniform. Another town team had donated their old sweaters, and I looked as though I were drowning in mine. It hung as though there were no bones to me. My outsized skates and full-sized stick made me looked even odder. Father Leboutilier had tried to convince me to cut my stick down some, but the longer shaft felt more familiar to me.

The game was held in the White River arena. We’d only ever played outdoors and the heat in the dressing rooms made the air feel heavy in our lungs. We were used to suiting up in the full chill. We were used to allowing the cold to prepare us, and those first circles on the ice, the rush of blood to our muscles, the gradual warming from the effort, were how we readied ourselves. In the arena, yellow lights were above us instead of the sun, and rafters instead of clouds. There was glass above the boards and behind the nets instead of chicken wire.

When I skated out at the tail end of our team I could see people in the stands pointing at me and laughing.

“The Indian school brought their mascot!”

“Is he a squirt? Nah. He’s a dribble!”

Father Leboutilier huddled us all together on the bench and I listened intently to screen out the taunts.

“These boys are a skilled team,” the Father said. “They’ve been playing organized games since they were six. This is your first organized game. So play it for fun. Play it to learn. Play it as a team and you can’t lose.”

There were twelve of us. Two sets of five and a pair of goalies. We were nervous. I could see that in my teammates’ faces. As soon as the puck was dropped it was obvious how outmatched we were. The town team moved the puck quickly. Their passes were crisp and on target. They scored within the first minute. But before long, sitting there on the bench, I felt that curious sense of vision descend on me. I could see. I could see what they were going to do before they did it. By the time Father Leboutilier called for my line, I was ready.

The crowd howled when they saw me skate to the centre line to take the faceoff. Their centreman scowled and slapped my stick with his own.

“Shrimp,” he said. “Stay out of my way.”

He won the draw and the puck skittered back to their defensemen. I skated easily with the play as it made its way down ice. We gained control of the puck and started our own rush, but that broke down at their blue line. I watched the other team closely, and when the puck went into the right-hand corner of our end after a blocked shot, I knew I had them. I pushed off hard, breaking into the clear on a hard angle in front of our defenseman. I yelled. He saw me and flipped the puck toward me. I snared it easily with one hand and turned up ice at the same time.

Three of their players were ahead of me. When the left-winger tried to check me, I went left. I poked the puck back to the right, between his legs, and stepped around him. Their defense was backing up and a dozen feet separated us. I outskated the first boy. He came with me as I flashed across the ice, but I cut hard at the boards on both blades at a sharp angle, the puck on my backhand, and left him there. The second boy skated backwards as I straightened and aimed right for him. I stared at his chest and let the puck dangle at the end of my blade. I could feel his eyes go there, and when he lunged I spun, tucked the puck between my legs, picked it up as I came out of the spin and was clear. I could hear the crowd yelling at their team to stop me. I covered the sixty feet to the net in no time. Their goalie had backed up into the crease. I leaned to the right. He followed me. In my mind I saw my school boot dangling by its laces from the top right corner of the net. I leaned hard on my right skate and snapped off a wrist shot at the same time. The goalie flung up his glove hand but it was too late. The puck skimmed into the top corner of the net.

The arena went crazy. The klaxon buzzer sounded, the red light flashed, their players slammed their sticks on the ice, the crowd roared. I was lost in a wild celebration of arms and sticks and helmets. Father Leboutilier was standing at the open gate to our bench as I skated over, his face was red with excitement. He stopped me and put his hands on my shoulder pads.

“That was beautiful,” he said. “You were beautiful.”

I sat on the bench and basked in that. When I leaped back onto the ice, it was with determination to earn the Father’s praise again. There was no laughter from the crowd when I took the puck this time. Instead, they yelled at their team to stop me, to hit me, to crush me. But when the players tried I simply skated faster. No one could touch me. I scored twice more and made the passes that earned us another two goals and we won that game by a single goal. I was applauded as I left the ice, and in the dressing room my teammates gaped. I just offered a small grin, then bent to my skates and began to unlace them.

Father Leboutilier came and sat down beside me and leaned back against the wall with his legs thrown straight out in front of him. He put a hand on my back and patted me.

“Saul,” he said quietly, “the game loves you.”

I sat with the Father’s hand on my back, listening to the excited chatter of the team as they recreated the game. The game loves you, he’d said, and right there, right then, I loved it back.