We were all a year older by the time winter came. I was almost thirteen. Our team looked bigger and more powerful when we took to the ice. Father Leboutilier had canvassed the other towns in the region and amassed a ragtag assortment of cast-off gear. Not all of our jerseys matched and they were stained and torn and ragged.

“Hey Father,” someone yelled from the seats at our first town game. “Good joke. Holey sweaters!”

There was laughter all around. But it stopped with our first shift. The summer of workouts had made all of us stronger and faster—the other boys had often joined Father Leboutilier and me for our training runs. Shooting the iron pucks off the linoleum had strengthened our shots and passes. When the boys asked me how I was able to do certain things, like stopping on one skate, or switching quickly from forward to backwards skating, they listened closely when I explained it, and then practiced it diligently too. We were in far better condition than the town kids. We brought a supple strength to our game now.

The speed I had from the year before had increased twelve-fold. That first game, one of the town players poked the puck away from our defense and rumbled up ice all alone. I was caught behind their goal. But I caught him by the time he reached our blue line. I cut in front of him in a wide circle with my stick flat on the ice. I swept the puck off his stick and began skating back the other way. Everyone, including my own teammates was stunned. I skated by them in a blur and sped in alone on the goaltender. I snapped a wrist shot off from the bottom of the faceoff circle and beat him low on his stick side.

We won that game and the next three. After that some men from town showed up at the school and asked permission for me to play on their midget town team. I was stunned. So was Father Leboutilier.

“Midget players are sixteen and seventeen,” he told them.

“That boy is too fast for the bantams and he’s way too good for the peewees,” one of the men said. “Our midget team is competitive and we could use him.”

“He’s only thirteen,” the Father said.

“He plays older and bigger.”

“His first organized game was last winter.”

“You’d never know it.”

It took a hefty donation to the school to get Father Quinney to agree to let me play. Father Leboutilier drove me to practices and games in the old station wagon the nuns used for errands.

“It feels different,” I said one day.

“What does, Saul?” the Father asked.

“The game.”


“I don’t know. I feel kinda scared playing in town all the time. Like they expect me to be something that I don’t know how to be.”

“They expect you to be a good hockey player.”

“Yeah. But there it feels like they want more than that.”

“Like what, Saul?”

“I don’t know. I guess that’s what scares me.”

The town team was coached by Levi Deiter, who ran the hardware store. But Father Leboutilier and I still went over things every morning on the school rink. He taught me a couple dozen different ways to ice the puck, to send it out of my team’s zone and down the length of the rink when the pressure was too intense. I learned how to make passes to myself using the boards, to rag the puck effectively if our team was short-handed. He showed me how to work the puck along the boards when a mash of players converged and how to use my body for leverage even though I was smaller than the players I faced. And he showed me how to take a hit and keep skating.

“Two essential things,” he said. “Always keep your stick on the ice and always keep your legs moving.”

The Father and I discovered ways for me to catch my breath, conserve my energy and rest, all while staying in motion and keeping myself in the play. I found I could go for longer and longer shifts. I scored a few goals in my first few games with the White River Falcons, but it was my passes that got people’s attention. I’d chosen thirteen as my number because no one else wanted it. The people in the bleachers never learned my name, but I could overhear their comments from the bench.

“That thirteen’s got eyes in the back of his head.”

“How did thirteen know Stevie was open on the right side?”

“Thirteen’s good for an Indian.”

I played ten games in total for White River. We won seven of them. I put up fourteen points in those ten games, most of them assists on passes no one saw coming. The five goals I scored were all on wrist shots. The other players relied on big booming slap shots like they’d seen Bobby Hull do on TV. I admired Hull’s thunder too, but I preferred the hair-trigger release of a good wrist shot.

I gave myself to the game utterly. I loved the talks with Father Leboutilier in that old station wagon, the smell of musty gear and spit and sweat, the muttered curses and high-voiced shouts from the bench. I thrived on the sound of sticks banging applause against the boards, skate blades pounding a tattoo on the floor of the bench when a move electrified the team, and the feel of thick, padded gloves tousling my hair. In the spirit of hockey I believed I had found community, a shelter and a haven from everything bleak and ugly in the world.

But the world of hockey in the early 1960s was a closed one, as it turned out. When Father Leboutilier arrived for the eleventh game, Levi Deiter was waiting for us alone in the lobby of the rink. He had his hands stuffed in his pockets and he wouldn’t look me in the eye. He motioned to Father Leboutilier, and they retreated to a corner by the trophy case. I stood there with my gear bag in my hand, wondering what the big secret was. They talked for a long time and I could see that the Father was growing agitated. Finally, he laid a hand on Levi Deiter’s shoulder. When Deiter looked up I could see tears in his eyes and I looked down at my feet in embarrassment. Father Leboutilier walked slowly back toward me, his lips pinched together.

“Did the game get cancelled?” I asked.

“There is no game, Saul,” the Father said softly. Just then my right-winger walked by with his gear bag in his hand.

“But Jimmy’s here.”

“I know, but there is no game for you. They don’t want you to play anymore, Saul.”

“What? I’m the best they got.”

“I know. That’s why they don’t want you to play.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The parents of other players want their own kids to play.”

“They do play.”

“Yes. But they’re not on the ice as much as you are.”

I stared out at the glare of the ice beyond the glass of the lobby and at the banks of empty seats. Other players sauntered through the doors, but when they saw me they lowered their gaze and walked faster. Father Leboutilier and I stood there amidst the whirr of the heater, the shouts and teasing of the players in the dressing room, the crunch of snow as cars pulled up outside. Finally, he put a hand on my shoulder and guided me out the door. I stood in the cold outside the station wagon while he slung my gear bag in the back. I could only stare at the arena. We didn’t talk on the drive to the school until we were almost there. I looked out at the rolling fields of white interspersed with copses of trees and thickets of bush.

“It’s because I’m Indian, isn’t it?”

He drove with both hands on the wheel, looking straight ahead. “Yes,” he said.

“Do they hate me?”

“They don’t hate you, Saul.”

“Well, what, then?”

“They think it’s their game.”

“Is it?”

I could hear the crack of our tires in the frost on the road. “It’s God’s game,” he said.

“Where’s God now, then?” I asked.

He gripped the wheel harder as the ruddy face of St. Jer-ome’s slid into view at the crest of the ridge.