Two things came out of that tournament. The first thing was that it made me tougher. I would not fight, but I was better able to handle the rough stuff after that; to churn my legs and use my weight to flail through and make the pass that cleared the logjams they set up for me. I ignored the slashes, spears and elbows. I never saw the sense in fights. They always sent their goons to goad me. But I never fought.

The second thing was the press clippings. It had been a colossal struggle, but we’d fought back to win that big tournament. When we hit the road back to Manitouwadge, every one of us was spent. Wasted. But we’d won it. There was something in the negativity from the crowds and the other teams that drove us. My teammates had wanted me to drop my gloves and start throwing punches, but they’d all felt the splatter of the spit that rained down, and every player on the Moose took that personally. We pushed ourselves to excel, to show them that the game belonged to us too. So we were champions, and they wrote about us in all the newspapers. Virgil saved the clippings in a plastic folder.

Soon after those stories appeared, we started to see a stranger in the stands. He was a tall, thin white guy in a battered hat and a long grey trench coat. Wearing those pullover rubbers with the zippers you never see in the North. He showed up at a tourney in Osnaburgh, and then at one in Pickle Lake. He was in the stands during the big tournament in Batchewana, and as we clomped back into our dressing room after winning the semifinal, the word “scout” was whispered along the line. I sat down on the bench with a towel draped around my neck and everybody looking at me. Big brown faces. Deep dark eyes. Indian faces, all stoic and quiet, studying me with a focus that rattled me some.

“What?” I asked.

“He’s here for you, Saul,” Ernie Jack said quietly.

“Who is?”

“The scout.”

“Nobody knows if he’s a scout or not.”

There was a knock at the door, and Virgil walked over and opened it. The white guy stood there with his hands thrust deep in the pockets of his coat. He and Virgil talked in low voices for a moment or two. There wasn’t a sound in that room. No one moved to undress. I could see the man scanning the room, and when his eyes fell on me he squinted. Then he patted Virgil on the shoulder and Virgil closed the door. He crossed the room and sat down beside me. You could have heard a pin drop in that room.

“Guy’s name is Jack Lanahan. He’s a scout for the Leafs,” Virgil said. “Says he’d like to talk to you.”

“About what?”

Virgil laughed and slapped my knee pad. “What the hell does a big scout like that talk about, Saul? He thinks you could play in the NHL.”

“I’ve never been out of the North.”

“Well, maybe this is your ticket out.”

“Never thought about going anywhere.”

“That’s because you never been scouted before. Talk to him.”