He was leaning on the boards, directing the players with a hockey stick. I could hear him shouting orders as soon as I stepped away from the concourse and began walking down the steps. His back was to me. It was a broad back. I took a seat fifteen rows up and watched him as he worked. He was like his father. He let them play the game, and he only whistled them to a stop when he had something specific to point out. They listened. They looked at him with their mouths open, down on one knee and breathing like stallions at the gate. He spoke in a low tone that I couldn’t hear, but I remembered how the voice would sound, deep, rumbling, serious. When he’d made his point, they scrambled to their feet and took their positions and he blew the whistle and sent them into the high-speed whirl of the game.

They were fast. They had a lot more polish and they were a lot more acrobatic than kids had been when I was their age. They’d been well coached. Virgil ran them through a fast skating and passing drill that sent them up and down the ice in waves of three at a time. I could hear the excitement in their voices. After five minutes or so, he let them run through it on their own and they raced through the drill a half dozen times before he blew the whistle and called them to the bench. I moved a few rows closer so I could hear him.

“Full scrimmage now,” he said. “But I want you coming out of your ends fast so there’s no chance for the defense to bottleneck the neutral zone. Use your speed. Cut through the open ice and make yourself a strong target. I want those passes crisp and I want those rushes to end in a wrist shot from no further than fifteen feet out. No slappers, no dekes for now. Just set up the shot. Ready? Go!”

He skated to centre and dropped the puck and then drifted backwards to the boards and leaned on his elbows. The team was relentless. They flew up and down the ice smoothly, efficiently, and each rush was capped with a strong wrist shot. They skated a full ten minutes before I inched up behind him.

“Fifteen’s a natural centre,” I said. “He sees the ice too well to waste him on the wing.”

He turned his head slightly and arched an eyebrow when he saw me. “He’s a sawed-off little runt. The big boys’ll take away his ice.”

“Not if he uses that speed.”

“Everyone’s the same speed when they’re flat on their back.”

“Same size too,” I said.

“Well, you’d know. Your whole career was spent on your back.”

“You obviously missed the half when I was face down.”

“Didn’t. Just too sensitive to your feelings to want to mention it,” Virgil said. “When did you get back?”

“Long enough for lunch and a talk with your folks.”

“You look good.”

“You wanna kiss me now or later?”

He snorted. “Think I’d as soon kiss the north end of a southbound moose.”

“I was a Moose once.”

He spun on his skates and leaned on the boards to look at me. He was stern when he spoke. “That seems like a long fuckin’ time ago right now. I wanted to punch your lights out for leaving.”

“Still want to do that?”

“Maybe,” he said. “Depends on what you have to say for yourself. You want to get a beer and talk it out?”

“I don’t drink. Not anymore. Used to. Didn’t really work for me.”

He nodded. “All right. I’m gonna get these guys into the dressing room and talk a little strategy. Why don’t you wait for me outside? Ten minutes, tops.”

“Okay,” I said. I watched him bring the practice to a close and when he followed the players off the ice and into the walkway under the stands, he looked at me.

“Don’t disappear again,” he said.

“I won’t. I’m there. Ten minutes, tops.”