Admittedly, it was a meeting I never expected to happen. But there I was, in one of the diviest of dive bars, sitting at a table across from Brian Burke and Randy Carlyle. Burke, ever the health nut, ordered a steak tip salad, adding “make sure those are rare steak tips. REALLY rare. You know what? Just taze the cow and bring ‘er out here.” Carlyle and I ordered chicken sandwiches
Like most Toronto Maple Leafs fans, I had noticed the lack of consistency with the team, especially in the position of goaltender. Injuries and inconsistencies had plagued the position for years. It made me write and send a drunken email offering my goaltending services. Despite my lack of experience with the position, I offered to work for a major discount and many beers.
I had no idea that they would take me seriously.
“Let me start by saying I was surprised by your email. Lots of people tell us how awful a job we do and how bad the team is, but not that many offer to help out”, said Burke
“Or if they do offer, it’s an offer to fire us into the sun or do horrible things to our mothers”, added Carlyle.
“I don’t think you guys understand. I wrote and sent that message at 2 in the morning when I was drunk. The closest I have to goaltending experience is when I played goal in gym class floor hockey when I was, like, 10. Anyway, I’m a little short to be a goaltender, doncha think?” I replied.
Carlyle shrugged. “Wasn’t Luke Skywalker a little short to be a stomtrooper? AND he was missing a hand and dealing with major daddy abandonment issues. I have no idea what you’re worried about.” There was a lull as Burke and I internally debated how high Carlyle was. Burke gave an uncommitted sigh and added, “To be honest, our whole season’s been a bit of a shitshow. I figure, we might as well have a laugh and a bit of a show to close out this awful season. You’re willing to work for cheap—basically, just for the experience. You get to play against Montreal on Hockey Night in Canada in the last game of the season. Everyone wins.”
“I don’t even know how to skate”, I admitted with a sigh of shame.
“As if lack of skating ability has stopped any Leafs player, ever” scoffed Carlyle. He continued “besides, it’s a chance for a free trip to a Leafs game and you get fantastic access to the players.”
I took a long pull on my beer and sighed. “Screw it. Let’s do this thing.”
The trip up to Montreal was uneventful. As I was an emergency call-up, I didn’t have time to practice with the team, which added yet another layer of difficulty to the task. Despite growing up in a family where my 5’10” dad was the shortest male, I had never felt as tiny as when I was getting dressed. I noticed Jonas Gustavsson looking at me with a cocked expression like a dog hearing a very, very high-pitched noise. I was anticipating much awkwardness with the goaltenders, considering I was this young, unproven person who was trying to take their jobs. Gustavsson flagged down Carlyle and stammered “Coach? Is this the one…you got from America?” Carlyle nodded. Gustavsson was incredulous. “But…she is tiny! I could put her in my pocket and carry her around like rich women do with tiny doggies.” Gustavsson’s concerns went unresolved, because it was time for the game to start.
Period one was relatively quiet. Admittedly, the Plekanic goal was a softie and I totally should have stopped that one. But my back line left me out to dry, and the offense wasn’t doing much better. I don’t remember much, because that whole period was nothing but a long panic attack. During the intermission, Dion Phaneuf tried to encourage me by saying “Well, uh, keep stopping pucks and stuff. You ok? You’re lookin’ kinda pale.” Then I threw up on the floor. I mumbled an apology and somehow felt even worse. Phaneuf shrugged and said “Hey, it’s ok, dude. Lotsa great goalies puke a lot. Like, Darren Pang, and J.S Giguere.”
Period two felt much better, even if I was more dehydrated and Max Pacioretty scored on me. To be fair, I had to stare at this for a decent part of the period:
Goddamn Carey Price for getting the Casse de Brice song stuck in my head AGAIN.
Period three…I’d rather not think about period three. At the very least, the offensive skills did something for once, but it felt like there were shots upon shots. I think at one point I started screaming incoherently. I’m pretty sure at one point I screamed “FUCK YOU, WEE GIONTA!” and I tried to stab him with my stick, but I missed his head by a good six inches. He’s five-foot-seven, my ass. Then again, tripping over my lace and losing my skate blade probably did not help. I do vaguely remember a stop in play in which Tyler Bozak tried to convince me that no, I was not a vengeful god and I really shouldn’t be threatening to “waste all you motherfuckers in the parking lot.”
It turns out someone from the Habs organization had put something in my water bottle. My French isn’t the best, but I think it was referred to as “gloo-coz-EE” or “PLAH-see-bo.” Regardless of what actually went down that night, I’m now entitled to free food and beer at all the NHL arenas, and I have a bunch of big, strong hockey players willing to help me move whenever I need it. Despite the difficulties, I think everything turned out ok for everyone involved. I just hope I don’t have to go through that experience again if I want to see the Leafs in person.