Authors: Melanie Ting
ith the third
pick of the NHL Draft, Chicago is happy to select—from the University of Maine Black Bears—James Frechette.”
I would never say it out loud, but I was a better hockey player than both Wills or Moller, yet they got picked before me. We had all played together on national squads before, and that was when I got to compare our play, head to head. The problem was that lots of General Managers were old school. They thought guys who chose college instead of Major Junior were soft. Whatever. I’d show them in the long run. But it was my goal to be the first pick and I hated not achieving my goals. Some things were out of my control.
I stood up and hugged my mom.
“Well done, son,” she said quietly.
My dad was more excited. He grabbed me in a bear hug and swore in French. My grandparents were the same, the Scottish side of the family giving me smiles and pats while the French-Canadian side went nuts. My
began to cry tears of joy when I hugged her.
I walked up to the stage. I took off my suit jacket, folded it, and handed it to one of the assistants. I pulled the Blackhawks jersey over my head, smoothed it out, then tweaked the visor of the ball cap and put it on.
“James, welcome aboard.” Mr. Dean was the GM and I had done a long interview session with his group during the combine. “I’ve got to say, I never thought you’d still be available at the third pick.”
Well, that made two of us.
ne month later
about what we’ve discussed, son.” Mr. Dean patted me on the shoulder. He was smiling, but I could tell he was a man who was used to getting what he wanted and he wasn’t too happy with my decision. You didn’t get to be the GM of an NHL team by being Mr. Nice Guy. “After all, it’s a helluva lot of money if you stick with the big club. And from what I’ve seen at camp this week, you’re going to stick.”
It was a lot of money. $850K if I made the Blackhawks, and if I hit all my performance bonuses, closer to three million. Three million dollars. More money than my parents had made in their whole lives. I swallowed hard. “I feel like I owe it to my school to play another year.”
“That’s not true at all, James. Top draft picks usually leave college right away. Think about the risks. What if you got injured? A huge setback, maybe even put your career in jeopardy. Whereas if you’re in a professional organization, we can take care of you: developmentally, physically, mentally. Why we’ve got flipping experts if you’ve got a hangnail.” Mr. Dean laughed and then continued. “I think you’ll develop into a better player if you’re playing for us right away.”
They’d been pressing me to sign my entry contract from draft day. And everything they saw from me at the summer development camp had further convinced them that I should be playing up. Whatever Mr. Dean might say about my development, I knew the team was in a rebuild and they needed me a.s.a.p.
But I had my own reasons for wanting to stay in college. I had a long term plan already. I believed that two years of college hockey would be better for my development. The Black Bears had come close to making the Frozen Four, and I figured we could do even better next season. Also, my mom was a schoolteacher and I had promised her I’d eventually finish my college degree. Two years of university would be a good start; otherwise I’d be going to summer school until I was forty.
The taxi pulled up in front of the arena and I shook Mr. Dean’s hand.
“Thank you, sir, for everything. I had a great week here. I will discuss everything you’ve said with my folks, but right now I’m headed back to Maine in the fall.”
A frown crossed his face, but only for a second and then the big smile returned. “Just think about it. Chicago is one of the great cities in America. A young man like you could really enjoy himself here. And we’ll treat you first class, not the stuff you had to put up with this trip.”
As an NCAA athlete, I had to make sure I paid for all my expenses during this trip, so my travel was done on the cheap. Whatever Mr. Dean might think, I wasn’t really a big city guy. I grew up in Fredericton and then chose even smaller places for boarding school and college.
I hopped into the cab and off we went to the airport. I leaned back against the seat and exhaled. First the draft in Vancouver, and now this training camp meant I’d been on the go since school ended. Finally my summer was starting.
When I got on the plane in Chicago, I was sitting in the middle. There was an elderly lady on the aisle, and I hoped maybe the window would be empty and I could move over and stretch my legs out. I stuck my headphones on and closed my eyes to relax.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Excuse me, that’s my seat.”
I pulled off the headphones and stood up. This beautiful woman was standing there. She had long wavy blonde hair and she was wearing a shiny blue top and tight jeans. I backed into the aisle and she wriggled past me. I could smell her perfume as I sat back down.
I knew exactly what my future girlfriend was going to look like. She would be tall—like around 5’9” or 10”—because taller girls looked classy, more like a model or something. She’d be blonde and beautiful, but in a natural way. Of course, she’d have to be fit and have an amazing body. It seemed like most NHL players had girlfriends or wives who looked exactly like this. I knew it wasn’t like they issued them once you made it, but it would be easier to meet a quality chick.
The woman beside me was coming pretty close to my ideal. I wasn’t good at small talk, but I figured I should make an effort.
Once we were airborne, I asked, “So, you going to Montreal?”
She turned and looked me over. My jeans and t-shirt didn’t seem to impress her. She blinked her long eyelashes. “It’s a direct flight, so yes.”
“Well yeah, but you could be connecting. I’m going on to Fredericton.”
That didn’t even rate a reply. I decided to go big. After all, I knew chicks were impressed if you were going to be in the NHL.
“So, are you interested in hockey?” I began.
She sighed and then replied. “Not in the slightest.” Then she rang the call button. Maybe she needed a drink to relax. When the stewardess arrived, the blonde asked for headphones and chose to buy the noise-cancelling ones. She put them on and turned on the headset television.
Rats. I pulled out my water bottle and drank. Staying hydrated while flying was important. I noticed the elderly lady staring at me.
“Something wrong?” I asked her.
“You need to work on your game,” she told me and then opened her book. Okay, that was something I knew already. I had spent too much time playing hockey and not enough doing normal stuff. Not that I regretted it, but some guys were such smooth talkers.
The blonde wore her headphones even when they shut off the TV’s once we landed. I never got another chance to talk to her.
I had a two and half hour layover in Montreal. My best friend, Darren Martin, was coming to the airport to meet me.
“Freshy!” I heard Marty’s voice when I got through the security doors. We were teammates and roommates at UMaine. Before that we’d played together at boarding school for two years. I walked over and he punched me in the shoulder. “Good to see you, buddy.”
“You too, man. How’s your summer going?”
“Great, great. So you want to leave the airport or go someplace here?”
“Let’s stay here.” I didn’t want to take the chance I’d miss my flight.
“Okay. Let’s do something you can’t do at home. Have a drink legally.” Marty laughed. The drinking age in Quebec was 18 and I’d just turned 18 in May. This would be my first time with legit I.D.
Marty nudged me. “Oww! Check out the blonde.”
“She was sitting beside me on the plane,” I said.
He noticed my unhappy face. “Oh Freshy. You struck out. You poor fucker.”
We walked to the departures area where the restaurants were and sat down at a table to order a beer and a sandwich. The waitress didn’t even ask for I.D.
Marty was a schemer, and he always had some new idea. “Okay, this summer you have to work on your game with chicks.”
“Really?” I asked. That wasn’t something I wanted to do. “Aren’t they going to come after me once I’m a pro?”
He frowned. “Yeah, but you don’t want skanks only. The hotties are going to take some effort.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s hard. I never know what to say.”
“It’s okay, I’ll give you some rules.” Marty started counting off on one hand. “First, compliments. Chicks love hearing stuff about how good they look. Don’t go too sexy too early. Nothing about her body, otherwise they think you just want to sleep with them. Even if you do, save it for later in the night.”
“Second, pop culture. Chicks love that shit. Like movies and TV. Get them started and off they go.”
“I know nothing about that stuff,” I confessed.
“Okay, then mention Taylor Swift. Chicks love her, and she’s kinda hot, so it’s all good.”
Marty raised his voice. “Rule Three is just for you. No talking about hockey! You get so into it you don’t notice that people are falling asleep all around you. Girls
guys. Let her know you’re a high level player and leave it there. Chicks like it if you play hockey, but they don’t want to know your shooting percentage.”
Too bad, that was one area I was expert in.
“Four: close the deal. You have to get your radar going, and if it’s going well you need to make a move and take things to the next level. Hey Freshy, maybe you can even—”
“Shut up,” I told him. “Anyway, how did you get to be such an expert? I haven’t seen you out that much.”
“I’m from Montreal. It’s in my blood. I’m a lover.”
“You hardly speak any French. I’m the bilingual one.”
“Oh snap. So you can bomb with chicks in two languages.” He held up an open hand. “Five: relax. You know what I think you should do this summer?”
I shook my head.
“I think you should get face-meltingly fucked-up and wake up naked with a gorgeous babe you’ve never seen before. You’re the shit-hot top three draft pick. It’s your time!”
I frowned. “I wasn’t the top pick. And anyway, if you got that hammered, you’d probably wake up with a really ugly girl. Or maybe even a guy.” I hated dating in Fredericton because I was under a microscope.
“Even in your fantasies you’re a fucking pessimist.”
“Can’t we talk about something else? How did your camp go?”
Marty had also gotten drafted in June, in the third round. He was really stoked about the fact his hometown team, the Habs, had taken him. We compared notes on our development camps. Getting so close to the NHL was really motivating, as I was sure the clubs meant it to be. The time blew by until I had to catch my flight. Marty came to the security gate with me.
“See ya, bud.” He draped an arm around me. “You need to get some practice with chicks. Put that on your goddamn to-do list.”
Maybe Marty was right. My priority had always been hockey and I had missed out on normal stuff like graduating with my old friends or going to prom. Then once I got to UMaine, the gap seemed even wider. My whole life, I was always with older kids. The hockey part was easy. Academically, I was fine too. But socially, there was no question I felt younger than everyone else.
Sometimes I got sick of people making fun of how dedicated I was. Even my dad sometimes bugged me about sowing my wild oats. He was a smooth talker; my mom said he could charm the skin off a snake. I was more like her. She was the solid, dependable one who taught year after year while my dad dreamed his way through a dozen different jobs. But I couldn’t change the way I was and go all crazy because Marty or my dad said to.
There were no good-looking blondes on this flight. I was sitting beside an older couple. There was this one dark-haired girl across the aisle and one row up. She was alone and from what I could see, she looked cute. I watched as she stood up and put away a suitcase for the lady beside her. That was nice. What was even nicer was her ass in tight cargo pants. I was staring, but she didn’t even notice me.
I sighed. Working on my game with women was going to be way harder than working on my real game.
I read my magazine for a while and then they brought drinks around. I had an orange juice and the world’s tiniest bag of snack mix. I looked at the dark-haired girl again. She was watching the little TV and I could see her shoulders shaking as she laughed. I envied people who enjoyed themselves so easily. I hadn’t gotten a good look at her face yet. If it was as good as her ass, she’d be a ten.
The flight was a short one, and once we landed everyone got up and started getting their bags out. I stood up immediately since I was feeling cramped, and the girl was in front of me. In fact, she almost backed into me to let someone out. It was my chance to talk to her. My mind went blank again and I could not think of anything to say except hi. Then what? While I was debating this, the plane doors opened and we all started filing out. A middle-aged couple got between her and me, so that was that. I was a complete idiot. I was 18 years old and I still couldn’t say squat to a girl. Some wild man I was going to be.
We were all waiting for our luggage at the carousel. The dark-haired girl was on the opposite side. Now I could see her face and she was cute. She was kind of exotic-looking, a little like this Thai girl who went to my high school. She was tanned, with long hair and a big smile. Nice, but I still preferred blondes.
Still, maybe I should go over and talk to her, like for practice. I desperately searched for conversation starters. “First time in Freddy Beach?” Lame. “Need a tour guide?” Lamer. “Seen any good movies lately?” Lamest!
Then the brunette grabbed a beat-up hockey bag and took off. No way, was she a hockey player? I took a quick look around in case she had some huge hockey-playing boyfriend waiting for her. But no, the terminal was already clearing out and there wasn’t any big boyfriend in sight. Just then, my bag came out. I scooped it up and I headed over to special handling where the rest of my hockey gear would come out. She was there too. I saw her reach down for a stick bag.