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Authors: Matt Christopher

Penalty Shot

BOOK: Penalty Shot
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Copyright

Copyright © 1997 by Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced,
distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written
permission of the publisher.

Little, Brown and Company

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com

www.twitter.com/littlebrown

First eBook Edition: December 2009

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental
and not intended by the author.

Matt Christopher
®
is a registered trademark of Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.

ISBN: 978-0-316-09418-4

To Brad, Mame, Tyler, and Jeremy

Contents

Copyright

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

The #1 Sports Series for Kids: MATT CHRISTOPHER
®

Matt Christopher
®

1

O
of!

He recovers from a block by a burly defenseman.

He’s in the clear.

The puck is coming his way.

He positions his hockey stick and traps it.

Slap. Tap. Tap.

He lines it up.

For a split second, there’s a clearing between him and the goal.

The goalie reaches high.

He shoots low.

Smack!

The puck careens across the ice.

It shoots by the goalie and hits the back of the cage.

Goal!

Jeff Connors raised his arms in victory. His breath came out in a fog in the crisp winter air. It was his second imaginary
goal so far and he wasn’t even halfway to the rink. If he could do as well when he actually got on the ice, he’d be a shoo-in
to make the hockey team.

He’d made the team the year before, no problem. It hadn’t been his playing ability that had kept him out of uniform. No, everyone,
even the coach, had been sorry he’d been sidelined.

Jeff was willing to take some of the blame for what had happened. But he hadn’t had much sympathy from the one person who
could have kept him on the ice. And how was he supposed to feel about that?

Just thinking about Mr. Pearson made him angry all over again. Even now he could hear the tired tone in his English teacher’s
voice. “Well, Mr. Connors,” he had said, “it seems you chose not to heed my last warning. I told you the consequences would
be grave if you didn’t. Much as I hated to do it, I fear you left me with no choice but to send a full report of your current
grades to your coach.”

Jeff still felt as though he’d swallowed a lump of hot coal when he remembered the conversation he’d had with his coach later
that day.

“Mr. Pearson tells me you knew your grades were slipping,” Coach Wallace had said, shaking his head, “but that you didn’t
do anything about it. At least, not that he could see. Well, rules are rules. And the
number one rule of this school’s sports program is that if your grades fall behind, then you’re off the team. I’m sorry, Jeff,
but you’ll have to turn in your uniform.”

So that afternoon, while all his teammates were lacing up their skates and joking around in the locker room, Jeff had quietly
emptied his locker. He had pretended not to notice how the room fell silent as one by one his friends realized what he was
doing. The one-mile walk home that day had felt like twenty.

Jeff shook his head. That was then and this is now, he thought. Mom, Dad, and the coach are willing to give me another chance.
And I’m doing okay this year.

He tried not to think about the English composition he’d put off writing yesterday. Or the spelling and reading comprehension
test he’d taken two days before. If he didn’t do well on them…

2

J
eff put all thoughts of tests and compositions out of his head. Instead, he continued his make-believe game. As he bobbed
and weaved down the street, stick in ready position and his gear bag balanced over his shoulder, he was in a world of his
own.

The puck curled around the boards behind the net and slid free of the tangle of players nearby. It was getting closer. He
just had to dodge this one defenseman and it was his. With a quick lateral move and a jab of his stick

“Grrrrrrr…”

The sound of a deep, low growl brought Jeff back to reality. He wasn’t on the ice facing a defenseman. He was on the sidewalk
of a tree-lined street, facing the biggest, meanest-looking dog he’d ever seen!

Jeff sprang back. The dog eyed him, baring its fangs, but didn’t move.

As a five-year-old, Jeff had been bitten by a dog. He’d been nervous around dogs ever since. He usually avoided them so that
people wouldn’t notice. That way, he didn’t have to explain anything to anyone.

Jeff hiked up his duffel bag and was about to move away when he heard a familiar voice call his name.

“Hey, Jeff, you’re not going to leave without me, are you?”

It was his friend Kevin Leach. Jeff realized he was standing right in front of the Leaches’ house.

Kevin hurried out the front door, stick in
hand. At the same time, the dog spun around and charged. Jeff watched in horror as it jumped up at Kevin’s face. He was powerless
to do anything to help his friend!

To his amazement, Kevin broke out laughing and shoved the dog aside.

“So I see you’ve met Ranger,” he said, grinning from ear to ear. “Ranger, this is Jeff. Jeff’s my oldest buddy, so I want
you two to get on real well, okay, boy?”

As if he understood, Ranger turned his massive head toward Jeff. Jeff took a step back.

“When did you get a dog?” he asked.

“My dad surprised me last night,” said Kevin. “Some guy at his office moved and couldn’t take Ranger with him, so Dad brought
him home. As soon as Ranger saw me, he came right over and started licking my hand. That did it.”

“I’ll bet,” Jeff said uneasily. He couldn’t
imagine anyone liking a dog licking their hand. To have those teeth so close…

“Luckily, Mom likes him, too. I’ll feed him and walk him before school, but she’s going to take him for walks during the day
and when I’m at hockey practice. If I make the team, that is.”

“You’ll make it,” Jeff said, happy to change the subject. Although they were the same age, Kevin wasn’t built as sturdily
as Jeff. In fact, there were times he looked downright skinny. But he was a good defenseman and he loved hockey almost as
much as Jeff. “You just have to do as well as you did last year and you’ll be on the team again. Hopefully, I’ll be there
with you.”

“You’d be a shoo-in for right wing if you hadn’t been thrown off—” Kevin stopped abruptly. He shot Jeff an apologetic look.
“Sorry,” he mumbled.

Jeff’s ears burned. “Yeah, well, that was
last year. I’m not going to get thrown off the team this year. So you’d better be ready to back me up on the ice again!” He
punched Kevin in the shoulder.

“Grrrrr
…“

Jeff jumped back. Kevin laid a hand on Ranger’s head and told the dog to shush. Then he looked curiously at Jeff. “He’s a
really relaxed dog, but he’s been taught to protect his owner. Sometimes he gets spooked by sudden movements. He doesn’t bite
or anything. So you don’t have to be scared of him, Jeff.”

“Oh, I wasn’t,” Jeff said.

Kevin cocked an eyebrow at him. “Jeff, I know you don’t like dogs, remember? But Ranger is different. You’ll see that, once
you get to know him.”

Just then, Mrs. Leach opened the door. “You boys are going to be late if you don’t get going,” she called. “Ranger, come here!”

As Ranger bounded inside, Jeff and Kevin gathered up their gear and headed off to the rink. Kevin talked on and on about how
great it was to have a dog. Though Jeff barely listened to the words, he heard one thing loud and clear: if Kevin had his
way, he and Ranger would be inseparable. And if Jeff couldn’t get over his fear, what would that do to their friendship?

3

J
eff pushed that thought out of his mind. He needed to get focused on what was ahead — the last day of hockey tryouts.

“I’ll give you five-to-one odds,” he said to Kevin as they hurried toward the skating rink.

“On what?”

“On you making the team.”

Kevin grinned. “Okay, but if I’m five to one, you must be two to one. Coach Wallace has had you in the starting string practically
all week. You’re on the squad, no question.”

“Don’t I wish. You know who’s a sure bet, don’t you?”

The boys looked at each other and in the same breath said, “Bucky Ledbetter!”

“Talk about skating,” Kevin added.

“Yeah, he’s good, all right,” agreed Jeff. “I just wish he wouldn’t let everyone know it all the time.”

Kevin shook his head. “He’s loud and cocky, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t want to get on his bad side. He’d be one tough enemy.”

“Aw, he’s not so tough,” said Jeff. “I tell you, though, if he ever said to me the things he says to his brother, I don’t
know what I’d do.”

“Hayes? Boy, there’s a guy who’s having a tough time on the ice!”

Jeff nodded. “Bucky’s mouthing at him probably doesn’t help. It’s funny, I heard the coach say Hayes’d be a decent player
if he’d
just concentrate more. I bet that’s why he didn’t make the team last year.”

They mounted the steps to the rink. As they headed for the locker room, Kevin said, “Guess all that really matters is that
we get the chance to show the coach what a dynamic duo we are together. You at right wing with me right behind you. Right?”

“Right!”

The locker room was already crowded with boys lacing up their skates and pulling on their pads. Jeff and Kevin hurried to
join them. In no time at all, they were on the ice.

Coach Wallace blew his whistle.

“Okay, guys, this is it,” the coach announced.

“The last day of tryouts. I’m not going to bore you with the usual speech about how I wish I could put all of you on the team,
even though that’s the truth.” A few of the
boys muttered and others hung their heads. “What you should know, however, is that I’ve decided to try something new this
year.” The same boys perked up again. “I’m going to keep two promising players on as alternates. They’ll practice with the
team and come to the games, though they’ll only play if nobody else on the team can. This may sound like a lousy position
to take. But consider how much stronger you’ll be next year, going into tryouts with a whole season of practices under your
belt. And here’s something else to think about: if for any reason I feel there’s someone on the team who’s slacking off, I
won’t hesitate to substitute one of the alternates in his place. Now get out there and warm up!”

As Jeff took to the ice, he knew his face was beet red. A few guys glanced his way, then quickly dropped their eyes. Jeff
was
sure everyone there was thinking the same thing: this year, if he got kicked off the team, he wouldn’t be missed. Someone
else would be more than happy to step in. And more than ready.

4

A
fter ten minutes of warm-up, Coach Wallace whistled the players back in line. He had them count off as either “in” or “out,”
then told the two groups to form circles at center ice.

“Here’s the drill,” he said. “I’m going to start the puck toward one of you. I want you to stop it, then pass it on to someone
else. Don’t skate after it. Just keep it moving. If you have to skate, if you miss the puck, or if you slip and fall, drop
out and head for the sideline.”

Coach Wallace gave a puck to the “out”
group, then joined the “ins.” He dropped the puck in front of himself and shot it to Shep Fredrickson. Shep stopped it carefully.
He glanced around the ring and eased a pass to Michael Gillis. It slid right up to Michael’s stick.

This looks like a breeze, Jeff thought as he watched Michael pass to Bucky Ledbetter.

Still, he remained alert, his stick in ready position.

It was a good thing he did. Bucky flipped a fast but accurate pass to Chad Galbraith, but Chad was caught napping. Coach Wallace
motioned to him to skate aside. Bucky retrieved the puck and fired a lightning-quick shot right at Jeff.

BOOK: Penalty Shot
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