The lights are already on when she arrives just before dawn. Glare from the halogens turns the pristine ice into a field of twinkling miniature diamonds. Lang lives for mornings like these, when she could enjoy a few moments of solitude without distraction. But today…well, today was different, special somehow. This would be the day when her worlds would collide; the inevitability of her present will clash with the possibility of her future. Which side would win was anyone’s guess. For now, she simply had to focus on practice and preparation. Those were the best parts.
She laces up her skates and heads onto the ice, the ring of steel blades mixes with the loud swish of frozen friction had always been music to her ears. With a well-beaten stick in her hand, she begins the practice regimen. Dodging, weaving, her wrists and feet are one perfectly synchronized machine. As she nears the net, Lang cuts left then shoots with an almost imperceptible flick of the wrist.
“Damn, she’s quick!”
“Yeah, too bad she’s such a runt.”
She ignores the whispered rude comments of the crowd of teammates gathering in the box as they filter in one by one. Her focus is absolute when she’s on the ice; no wavering, no hesitation. Coach’s words fast forward through her mind with each shot she makes, each fluid move around the carefully placed cones.
“You can’t play this game half-assed. If you don’t give all you’ve got, then you’re no good to me, no good to your team. Hockey is about strength, it’s about smarts, but most of all its about guts. You either have what it takes or you don’t. Simple as that.”
Lang swerves to pass one of her teammates floundering onto the ice, apparently not quite as awake as she should be. Glaring at the ungainly girl, she gains speed to skate a few laps around the rink before practice officially starts.
“When you’re on that ice, you’ll never feel right about doing anything else.”
Sweat pours from her face, stinging her eyes but she keeps going. Sometimes, she feels like she never wants to stop. Being out there, all speed and nerve, gives her wings and she knows she’s only just begun to fly.
“Lang!” She stops abruptly at the summons. Coach motions her over to the opposite side of the rink, his eyes commanding and firm.
“Lose the attitude,” he growls. “The Avalanche and the Olympic Women’s Hockey team scouts are gonna be here today.”
A flash of excitement shines in Lang’s eyes. It’s gone in an instant but not before Coach catches the look.
“Don’t get your hopes up. Sarah Parsons is freaking 18 and she managed to edge out Cammi Granato for a spot on the U.S. team. 18!” He grips her arm tightly as he makes his point causing Lang to wince. “You need to be good today and I mean Katie Weatherston good. You hear me?”
He searches Lang’s eyes for a response. What he sees is more than just determination; his words in effect have thrown down the gauntlet. If it’s a challenge he wants, a challenge he would get. She nods curtly, glides away to join her teammates.
Excitement thrums in her veins throughout practice. Even in the locker room an hour before the game, she can feel her blood burn hot and cold with adrenaline. Lang wonders if this is how a soldier feels before a battle. Everyone is talking all around her, chattering on about nothing at all. It irritates her but she manages to brush it aside. Her mind is sharp and focused as they file out to the ice. Her dream was at stake; anything that came before or after this game would be nothing if she failed today.
The stands are filled to capacity much to everyone’s surprise. The Pep Band’s lame attempts to play “Louie, Louie” only add to the cacophony of crowd noise.
Coach strides up and down the length of the box, his teeth bared like a wild dog. “All right, ladies, let’s get this show on the road. Hager, Benson, Flederman,” he calls out the lineup, shouting to be heard over the din. “Lang! Pay attention and get your ass out there. Nap on your own time.”
Lang shoots him an annoyed look but obeys his command. At center ice, she practically stares a hole into her opponent as they lean towards each other, stick to stick, ready for the face off. Her cold blue eyes bore into the other’s weak grey ones. She notices a bit of fear in them, mixed with excitement. A wolfish grin splits Lang’s face. Good. She will make her stand on this glacial field of honour. Her pads are her armour, her stick is her shield and weapon, her feet as strong as a warhorse. The opponent pales slightly at the change in Lang’s demeanor, but she ignores it. Victory always has a price but she’s willing to pay it. Satan owns this sport and he claimed her soul long ago. The referee motions, a whistle is blown. Let the battle begin.