Cooper Black skidded across the ice on his ass and slammed into the boards behind the net, taking the puck with him. The Boston defenseman was on the puck like Coop’s old tabby cat attacking the neighbors’ chickenshit dog. Cooper scrambled to his feet, digging the blades of his skates into the ice, trying to get his balance, only to fall again. Stevich fought like a crazed man, gaining control of the puck, and executing a perfect pass to his center.
If Cooper hadn’t been so preoccupied with keeping one eye on the clock winding down and the other on the puck, he might’ve seen the Russian coming on his blind side. He might have had one more chance on goal, one last desperation shot for a tie to send game seven of the semifinals into overtime.
Only he didn’t get that chance.
The final buzzer sounded.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to end with Boston celebrating on the Giants’ home ice. His five-year-old nephew skated better than he had tonight. Struggling to his feet, Cooper skated around the victors and headed for the locker room with his head down. Boston moved on to the Finals, and his team moved on to prepare for next season. Always next season.
He couldn’t avoid the press blocking his exit. Too weary to put up a good fight—he’d left all his fight out on the ice—he patiently answered their inane questions.
How do you feel after coming so close but coming up short?
“How do you think I feel?”
What are your plans for the off-season?
“Take a few weeks off for my body to heal and go back at it.”
How many more seasons do you plan on skating?
“Heck if I know.”
And so it went, he’d just managed to extricate himself from the bloodsuckers when the Giants’ PR guy pulled him off to the side. “There’s a group of kids from Make-A-Wish anxious to meet you for pics and autographs.”
Cooper almost said no. He was that tired, but he never said no to kids, especially kids with disabilities. He’d never forget his childhood hero walking right past Cooper and his little brother as if they didn’t exist despite their pleas for an autograph. They’d waited outside the visiting locker room shivering from the cold for what seemed hours, and the jerk couldn’t take one minute to make two small boys’ dreams come true, completely destroying Cooper’s image of the man. Cooper would never be that guy. As long as a kid wanted a moment of his time, he’d give it.
Several minutes later, he put on his best team captain face and yanked open the locker room door. Despite how miserable he might be inside, he’d never let the guys see him defeated or discouraged. Cooper paused in the doorway and swung his gaze around the solemn locker room. He’d attended funerals more cheerful than this.
“What the fuck is going on? Who died?” Cooper faked a grin he didn’t feel and strode into the room, the picture of upbeat confidence. There were too many young guys on this team to let this setback get them down.
No one even looked up at him.
“Hey, guys, we'll get ’em next year. We were that close.” He held up his hand using his thumb and forefinger to illustrate just how fucking damn close they'd been to winning that last game and making it to the Finals—the dream that had eluded him for thirteen years.
Finally, Cedric, his best buddy on the team, lifted up his head and rubbed his beefy, scarred hands over his face. Heaving a deep sigh, he turned toward Cooper. Cedric’s stricken expression struck fear deep in Cooper’s gut. “They fired Coach.”
“They? Who the fuck is they?”
“Our new ownership.”
Cooper stared at his friend, certain he’d heard wrong. “New ownership? I've been gone from the locker room thirty minutes and we lost a coach and gained new owners? You guys are playing me.”
Ced just stared at him.
“Right? You're bullshitting me. Isn’t he, Crandall?”
Crandall glanced up and then buried his head in his hands again. The young guys wouldn’t even look at him.
A cold shiver sliced through him. They weren’t shitting him.
“What new owners?” Sure, there’d been all sorts of rumors, but there’d always been rumors. He’d been with this organization since he’d come up from the minors, thirteen years ago. And he’d heard every rumor known to man until he quit listening.
“The Puget Sound Hockey Alliance.”
“That Seattle group that's been stalking every team with a shaky fan base and money-starved owners?”
“The very one.”
“They do have deep pockets, so that’s a good thing.” Cooper forced himself to remain positive. The team’s now former owners had been douches that bled the team dry.
“Sure, if you like rain.”
Cooper sank onto the bench. “No.”
“We’re moving to Seattle.” Cedric confirmed his worst nightmare.
Cooper’s future turned as dismal as a gray Seattle sky. He knew all about Seattle weather. As a kid, he’d been forced to spend a few weeks there every summer with a crotchety old aunt. He hated it there, swore it was one place on earth he’d never live.
He looked at all the down faces in turn, and the truth was reflected in each one. “We’re going to Seattle.” He said the words with such despair, a guy would think he’d been sentenced to death row. In his mind, he was.
As captain of this team, he should be singing Seattle’s praises, waxing poetic over the billionaire owner, and convincing the team this was the best thing that had ever happened to them.He wasn't that noble. In fact, he was fucking pissed.