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How To Beat a Better Team

When I was a sophomore at Ossining High School, my friends and I played on our very first organized hockey team for the junior varsity.

Until then we just played pick-up pond hockey where each game was just for fun. We were all baseball players with very little skating and puck handling skills. Our win/loss record was not that good, and we did not make the playoffs.

The varsity players were different. They came from the part of town where playing hockey was the only reason, they attended class. When the regular season was almost over, with two games to play they found the varsity team needed at least one tie to make the playoffs.

It would be difficult because they were scheduled to play back-to-back against Rye Country Day the number one team in the county.

The first game was a disaster. The Varsity lost 8-1 because there was a bench clearing brawl minutes into the first period. The cause, a Rye Country Day player snow sprayed our goalie after the whistle. I didn’t know at the time but doing that to a goalie is an unwritten rule in hockey.

Anyway, the gloves were dropped and by time the referee resumed control of the game, five of our players were escorted to the locker room and were suspended one game.

Game two was the very next night. Being short players, the Varsity coach needed to call up five junior varsity players. The only junior varsity players willing to play was my four friends and me. In the pre-game strategy meeting, the coached said the only way we can tie and make the playoffs was to play a defensive game and hope for our goalie to be hot.

One of our suspended players thought differently. His name was Kevin Connolly.

Kevin is the nicest guy in the world until he hit the ice. Then all bets were off. The fans had a lottery for every game. It cost only a dollar to get in but if you came closest to the period and time when Kevin dropped his gloves, you could win nearly fifty dollars.

The coach left us alone in the locker room to get our thoughts together. Kevin walked in and pushed his way towards my friends and me. We were more scared of Kevin than the opponents’ players. Kevin told us that rookies should know their place and “our place was to take a beaten for the team.”

I remembered saying “oh shit” out loud. Kevin grabbed me by my shoulder pads and stood me up.

“During the warm-up skate you will cross the red line and check #15. “ Well #15 was one of the toughest players in the league and was responsible for the brawl the night before. Kevin’s advice was, ”When 15 drops his gloves just turtle.”

Kevin gave my friends other things to do and always ending “just turtle.”

Both teams were on the ice, and I had to time my crossing of the redline when #15 was near center ice. I did it perfectly and left my feet and crosschecked #15 under his chin strap. I immediately fell to the ice on our side of the redline and turtled.

I was pummeled and dizzy, but my job was done and #15 was ejected.

My friends did their jobs that Kevin assigned them, and we squeaked out a win 2 to 1 and made the playoffs.

My friends and me were awarded with a varsity letter that night.

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