The year is 2025. The Thunder Bay Shield are struggling to start the AHL season, their fourth in the AHL as the farm team of the Winnipeg Jets. Under the leadership of Head Coach Tobias Kelly and team captain Eddie Haynes, the Shield must improve both on and off the ice if they are to have any shot at the Calder Cup.
Chapter 5: Bittersweet
Dutch blinked a few times as his surroundings slowly became clear. He could tell by the sights and the smells that he was in a hospital, but trying to remember how he ended up getting there caused him to realize he wasn’t entirely sure.
He tried to sit up to get a better look at the room, but his head felt as if it weighed a thousand pounds, and even the unsuccessful effort to lift it caused it to hurt. He raised his right hand to his head to discover a bandage that appeared to go all the way around.
“What the hell happened to me?” he wondered aloud.
Something suddenly snapped into motion beside him.
“I’m awake,” said the voice. Out of the corner of his eye, Dutch spotted his little brother Jim stirring from where he had apparently been napping in a chair beside the bed.
“Hm? Wait, you...DOOOOCCCCCCCCCCC!” The young man’s voice erupted like a thunderclap, as he ran to the door screaming into the hall for assistance.
“Jeeze, Jimbo, quiet down, will you?” Dutch said, wincing.
“Shut up! No, don’t shut up! I have to tell mom!” The young man was frantically tapping away at his phone, before holding it to his ear.
“Mom! He’s awake! Yea...no...I don’t know, just get up here!”
Jim walked around the side of the bed to look down at Dutch. Dutch looked up at him, giving him a shy grin.
“You’re making me nervous here man, what’s going on?” Dutch asked.
“How are you feeling? How’s you head? The doctor should be here soon,” Jim sputtered.
A man in a long white lab coat walked in. Dutch made the connection this was probably his doctor.
“Mr. Holland, my name is Doctor Thurmon. How are you feeling?”
That question again. Seriously, what had happened?
“I’m alright. Did we win?”
Dr. Thurmon looked at him like he had two heads. Dutch quickly checked his peripheral vision to confirm he didn’t.
“We can talk about that later. Are you experiencing any problems with vision? How’s your pain level?” The doctor shone a light into each of Dutch’s eyes in succession.
Dutch shrugged. “Vision seems fine, and I haven’t eaten bread all day.”
Jim punched his arm. “Be serious, Dutch.”
Now it was Dutch’s turn to look at somebody like they had two heads. That kind of joke was right up Jim’s alley, and yet his face was set and serious, which was highly unusual.
Dutch’s parents entered the room just then, his five-foot-nothing mother barreling through to hug him, tears in her eyes.
“Uh, hi mom....,” Dutch said. He looked around at the people in the room. “Can somebody please tell me what happened? Was it a high hit? Was I boarded? Who did it?”
His family looked at each other silently. His brother sighed.
“Fine, I’ll do it. Can we raise his bed so he can see us?”
Dr. Thurmon nodded, and Jim pressed a button and the side of Dutch’s bed, raising his upper body up that that he was reclined, and able to see everybody easier.
“Give it to me straight, Jimbo.”
Jim looked at his parents, then back at Dutch. “Nick, you were in a bar fight.”
“Wait, what? This wasn’t in a game?” Dutch couldn’t believe it. He was already plotting his revenge against whichever played had injured him, so this was a sudden shift.
“You and some of your teammates went out to a bar to celebrate beating Rockford,” his brother continued.
“We beat Rockford? Beauty, what was the score? Wait, sorry. Go on.”
Jim smirked and continued. “It was 4-3 in overtime. You were sitting in the penalty box, of course. So afterwards, you guys go out to The Pig’s Snout to celebrate. Some guy comes up to Travis and starts mouthing off to him for being a healthy scratch, Travis tries to ignore it, so the guy grabs him, and you react, so some jackass bottles you!”
Dutch paused and nodded as he took it all in.
“Okay, so what’s the damage? When can I get back on the ice?”
Doctor Thurmon stepped forward. “Mr. Holland, you suffered a depressed skull fracture, which required surgery to alleviate pressure on your brain. You’ve been unconscious for almost six days.”
Dutch’s mouth dropped open, and he felt the blood rush from his face. Six days?! Holy crap!
“Was anybody else hurt?”
Jim shook his head. “Maybe a scrape or a bump, but nobody mentioned anything. They were mostly just rattled after seeing what happened to you.”
“D’aww, they like me. They really like me,” Dutch laughed. He was the only one that did.
“You gave us quite the scare,” Dutch’s mother spoke softly. Nellie Holland’s eyes still had tears on them. “We didn’t know if you were ever going to wake up.”
“I’m sorry, mom. I’ll be okay,” Dutch looked up at Dr. Thurmon. “Right?”
“Your injury will heal, but it will take time. I’ve already advised your family and team that you’re looking at a time frame of two to three months before considering the possibility of playing hockey.”
“What?! That long?! That’s half the season! I can’t miss half the season!”
Dr. Thurmon gave Dutch a sympathetic look, but pressed his point.
“You’ve suffered a serious injury. A very serious injury. You could have died that night, and the brain is not something to be trifled with. You just can’t risk it.”
Dutch let out an exasperated sigh.
“Well that sucks.”
* * *
One by one, the Shield players filed into the locker room ahead of their morning skate. As their eyes met, smiles were exchanged, along with pats on the back and the odd hug or two.
News had spread quickly through the team that their friend and teammate had woken up, and that things were looking up. Nobody was more relieved than Travis, as he still held himself partly responsible for that night’s events.
The news was bittersweet, as it appeared that the defender would be out of the lineup for months. But given how much worse things could have been, the mood around the team was understandably light.
“So, when are we going to go visit him?” Joe wore a large grin, and he shifted in his stall with excited energy.
“Soon enough,” said Marshall. “But we’ve got things to take care of first.”
The things were the Iowa Wild, as the teams were set to square off for their second game in as many nights. Tobias didn’t want his team to forget that while their last two games had been a success, they still held a record of 10-24-2-1 and sat well back of even the sixth place Cleveland Monsters. He preached defensive responsibility, and drills included overtime and power play.
“We are not giving up another short-handed goal this year, is that clear?”
“Yea, you wankers!,” Teddy chimed in, still unimpressed from seeing a shutout evaporate while on a power play in their last game. His comment drew some chuckles, and spirits remained high right up until game time.
The game was a defensive battle, with little going either team’s way offensively. The Shield didn’t allow any short handed goals, but they didn’t score anything on the power play either in their three chances. Luckily, their penalty kill was also stout and the Wild were unable to get anything going on their sole opportunity.
Things stayed scoreless into overtime, where Travis found himself out with Eddie and Marshall as the Shield finished up a line change while retaining the puck. Travis wheeled behind his own net to take the puck with a head of steam up the right wing, with Eddie skating hard up the left. Eluding one Wild forward at the point, and drawing another as he entered the left circle, Travis backhanded a pass to Eddie who hammered a slap shot that missed just inches to the left of the post. The puck wrapped around the end boards and exited the zone, only to be scooped up by the Wild forward Travis had skated past at the blue line. Travis and Eddie both had to stop and go 180 degrees as their momentum took them deep within the Wild end, resulting in an odd man rush for Iowa.
The Iowa forward skated hard with the puck, joined by his linemate on the two-on-one-rush. Marshall played the angle of the pass and sprawled to the ice to make it more difficult. Without ever looking away from his linemate, the Wild forward walked in on Teddy and delivered a hard wrister that tucked into the gap between his blocker and body and slammed into the back of the net, as Travis and Eddie arrived back into the zone. Travis angrily slammed his stick on the ice while Eddie skated up to Teddy.
“I cannot believe that just happened,” said Teddy.
“Sorry about your shutout, bud,” Eddie said, tapping his goalie on the pads with his stick.
Marshall was still lying on the ice, so Travis skated over to him.
“You okay down there?” Travis enquired.
“Yea, kind of sandwiched my nuts sprawling like that, so just letting the ice do it’s thing.”
Travis winced. “I see.” He paused for a moment before adding, “so should I get the trainer, or do we just let the zamboni deal with you.”
“Oh shut, up,” Marshall said, shifting from his stomach, to his knees and finally rising.
* * *
Benny knew his drunken customer was going to drop their glass even before it happened. In his 19 years of tending the bar at The Pig’s Snout, he had come to notice the habits of his inebriated clientele, and knew when he was about to lose a glass to drunken clumsiness. He moved down the bar to where he kept the mop and broom, and had just reached it when he heard the shatter as the glass hit the ground. He sighed to himself.
With the broom in hand, Benny turned towards the mess but froze in place.
“I don’t believe it.”
He put the broom back, and fished his cell phone out of his pocket.
“I don’t freaking believe it,” he muttered to himself again, punching in the numbers on his phone. The phone rang.
“911, what’s your emergency,” the voice on the other end asked.
“He’s here,” Benny said into the phone, his voice raised in excitement. “The guy who bottled Dutch Holland is at my bar right now!”
TO BE CONTINUED…