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 One: A Cold Day in Thunder Bay
The snow crunched beneath the wheels of Tobias Kelly’s SUV as he turned onto May Street North. The thermometer on the dash read –31, and that was before the cold north wind came into play. As was his routine, Tobias rode in silence as he drove towards the arena. He felt it was his little way of letting the people of this lakeside town sleep, which seemed to be working at 6:30 on a Saturday morning. He took a long sip of coffee from his travel mug, before glancing at the newspaper on the passenger seat. ‘SHIELD IN SHAMBLES!’ the headline taunted him. As Head Coach of the Thunder Bay Shield, it was a pain in his side. The team had just finished losing their sixth straight game the night before, and had won just 8 times in 35 games that season. Management at the big club was breathing down his neck, and if he didn’t turn things around soon he’d be in need of new employment.
* * *
Frankie Lavoie stood at the bus stop at the northeast corner of May Street North and Dease Street. He wasn’t quite sure whose couch he had woken up on, but he figured that was as a good enough reason to make a discrete exit before questions had to be answered. Ignorance was bliss. Frankie looked up as he heard the vehicle approaching. A black SUV was forced to stop as it waited for the light to change. With nothing else interesting to look at, Frankie leered at the man driving. He was very familiar, if only he could…
“COACH! HEY, COACH KELLY!”
The man behind the wheel peered at him before nodding and waving a couple fingers at him.
“IT IS YOU! COACH! YOU GOTTA BUNCH OF BUMS ON THAT TEAM OF YOURS! HOW ABOUT ONE MORE?!”
With that Frankie wheeled around and dropped his pants, exposing his bare cheeks to the cold, and Coach Kelly.
* * *
Tobias punched the gas when the light turned green, leaving the man with the large butt behind. He glowered at himself in the mirror.
“Don’t look at me like that, you brought this upon yourself.”
The Terry Fox Memorial Arena peaked through the darkness above the trees as Coach Kelly crossed the Neebing River. Within a couple of minutes he was at his parking stall. He said goodbye to his seat-warmer as he opened the door, his eyes watering immediately as the cold wing stung his face. Coffee in hand, he grabbed his bag from the back seat and began to trudge through the snow towards the door, still shaking his head.
“I hope that big butt gets frostbite.”
* * *
The Terry Fox Memorial Arena had opened in the fall of 2022 with lots of promise on and off the ice. The facility was completely state-of-the-art, and a handful of years later was still one of the nicest buildings in hockey. With attendance capacity of 5,700 during games, the rink created quite the buzz for the first couple years after the team moved from St. John’s. But as the product on the ice failed to make the playoffs, interest began to wane and many did not renew their season tickets after the initial contracts expired. Now the building only saw about 4,000 die-hards per game. There was no secret to how to get more people in the seats. The team just needed to start winning. With a record of 8-24-2-1 to start the 2025-2026 season, nobody was willing to give the team the time of day.
* * *
The sounds echoed through the underbelly of the arena as Tobias strode toward his office. He hadn’t bothered putting the lights on, so only the occasional security light allowed him to see where he was going.
The sounds grew louder as he approached the Shield locker room, but when he poked his head in the door Tobias was greeted by a dark and quiet room.
Tobias turned his head towards the direction of the noise. The door to the weight room was cracked open a few inches and light was pouring out. Tobias opened the door and looked inside.
* * *
Eddie Haynes sat at the leg press machine, working on a set. His noise-cancelling headphones pumped tunes while his legs pumped 600 pounds of weight. He had been coming in early to use the weight room ever since the building manager, Walt, had given him a key. He liked the idea that he could use the equipment before he had to fight his 22 teammates for it. This was one of the perks of being the captain. Eddie was singing along slightly to the beat, something about partying all night, when an icy hand gripped his shoulder causing his entire body to tense up. He sat up abruptly.
* * *
“Whoa, Eddie. Didn’t mean to startle you. I called your name like 4 times, didn’t you hear me?”
Tobias looked at his captain slightly amused but hoping he hadn’t angered one of his best players. Eddie took off his headphones.
“Coach…naw, it’s fine. Just made me jump a little.”
Tobias’ face furrowed.
“How the hell did you get in here, the building was locked when I came in?”
“Well, I locked it behind me when I came in. Can’t let just anybody in here, you know!”
“But how did you get in?” Tobias cocked an eyebrow at the man before him.
Eddie sheepishly looked at the coach.
“Walt gave me a key?”
Tobias laughed. Walt. What a guy. The surly man seemed to despise everybody in the world. Everybody, but Eddie Haynes it would seem.
Tobias listened to the faint melody coming from the headphones.
“Are you listening to what I think you’re listening to?”
Eddie smiled as he slipped his headphones back on and got back on the leg press machine.
“It’s a classic, coach!”
Tobias shook his head as he turned to leave the room. He admired his captain’s work ethic, but not so much his choice in music
“Classic is not the word I would use to describe that.”
* * *
The ceiling was pink.
Travis blinked the sleep from his eyes as he tried to get his bearings. The walls were pink too, as were the sheets he found himself lying in. He sat up and looked around, and his head began to pound. He heard a moan and looked to his right. The brunette girl he had not noticed lying next to him slumbered on. Travis’ head still felt terrible as his eyes darted around the room, searching for his clothes. He spotted his shirt and jacket off a nearby chair and his shoes by the door but couldn’t find his pants anywhere. A pair of yoga pants sat folded on the desk.
“Well,” Travis muttered to himself “when in Rome.”
He sat on the chair and fought his way into the pants, the stretchy fabric barely fitting over his legs, and leaving very little to the imagination. Travis was glad the pants were still fairly opaque as he stealthily slipped out of the room. After closing the door behind him, he turned to find the mess that remained of whatever party he had attended the night before. Beer cans, pizza boxes and those red plastic cups lay around the house, mixed in with the occasional passed-out partygoer. Travis was a few steps from the door when he heard a click underneath his foot.
“…AND THIS IS CRAZY, BUT HERE’S MY NUMBER…”
Travis world exploded in sound as the stereo launched to life. He lifted his foot to see the remote he had just stepped on. His chance at a discrete exit now gone, Travis yanked on his shoes and stepped out the door. The cold air was not a surprise, but Travis felt like he wasn’t wearing any pants at all. He ran down the street until he hit May Street North.
* * *
Frankie Lavoie stood at the bus stop, rubbing his butt through his pants to warm it up. He hoped he hadn’t done any damage, but the chance to moon the coach of the Thunder Bay Shield was just too good to pass up. He stared up the street in the direction the bus was supposed to come from when a voice behind him nearly made him jump out of his skin.
“Hey bud, got the time?”
The man standing in front of Frankie was well dressed, but only from the waist up. A shirt and tie were visible beneath a black pea coat, but the man was wearing what appeared to be black shiny yoga pants. There was something familiar about him, but all Frankie could think of was how this man had managed to get into the pants he was wearing.
“Uh…it’s like a quarter to 8 or something.”
The man swore as he ran his hands through his hair.
“Thanks…you know there are no buses today right?”
The man took off running up the street, as Frankie slapped his head realizing he was waiting for a bus that would never come.
“I thought the service seemed slower than usual.”
Suddenly, it came to Frankie who the man looked like.
“HEY, ARE YOU TRAVIS DUCHESNE?!”
The man did not respond as he continued to run up the street, the light of the streetlights gleaming off the shiny fabric of his pants.
“Travis Duchesne talked to me…and was wearing yoga pants! I have to tweet about this!”
* * *
Morning skates begin each game day at 8 a.m., but players eager to put in extra work or those working their way back from injury would get out a few minutes earlier.
Despite the efforts of certain younger players, Eddie was always the first one onto the ice. He loved the sound his skates made as they touched the perfect ice surface. He loved being able to do a hot lap without anybody getting in the way. He wasn’t overtly trying to set an example for the younger players. This level of dedication and preparation was something he had always practiced, and others respected him for it. Showing up early, leaving late, a dedicated student of the game who spent hours looking at film on ways to improve himself.
At age 26, Eddie’s NHL window had not firmly closed, but it wouldn’t remain open much longer without work, and maybe a bit of luck. Eddie had skated in 10 games with the big club the previous season, and had posted five points. Vowing to make the squad out of training camp, Eddie had suffered a back injury during an off-ice workout and missed most of the pre-season, and with it his chance to make the Jets’ opening day roster.
“I’ll be back,” Eddie said to himself as he skated behind the net.
“Where ya goin’, Terminator?”
Eddie snapped his head to the left to see the hulking frame of Nick Holland grinning over his shoulder. Despite being 6’5” and in the ballpark of 220 pounds, the player affectionately known as “Dutch” had snuck up of Eddie and given him his second startle of the day.
“You scared the bejesus out of me, Dutch!”
“Yea, sorry I’m such a ninja. It’s a gift and a curse, ya know?” Dutch laughed at his own joke.
“Yea, right,” Eddie rolled his eyes.
“But seriously, where are you going?” asked Dutch with an inquisitive look.
“The same place we all want to go,” Eddie replied. The two came to a stop as they reached the referee’s crease and watched as more Shield players took to the ice as the clock struck 8:00.
“You’re going to Disney World?!”
Eddie gave Dutch a sideways glance to determine if he was joking. He couldn’t quite tell.
“Sorry, I meant the place that those of us with a mental age beyond eight years old want to go,” Eddie said. The captain noted that head coach Tobias Kelly remained standing on the bench, despite the scheduled start time for the morning skate having come and gone.
“You’re talking about the big club, Eddie?” Dutch was also staring in the direction of the coach. “What’s he waiting for?”
“Yes, the big club,” Eddie replied. “I’m thinking he’s waiting on somebody.”
Eddie and Dutch gazed around the ice to check if anyone was missing, before coming to the same realization.
* * *
Travis Duchesne sprinted into the Thunder Bay Shield locker room and threw his gear on as fast as he could. He didn’t bother re-taping his stick as he quickly lumbered down the tunnel to join his teammate on the ice.
His first stride indicated that his left skate wasn’t as tight as it could be, but what was more troubling was he was the only person on the ice. He looked at the digital clock in the corner of the Terry Fox Memorial Arena, which read 8:15.
Where the hell was everyone?
Travis turned to head back to the locker room, when he saw them. The entire team silently sat or stood within the confines of the visiting team bench.
“Nice of you to join us, Mr. Duchesne!”
The booming voice of Tobias Kelly cut through the silence.
“Coach! Listen, I can explain! I...”
“You are not bigger than this team, Mr. Duchesne. We are not here at your convenience, nor are we here to wait for you. You’ve just forfeited a game check.”
Travis swore under his breath.
“Why don’t you head over to the G.M.’s office, I’m sure she’d love to chat,” Tobias Kelly’s words hinted that this chat would not be so friendly.
Travis looked at his teammates, but saw no sympathy as he departed the ice.
*THWEEP* “Line rushes, let’s go!”
The players clambered onto the ice, later than usual but still ready for their last preparation before that night’s game.
TO BE CONTINUED...
This novel’s story and characters are fictitious. Certain long-standing institutions, agencies, and public offices are mentioned, but the characters involved are wholly imaginary.