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 2: Best Seats in the House
Sara Tobin’s scrolled over email after email as she sat in her office. She glanced to the side to see view out of her window showed that the snow had no intentions of letting up. Cold just from looking at the blustery day, she took a sip of coffee to warm herself up.
Her cell phone buzzed, and she resumed her never-ending conversation with the general manager of the Winnipeg Jets. While her primary focus was being the general manager of the Thunder Bay Shield, her official title was assistant GM of Winnipeg Jets and Vice-President of Hockey Operations, meaning a need for constant contact with the big club.
A knock at her office door grabbed her attention. The door opened and Danny, her executive assistant, poked his head in.
“Travis Duchesne is here to see you”
Sara glanced at the time. 8:20. She shook her head and exhaled deeply.
“Alright, send him in,” she replied.
Danny’s head disappeared and a moment later, Travis Duchesne entered her office.
“Uh, good morning Ms. Tobin,” the young man offered.
“Good morning, Travis. Please take a seat,” Sara replied, watching as the man made every effort to avoid eye contact as he sat down.
“Why are you here, Travis,” Sara asked.
Travis finally made eye contact, a look of confusion on his face.
“Uh, coach said I should come chat with you, “Travis responded.
“You’re here because you were late for morning skate. Again,” Sara allowed the last word to have a little bite on it. Travis’ eyes once again eluded hers.
“Yea. Sorry about that,” he said meekly.
“You’re a professional athlete and an adult, Mr. Duchesne. It’s time to start acting like one. This isn’t junior anymore. The world does not revolve around you, and your behaviour is insulting not only to the organization that picked you in the first round in 2022, but more importantly, it’s insulting to your teammates. It tells them you don’t think they’re worth your time, and that they should be happy you’re even here. But I hate to break it to you, but that’s not the case,” Sara leaned forward to make her point more clear.
Travis winced. It wasn’t like he was intentionally late, he had just been unlucky.
“I won’t let it happen again, Ms. Tobin,” Travis offered. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t need your apologies. If you’re going to apologize to anybody, apologize to the guys in the locker room that you take for granted. As for the “I won’t do it again”, you told me that last time and here we are again. You’re running out of strikes.”
Sara rose from her desk and walked over to a framed picture she had on her wall. It was a picture of the 2022 Team Canada Olympic Women’s hockey team celebrating their gold medal victory in Beijing. Sara had been a part of selecting that squad.
“Travis, when you walk away from this game, and I hope you don’t have to for many years, the memories you have of the highs and the lows are going to be defined by the relationships you form. Sharing the joys of victory and the agonies of defeat. The people in the uniform next to you will be people you can bond with for a lifetime. If I may, who are you closest to on the team?” Sara inquired. An idea had begun to form in her mind.
“Well, it had been Teddy,” Travis said. “We were roommates before he got called up.”
Sara nodded. Teddy Jones was the Shield’s starting goalie prior to being called up to fill-in for an injury when the Jets’ back-up suffered a concussion during an early season practice. The young netminder had been impressive in the few games he had featured in for Winnipeg, and there was no guarantee he would be returning to the Shield any time soon.
“Who’s your roommate now?”
Travis made a bit of a face. “Joe Rodriguez, but we don’t have much in common.”
“I mean, he eats the same thing every day, he never wants to go out and do anything. All he wants to do is go to the gym or watch film,” Travis blurted.
“A diet, exercise and commitment to improvement are bad things?” Travis felt the response coming before Sara had even spoken the words. He winced again.
“I’ll tell you what, Mr. Duchesne. I’m going to arrange for a change in your living accommodations. I think you’ll learn a lot from this individual. They’re more outgoing than Mr. Rodriguez, but I think you can learn a lot from their experience on how to become a professional,” Sara returned to her chair.
“A babysitter? Who, Eddie?” Travis did not like this idea.
“Not a babysitter, Mr. Duchesne. As was mentioned, you’re an adult and shouldn’t need to be babysat at this point. Think of it as a mentor. And it won’t be Eddie. He has a young family to deal with at home. You will be rooming with Marshall Malone,” stated Sara.
Travis’ mouth dropped open. Marshall Malone? The Shield assistant captain was certainly a veteran. He had played in nearly 700 AHL games, and had seen NHL ice just once a handful of years prior. While he lacked the raw talent a lot of players possessed, his work ethic rivalled Eddie’s, and this is what kept him in the game and respected by coaches and teammates. He was also 30 year old, and Travis figured he sported as many stiches in his face alone as Glenn Hall or Johnny Bower.
“No offence, but how do you figure we’ll get along? He’s nine years older than me! Plus he has a wife and kids,” Travis mused. He didn’t think there would be hostility between them, but he also didn’t think the two of them shared anything in common.
“His family is staying in Newfoundland this year, because his kids are school aged now and he didn’t want to uproot them. As for the age difference, Jaromir Jagr was 26 years older than Matthew Tkachuk during his last year in the NHL, and I guarantee Tkachuk was able to learn things from him.”
Travis nodded. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. He didn’t have the closest relationship with Marshall, as the veteran was a defender and during practices and film mainly interacted with his fellow defenders.
“I trust you and Marshall can arrange and discuss your living arrangements on your own. If you need anything else, you know where to find me,” Sara said. Travis got up to leave. “You’re still being docked a game cheque.”
“But am I playing tonight?”
Sara thought for a moment.
“Your coach and I will discuss that and get back to you.”
“Okay,” Travis said. “Thanks.”
After Travis departed the room, Sara once again turned her attention to the unread text messages that had accumulated in the few minutes Travis had been in her office.
* * *
Tobias flopped down into his office chair. It had been as tough a morning skate as he was willing to give his team before their game against Rockford that night. He picked up his phone from where it lay charging on his desk. It had one new text message from Sara.
“Come to my office when you get the chance,” it read.
Tobias sighed, and dipped his finger in his coffee mug.
“Figures,” he muttered to himself. He grabbed the mug and headed up to Sara’s office. Sara’s assistant Danny greeted him as he arrived.
“Good morning, Coach. Can I get you anything before you go in?”
“As a matter of fact,” Tobias said, “You can dump this out and replace it with something hot.”
“By something, you mean coffee?”
“This is why they pay you the big bucks, Danny,” Tobias knocked before opening the door to Sara’s office.
“Morning, boss. You wanted to see me?” Tobias regarded his superior staring out the window at the miserable conditions Thunder Bay was offering up that day.
“Tell me again why we keep Travis Duchesne around?” Sara sighed. Tobias chuckled to himself.
“Because,” he offered, “despite his immaturity, you, me, and the brass in Winnipeg believe that this 20-year-old kid has the stuff to become a star in the NHL. Also, even if we did want to ship him out of here, I don’t think the bus is running in this weather.”
Sara laughed lightly. “Well I guess we better keep him then. But whether or not he plays tonight is a different story.”
Tobias nodded. A knock on the door signalled Danny’s arrival with coffee.
“Thanks,” Tobias said as his mug was returned to him.
“Is there anything else I can get you?” Danny asked.
“Well you can sweep the snow off my car,” Tobias deadpanned.
Danny paused for a moment before turning to leave. “Have a good day, Coach.”
“You too, bud.” Tobias smirked as Danny exited.
As the door closed, Tobias refocused on the task at hand.
“The rules are the rules. It looks bad on all of us if we have different sets of rules for star players than for the rest of the guys.”
While Tobias would love to have his top scorer for that night’s game, it sent a message that it was okay, and it wasn’t. “One game cheque and a game in the press box.”
“I agree,” said Sara. “As much as I hate doing it, I also detest somebody showing up late. He’s better than this, and he knows it.”
“Sounds good to me,” Tobias “Anything else, or are we good?”
“That’s it for now, but I know where to find you,” Sara replied. “Have a good game tonight.”
“If you insist.”
* * *
Travis Duchesne loosened his tie a bit as the third period got underway at the Terry Fox Memorial Arena. This was his first time sitting in the team’s suite for a game, and while the view and food were great, the numerous eyes from the stands that kept peering at him were a little on the annoying side.
Also in the box with him were defenders Trey Ditchfield and Bruce Wolfe. Trey was a healthy scratch as well that night, while ‘Wolfie’ had blocked a shot with his foot a few games earlier, and while not broken, his foot was swollen and bruised enough to make skating near impossible.
Travis glanced at the scoreboard. 3-2 Rockford. The top line…his line…of Gavin Hunter at centre, Scott Juneau on right wing and Pascal Horton playing in Travis’ left wing spot lined up for the opening faceoff.
Travis realized that watching his team play made him far more nervous than actually participating in the games ever did. He found his palms were on the sweaty side as the puck dropped, and he absent mindedly wiped them on his pant legs.
He glanced over to where the Sara Tobin and a few of the teams other executives were seated nearby. Sara, as always, had her phone in hand. Travis was pretty sure the only way to remove it from her hand would be through surgery. At this moment, the team’s G.M. was both watching the game and texting without looking at her phone. Travis returned his attention to the game.
Despite having the advantage on the scoreboard, Rockford was being badly outplayed by the Shield. The top line mustered a few shots on net and maintained possession through a complete line change, as the IceHogs could not escape their zone. The third line of Jean-Luc Levée, and Gordon and Jordan Timmins maintained the pressure.
Jordan Timmins dragged the puck along the right side half-wall, before wrapping it along the boards behind the net to his “brother” Gordon. Travis smirked, knowing the two weren’t related, or even born in the same country, but everybody affectionately called them brothers nonetheless. Gordon passed the puck back to Marshall Malone who set up Dutch Holland for a one-timer. With Levée, Dutch let go a rocket, that somehow the Rockford goalie knocked down, but Levée used his long reach to coral the puck and wrist a rebound over the goalie’s outstretched pad.
3-3. The crowd exploded, and Travis exchanged grinning fist-bumps with Trey and Wolfie. It wasn’t as fun as the fly-by bench high-fives, but he still enjoyed it.
The clock clicked down in the third period, until with just under a minute left, Dutch Holland has called for roughing. The crowd booed their disapproval, and to Travis, Dutch’s open ice hit looked clean. But his opponent had struggled to get back to his feet after, and the referees judged the hit to be too violent.
With one of their best penalty-killers in the box, things did not look good for Thunder Bay. But the penalty killers managed to hold the fort until the horn sounded to announce the end of regulation.
While picking up a point was a success, the Shield knew their odds of winning were still pretty low. With Dutch still in the box, and the Shield facing a 4-on-3, Coach Kelly sent Joe Rodriguez, Gavin Hunter and Marshall Malone over the boards. It wasn’t overly common to send out two forwards and just one D-man, but Joe Rodriguez had speed to burn and a defensive hockey IQ that made him a top penalty killer. Gavin Hunter was the best face-off man on the team, and Marshall was the second best defender on the team behind Dutch, and more than willing to sacrifice the body to block a shot.
Gavin won the faceoff and Marshall picked up the puck and retreated into his own zone, with a pair of IceHogs in pursuit. He skated behind his own net, going from left to right. One Rockford player followed him behind, while another tried to cut him off by turning in front. But the ice, which had only been shoveled after the third period, proved a bit too choppy and he fell sliding into the end boards, taking out his teammate in the process. The Shield suddenly had the ability to rush up ice 3-on-2.
Gavin skated toward the left-side boards, drawing the attention of one of the Rockford defenders. Joe, on the other hand, was dealing with a forward who was less defensively inclined. Marshall dumped the puck in deep, and Joe easily beat his man to the puck in the corner. Gavin cut towards the middle of the ice, and Joe saucered a pass towards him as he rushed out from behind the net. The defender marking Gavin barely managed to poke-check the puck away, and Gavin found only air with his stick. But Marshall had been trailing the play, and with the two Rockford forwards still scrambling back, he was all alone when he stepped into a slap shot from the slot.
PING. The puck clanked off the inside of the left post and into the net. Travis and Trey jumped up from their seats in celebration, while Wolfie, not quite as nimble, let out a joyous scream.
Game over. Shield win.
TO BE CONTINUED…
See also: Rock Farm - Chapter 1