Chapter 3: Blackout in a Whiteout
The scene in the Shield locker room was a jubilant one, as the players celebrated their overtime victory like they had just clinched a playoff berth. Music pumped on the stereo and it was about as rowdy a celebration as one could imagine. All that was missing was champagne bottles.
While not one to prematurely celebrate, especially with the team sitting at only nine wins on the season, Tobias Kelly found himself in the mood to let this one slide. After his normal succinct post-game speech, he ducked out to let the players do their thing.
One normally reserved Newfoundlander found himself in the middle of the celebrations. Marshall Malone wore a large grin as he accepted congratulations for his winning goal as the players whooped it up.
“Can I have everyone’s attention for a moment,” Eddie Haynes yelled above the din. Goalie Lukas Mueller, who sat next to the stereo system, turned off the music as eyes in the room fell upon the team captain.
“This is the moment, gents,” Eddie spoke firmly, and loud enough for everybody to hear.
“This is the moment where each of us decide what kind of team we want to be this season.”
“We can be winners,” Eddie moved through the players stopping at Marshall’s locker to pat the assistant captain on the shoulder. “Or we can be losers. It’s up to us. It’s up to us to choose if this is the turning point in our season. If this is the point where we take control. But it’s up to you.”
Eddie paused, then spoke softly.
“Do you want to be losers?”
“Hell no!” Dutch Holland responded, a serious look on his face.
“I SAID DO YOU WANT TO BE LOSERS?”
“HELL NO,” the team roared in unison.
“ARE WE GOING TO TURN THIS THING AROUND?”
“ARE WE GOING TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS?”
“ARE WE BRINGING HOME THE CALDER CUP!
“WHAT’S OUR NAME?”
“WHAT’S OUR NAME?”
“LET’S KEEP IT GOING, BOYS!”
The room erupted in cheers, high-fives and pats on the back. The team may have been 9-24-2-1, but they were 1-0-0-0 in their last one game, and that’s what mattered to them.
* * *
With a day off coming the next day, a few of the players decided to keep the party going at the local tavern, The Pig’s Snout. Dutch Holland, Joe Rodriguez, Jean-Luc Levée, Eddie Haynes and Travis Duchesne all piled into Marshall Malone’s mini-van.
“Quite the limousine you have here, Marshall,” Dutch mused. He was sandwiched in the back row with Joe and Jean-Luc.
“I can pull over and dump you in the next snowbank if you prefer walking, Dutch,” Marshall offered from the driver’s seat.
“Oh, I’m not complaining,” said Dutch. “Although I am curious about the origins of this stain on the seat in front of me.”
“Oh, that would be when Thing One ate a milkshake and then proceeded to projectile vomit a minute after it was done. Real great smell for a while,” Marshall shook his head with a slight grin.”Think about all you have to look forward to, Ed.”
Eddie laughed from the front passenger seat.
“You think my kids haven’t puked and snotted on every conceivable surface I own?”
With snow continuing to fall in the Thunder Bay area, the streets remained a bit slippery, but Marshall got the van into the parking lot without trouble. Inside, it was quite busy, but the bar manager managed to secure a couple of tables when he saw who these customers were.
After everyone had ordered a round of drinks, Eddie raised his glass in toast.
“Boys...here’s to us,” Eddie said, as glasses clinked together.
After the boys had each had a sip from their assorted beverages, Eddie spoke again.
“So Marshall, do you think you have an alarm clock good enough for sleeping beauty over here?”
Travis felt himself blushing.
“I’m really sorry, guys,” his eyes met the eyes of each of his teammates. “It was a stupid and immature thing to do, and I let you down. I really am sorry.”
Dutch Holland sidled up beside him and wrapped an arm around Travis’ shoulders.
“It’s okay, we did just fine without you,” he said with a grin, shaking Travis as he said it.
“I don’t seem to recall you being on the ice when I scored, Dutch,” Marshall said from across the table. “In fact, weren’t you...Ed, was he in the penalty box...yea, you were in the penalty box when that happened.”
“Hey now,” said Dutch. “That was a clean hit. Not my fault that little guy went flying!”
All 5’8” of Joe Rodriguez stood up in mock anger.
“Got something against short players, Dutch?”
“Wait, who said that?” Dutch bent to look under the table, before laughing and winking at Joe.
Travis felt a hand fall on his shoulder. He turned to see who it was. A man he did not recognize stood before him, reeking of booze and staggering slightly as his inebriation made itself known.
“You got a lot of nerve, showing up in here after what you did,” the man slurred.
Travis was puzzled. “I’m sorry, sir, do I know you?”
The man laughed in Travis’ face. “No, but I know you,” he turned, gesturing to the other people in his group. “We all know you guys are with the Shield. You think you’re so good because you won one game?! Pffft.”
“We’re just trying to have a drink. Have a good night, sir,” Travis turned back towards the table.
“Hey, don’t you turn your back on me!”
The man grabbed Travis by the back of the shirt and pulled. Dutch rose quickly, catching Travis before he fell, and grabbing the man’s arm.
“Look man,” said Dutch. “Why don’t you m-”
A glass smashed over Dutch’s head, and the big man crumbled to the floor, dragging Travis and the inebriated man down with him. Tables and chairs clattered, and drinks smashed to the floor as a brawl erupted between the Shield players and the drunk man’s group. Quickly, bar staff and other patrons intervened. The drunk man and his crew made as hasty exit.
“Alright, Dutch, you can get up now,” Travis said, from underneath the large defender. Dutch didn’t get up. In fact, Dutch wasn’t moving. “Dutch? Dutch!”
Marshall Malone dragged Travis out from under Dutch. A concerned look on his face, he scanned the crowd.
“Somebody call an ambulance!”
* * *
Sara Tobin sat in the waiting room of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. She nursed a disposable coffee cup in one hand and her abnormally quiet cell phone in the other. Her brown hair sat in a ponytail, as she hadn’t bothered to do anything else with it as she had scrambled to gather her things and get to the hospital that night.
It was just after three o’clock in the morning, and she, along with numerous personnel and players of the Thunder Bay Shield, not to mention media and onlookers, milled about waiting for word on the status of Dutch Holland.
The early prognosis wasn’t good. Dutch had failed to regain consciousness after being struck with a bar glass, resulting in at minimum a depressed skull fracture. The doctors were doing more tests, but surgery remained a highly likely possibility.
Sara had spoken to Dutch’s parents, who were flying in from Alberta. They were in the air right now, and Sara had said she’d give them an update when she landed.
Shield head coach Tobias Kelly paced the waiting room nearby, unable to contain his nervous energy. He had been the one to phone her and rouse her from her sleep. He had seemed very calm at the time, but as the night wore on he seemed to become more and more impatient. His interactions with the members of the media earlier had been rather terse, and Sara decided to take care of any other interviews until he calmed down or had some sleep.
Glancing around the waiting room, Sara noted a grey faced Travis Duchesne flanked on either side by Eddie Haynes and Marshall Malone. Sara wondered why he was as sullen as he was, but knew that Eddie and Marshall were the betters voices for him to hear at that moment.
* * *
Travis couldn’t remember the last time he felt this bad. Maybe the hangover after his friend Teddy’s bachelor party. But this was a different kind of pain.
“This is all my fault,” Travis muttered to himself.
Eddie, who had been resting his head on the wall behind his chair, sat upright.
“This is not your fault, Travis,” Marshall leaned forward in effort to make eye contact with Travis, but Travis couldn’t bring himself to return the gaze.
“I should have…”
“Should have what? Used some Jedi mind trick to sense somebody was going to blindside Dutch with a glass to the head? None of us saw it coming, kid. This is not your fault.”
The double doors leading into the operating room opened, and the Dutch’s doctor walked out. She glanced around the room before spotting Sara. She walked over to her, and the two had a brief conversation that nobody else could overhear. Then the doctor turned around and walked back into the operating room.
Tobias and team communications lead Andy Hill moved to her side. The trio had a brief quiet conversation, with Andy and Sara doing most of the talking. Andy and Tobias then both rose and moved to the air.
Sara rose slowly from her chair, and people moved in closer. Members of the media snapped camera on and got their voice recorders out, and Sara waited for them to be ready before she spoke.
“Nick Holland underwent successful surgery to alleviate pressure on his brain. The doctor says that while the prognosis is good, there is a long road to recovery ahead and he will be in hospital for the foreseeable future. There will be no further comment from the team at this time.”
With that, Sara turned and walked over to the group of players waiting, with Tobias falling in beside her. Andy skillfully maneuvered his way in between Sara and the media, absorbing any other questions they had.
Sara let out a big sigh as her fatigue made itself felt. She looked up at the eyes of the players around her.
“I want you all to go home,” she said. “I will let Eddie know the second I hear anything, but until then I want you guys to get some rest. That means you too coach.”
Tobias nodded. He ran his fingers through his hair, and his words were in a rasp.
“Team meeting at 2 p.m. tomorrow. I’ll see you then.”
With that he abruptly turned and walked down the hall on his way out of the building.
With the players dispersing, Eddie and Sara both stared after him.
“Is he going to be okay,” Eddie inquired.
“Let me deal with it. Get yourself some rest, skipper,” Sara said.
“Sure. But let me know the second you hear anything.”
With that Eddie departed. Andy was ushering the remaining media out of the building, leaving Sara alone with her thoughts. She glanced at her watch: still about an hour until Dutch’s parents landed in Winnipeg. Sara plopped back down in a chair and got her phone out, and made a call
“Hey KC, it’s Sara. Dutch is out of surgery…”
* * *
Tobias opened the door to his car and got inside. The falling snow had blanketed it in a thin layer of flakes, not allowing the lights of the parking lot to illuminate the interior. He sat still for a moment, before slamming his fists into the steering wheel.
What had started as a swear had evolved into a guttural scream, as rage erupted out of him that had been slowly boiling all night.
How could this have happened? Would would do this? Why Dutch?
He angrily started his car and slapped it into gear, only to shove it back into park when he realized he couldn’t see out of any window. He grabbed his snow brush and emerged back into the bitter cold. He brushed off the windshield and side windows before he felt himself getting angry again. He found himself tightly gripping the brush and just staring at his car when a voice jarred him from his thoughts.
“How’re you doing, Tobias?”
Tobias looked up to see Sara standing a few feet away.
“Uhm…,” Tobias had no words.
“You seem pretty upset about this,” Sara said, eyeing the unfinished job he had done on his car. As time passed, more flakes fell on the surfaces he had already cleaned, and it looked like they might have to be swept off again.
Tobias sighed. He knew as the coach of this team that he should be leading by example, and putting forward a calm and dignified front. But these were his players. Not only did he feel professionally responsible for his players, but he cared for them on a personal level. When Eddie Haynes had woken him up with a phone call that night saying Dutch was in the hospital, his first instinct was sadness, followed by anger at whoever had done this. But slowly those feelings were being pushed aside and being replaced by a new one: fault.
“I let them celebrate after a nothing game. I could have nipped this whole thing in the bud, and yet I went against my gut and let them yuk it up,” Tobias leaned against his car as he admitted his feelings.
“Not to get all ‘Good Will Hunting’ on you, but it’s not your fault. These are grown men, who are fully capable of taking care of themselves, and also fully capable of getting themselves into and out of situations worse than this,” Sara said, tucking her hands into her pockets and hunching her shoulders up in effort to stop snow from falling onto her neck.
“Worse,” Tobias snorted. “Dutch Holland is unconscious in a hospital bed right now. I don’t know how much worse it can get.”
“You’re right, poor choice of words,” said Sara. “But Tobias, while you may be responsible for them at the rink, you’re not going to be there for them elsewhere.”
“I know I’m not their dad, or anything like that,” Tobias said. At the age of 42, he could in theory be the dad of most of the players, but pictured himself as more of an older brother type. Like Darry Curtis in The Outsiders.
“Look,” said Sara. “It’s been a long night. While Dutch might find it amusing to see both of us standing here in the cold worrying about him, he wouldn’t want it. We can talk more tomorrow if you want, but for now you should get back home. Sleep is bound to help.”
Tobias looked at the brush in his hands.
“Yea, you’re right,” he admitted. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Good night, Tobias. And don’t let me catch you in the office before 10.”
“Don’t worry, I doubt I’ll beat Eddie in.”
Sara laughed too.
“He’s probably already there. G’night coach,” with that she turned and walked off in the direction of her own vehicle.
“Good night, boss,” Tobias said turning back to the task at hand. With numb finger, he thumbed his command start button on his keychain and began brushing again.