Losing Again: A Puck Opera

Late-season games between teams at the bottom of the standings are never easy to get through. When the second-to-last Flames visited the last-place Avalanche, things got dull on the ice and off the ice, they got real. A play in verse seemed like the right way to figure out how things went down.
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Individuals, we're told, make history, but they do not make it as they please: they—we—make history within circumstances inherited from given surroundings and from the past. No one knows this better than a backup goaltender in the NHL. The market for goalies has gotten weird over the last couple years: big long contracts still abound, but most of them seem frightening, fraught, redolent with regret. Mostly the contracts they get are shorter now, mostly the players come cheaper now. Mostly goalies are peripatetic now: all of them journeymen, buffeted from situation to situation, mediocre-to-awful one year, record-settingly great the next year, intermittently terrible and untouchable the next.

So: life is short, and the hockey season is long. The games within and constituting the season are short, the needed effort vast, the pay grade great, the fans urgent—and the management of certain teams, inscrutable. Two such teams met not very ago: last-in-the-league Colorado Avalanche, in year four of a rebuilding project of no defined length, versus the Calgary Flames, fresh off a hastily-decided-upon rebuild of their very own and icing a team minus the best player they ever had, traded for...what one would need to round up in order to call "not nothing." As always, the best seats in the house were occupied by the goaltenders, who, on this night of broken things and minimal stakes, were backups, pressed into service and then treated to very little worth watching. But they still have something to say. Both earned that right: MacDonald by stopping 39 of 40 shots overall, GiguËre by stopping all 10 shots he faced across the power plays five minor penalties gave the Flames.

These men wear masks, but they will not be muzzled. Most are men of few words, men who operate with quiet dignity and great restraint, as befits the challenges inherent to their profession. A few celebrate or would prefer you not act in a haberdasherical capacity uninvited, but it's rare that the average goalie allows expression beyond the mask. Until now. Now, two goalies who have been exceptionally average this year (with save percentages ranking 41 and 62 out of 80 as this is written) will. Be. Heard. If you like, you can simply read a transcript of what one had to say. And his follow-up. Or you can enjoy their entirely-a-real-thing art project.

Their chosen format for expression is, obviously, a play in verse, until they burst into song.

Losing Again

ACT 1

SCENE 1

(Interior, night, The Big Can. Avs/Flames, second period: 80% of the season in the books, and they're not happy books that make kids smile. They're mean books, nasty books, the kind of books to make Jim Thompson flinch. No score yet.)

(Spotlight on: Flames goalie Joey MacDonald. 33, Nova Scotian, journeyman on his fifth NHL team.)

My name is Joey MacDonald, and I catch pucks by trade.
It's hard to work on ice, and ice is hard, and we fall,
And we hurt ourselves. Still the pucks come, each driven like a nail
I'm somehow supposed to put my body before. I do. It's stopped, I stall
for a second, catch my breath, hit my bottle's water, stale
like tonight's hotel bed and tomorrow's fart-sick air. This is the life I've made.

It's a good job, I work hard. Like how many others I've prayed
to do this for a living, and given up that and this
for the barest scraping chance to catch redirects, slappers, wrists
from the dot, and all the other shots, deflected to the wall
or caught or tipped wide or swallowed in my pads or anything at all.
Whew. Ignore the spray and taunt from dicks trying to throw me off my game—SHIT.

ACT 1

SCENE 2

(Avs winger Brad Malone gets one past MacDonald, in silence. His first NHL goal.)

ACT 2

SCENE 1

(Spotlight on: Flames goalie Jean Sebastien "J-S" "Jiggy" Giguëre. 35, Quèbècois, 47th most games played in goal in NHL history, among active goaltenders, 8th in games and shutouts, 10th in wins, 2003 Conn Smythe trophy winner for Most Valuable Player of the playoffs, 2007 champion. A man known to be honest.)

Oh. I see the problem. We don't have good players. And the bad ones we have don't try hard.
That man doesn't even have a stick; he's using the broke dick of a dead dog.
That can't be good. That can't be helping. Leave the dead dog's broke dick in the yard—
don't bring that shit to the rink. God, I'm in a fog
tonight. I keep seeing through these twerps into what I guess
is my history. I don't see EJ firing rockets wide,
I see Chris Pronger elbowing faces into a bloody mess,
but he's long gone, Chris Pronger, and EJ's the help I've been supplied;
you go to work with the workers you have
no matter how much it hurts your hope or or dreams—or your pride.

Not fifty other men have gone out more than I have against the tide.
I'm tired. (I'm not discouraged.) I tried. I'm angry; this is a drag.
These men whose shirts match mine don't work jobs like they care.
Bosses yell, nothing works, help is a hovering mirage and these guys just stare.

ACT 2

SCENE 2

(A cold and sad tableau of limp, hesitant defensive decisions and airy executions with no follow-through strand Giguëre on an unpleasant ice floe. Five minor penalties come and go. Goals come. Lights shine alone on Giguëre, who resets each time as if nothing had gone wrong before, as though nothing wrong could come again.)

ACT 3

SCENE 1

(All the skaters seem to freeze and fade to the background. Lights pick out the goaltenders as they place their sticks atop the nets, adjust their helmets and maks, and skate—ungainly, as goalies do—to center ice, where they link arms, spin, and face the audience for a SONG (occasionally addressing a line to their teammates, or to each other, as members of select fraternities might).)

WE ARE THE MEN be-hind the maaaasks
          HOW DO YOU DO so glad you aaaasked
WE STOP THE PUCK don't let it paaaast
          GET OFF THE ICE if you are gaaaased
JUST CLEAR THE ZONE I'll kick your aaaass

JOEY'S ARIA

They shoot the puck at me
I stop dropped to my knees
I skate like I'm on skis
But I stop those puuucks

JIGGY'S ARIA

I've played now for fifteen years
I've picked up trophies while in tears
I can only do so much back here
But I stop those puuuucks

WE ARE THE MEN be-hind the maaaasks
          HOW DO YOU DO so glad you aaaasked
WE STOP THE PUCK don't let it paaaast
          GET OFF THE ICE if you are gaaaased
JUST CLEAR THE ZONE I'll kick your aaaass

JOEY & JIGGY DUET

(Each man sings his song, with the other responding to each line.)

They shoot the puck at me
We do our job for all to see
I stop dropped to my knees
We wreck our hips and knees
I skate like I'm on skis
Our D-men ignore our pleas
BUT WE STOP THOSE PUUUCKS

I've played now for fifteen years
You've seen things we all call weird
I've picked up trophies while in tears
You've won it all and heard the cheers
I can only do so much back here
After this game, you'll need a beer
BUT WE STOP THOSE PUUUUCKS

WE ARE THE MEN be-hind the maaaasks
          HOW DO YOU DO so glad you aaaasked
WE STOP THE PUCK don't let it paaaast
          GET OFF THE ICE if you are gaaaased
JUST CLEAR THE ZONE I'll kick your aaaass

Curtain. Perhaps some mild, smattered applause.

Illustration by Bogdan von Pylon.


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