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The Hero and the Healing

by Pat Boone

"Okay, Barrett. Get ready, because here I come."

Oh no, Liam thought. Another showdown.

Johnny started from the opposite blue line gaining momentum as he skated through the neutral zone and then crossed Liam's blue line. He flipped the puck back and forth lightening fast and lifted his stick into the air for a slap shot.

Liam skated far out of his net to cut down the angle. God, please help me.

Suddenly, Johnny dropped his stick again.

Darn it! A fake shot.

He knew he was too far out of position and tried to recover by dropping to his knees butterfly style, but it was too late. Johnny glided in and deked around Liam's left goalie pad, and then easily tapped the puck under Liam's glove and into the net for a goal.

"Candy from a baby," he said as he skated by Liam who was sprawled out on his back.

Oh man, Liam thought. Now I'm going to have to listen to Johnny teasing me for another week.

Liam dropped his head and pushed up to his skates. Maybe I shouldn't even play hockey, he thought as he left the ice.

He was alone in the dressing room by the time his father arrived to pick him up. The combined smell of old sweaty equipment and canteen fries filled Liam's nostrils. I sure would miss this, Liam thought, as they left the dressing room, walking to the car in silence.

Hot air blowing from the dashboard brushed against Liam's face. It felt good. "Dad, why doesn't God help me when I ask him?"

"What makes you think God isn't helping you?"

"Well, I asked God to help me stop Johnny from scoring today, but he still scored."

Liam's dad looked over at him and smiled. "God's goals are scored when we least expect them," he said, "Try and forget about it. Think about tomorrow instead."

Liam scrunched his eyebrows down and frowned at his father. "Tomorrow doesn't help me today," he mumbled and turned back to watching the houses whiz by. Sometimes Dad just doesn't get it.

After he did his homework, Liam choked down some supper and dragged himself off to bed. A poster of Perry "The Machine" Gilchrist hung on the ceiling above his head. A rush of nervousness filled his chest at the thought of seeing his hero in real life tomorrow. What an awesome goalie, he thought and then he drifted off to sleep.

The next day, after what seemed like an eternity, Liam and his dad pulled into the Sentinel's arena parking lot. Butterflies began to flutter in Liam's stomach. He was actually going to see The Machine in real life today.

Liam and his dad sat at ice level to watch the players practice. His eyes scanned the ice one player at a time, but couldn't see his hero anywhere. "Dad, do you see The Machine?" His shoulders drooping from disappoinment.

"No. I was just wondering that myself," his dad said clutching his stomach. "I have to go to the washroom, Liam. I'm not feeling well,"

"Sure Dad. Are you okay?"

"Oh, I'm sure I'll be fine. Probably just some indigestion."

They walked down to the lower level washrooms. An action poster of The Machine caught his attention as he waited for his father. "I hope I get that good some day," he said aloud.

"All it takes is practice and hard work."

Liam jumped at the sound of the voice behind him. He turned to see Perry "The Machine" Gilchrist standing behind him.

"Hi, I'm Perry," the man said extending his hand.

Liam slowly lift his hand up to shake Perry's. "H-Hi," he said wide-eyed.

"Do you play?" asked Perry.

"Yeah, I play nets," replied Liam.

"Excellent! A fellow net minder! We're a special breed, you and I."

"I guess." Yeah, right. Me, a special breed. Pfft.

"How come you're not on the ice with the rest of the team?" inquired Liam.

"Well, the docs want me to stay off my knee so I don't aggravate it any more. How did you get back here?"

"Oh ah, my dad is in the washroom."

"I see. Normally they don't let folks back here. Are you a contest winner?"

Liam couldn't take his eyes off Perry. He was so much bigger in person. Those cold blue eyes could cut through steel.

"My dad's a pastor, and I think he knows the owner or something. How did you hurt your knee?"

"I'm not really sure what happened. I was working out this morning and it just snapped. I'm just trying to walk it off." Perry leaned up against the wall now. "So, are you good?" he asked.

"In nets?"

"Yeah."

Liam looked down at his feet, "I don't know."

"You don't sound too sure. What do you think is the problem?"

"Well, there's this guy on my team who always scores on me. He always fakes a shot, and then comes in and dekes me every time."

"I suppose he gloats about it afterward too, doesn't he?"

"Oh yeah. Big time."

"It sounds to me like you are committing yourself a little too early. Give yourself a split second longer before you make your move. A little patience can go a long way."

"Okay. Thanks a lot Mister Gilchrist."

"Call me Perry."

"Okay Perry. Thanks for the advice. I'll get Dad to put in a good word for your knee."

Perry smiled and reached into his pocket. "Here's a couple of tickets to next Saturday's game. I was going to give them to my nephews, but I think you could use them more."

"Oh, wow! Thanks a lot Mister Gil- I mean, Perry."

"No problem guy. Well, I suppose I should continue to walk this off. See you around."

Perry hobbled off down the corridor as Liam's dad emerged from the bathroom. "Just some gas," he said patting his belly. "Did I miss anything?"

Liam, held up the tickets. "I'll explain on the way back up to the ice."

The next hockey practice had Liam staring back at Johnny once again. "You ready Barrett? Because here I come."

Liam clenched his eyes shut for a moment and remembered Perry's words. Have patience. God, help me to have patience...please.

He opened his eyes to see Johnny skating toward him, flipping the puck back and forth on his stick. He slowly left the safety of his net and came out to cut down the angle. Johnny crossed the red line and then the blue line. He was skating full speed now.

Liam inched backward, his eyes darting between Johnny's eyes and the puck. Johnny skated in close, lifted his stick high above his shoulders. Fake shot, I know it. Liam stood his ground, synchronizing his movements with Johnny's.

Johnny narrowed his eyes and smiled slightly. He skated in hard and fast, flipped the puck to his forehand and skated to his right. Liam stayed with him the whole time. Suddenly, Johnny tossed the puck to his back hand, and turned sharply to the left. Liam dropped to his knees, and tried to poke the puck away from Johnny with his stick. Johnny protected the puck with his skate and flipped the puck up into the air.

On his back now, Liam's trapper instinctively shot into the air. He felt a thud against his hand and dropped his glove, covering it with his body. Please God, let that be the puck.

Liam lifted his trapper. There on the ice lay the frozen black disc he had so wanted to stop countless times before. Thank you, God.

As if in slow motion, Liam turned his head, looked at Johnny and smiled.

"Hmph," said Johnny, and skated away.

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