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fighting [against all odds] - a Charlotte Checkers story

It is a truth universally acknowledged by all players in the American Hockey League that should a fight between two players last longer than two and a half minutes, those two players become married in the eyes of the law and the Hockey Gods. This unwritten rule, first put into place during the 2004-2005 lockout, was naturally very controversial. Players with wives or partners suddenly had to pay close attention to the clock while exchanging muffled blows on the ice to ensure that they would not be guilty of bigamy by the end of the game. In 2011 the NHLPA intervened on behalf of the two way players to enact an amendment: should either fighter be previously married, either to another player or to an individual outside of hockey, the loser of the fight would legally be adopted by the winner, to prevent the culturally frowned upon outcome of bigamy. Of course, this opened up a whole new can of worms during the first tied fight of the season: who would determine who wins or loses in a draw? Eventually the NHLPA and the AHL officials threw up their hands in frustration, redacted the amendment, and changed the wording of the rule to as follows: should a fight between two unmarried players last longer than two and a half minutes, those two players become married in the eyes of the law and the Hockey Gods. This seemed to clear up most legal problems, but many fans and players were still not mollified. The AHL more or less told them to suck it.
Zack Stortini, having been drafted in 2003 and therefore playing with this particular rule in place for the majority of his professional hockey career, was well aware of how his play was affected by this. Even now, as a Charlotte Checker, he prided himself in maintaining his status as an enforcer while keeping his rumbles short and sweet. The golden ring he was required to wear on a chain around his neck remained unpolished: no one had ever worn it, and Zack planned to keep it that way until he retired. Or found a Storm Squad girl with lowered standards and a fondness for tooth gaps, whichever came first.
The golden ring jangled on its chain as Zack stripped off his dress shirt and undershirt in the visitor locker room of the Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania. He flicked it absently before it settled back into place, nestled in his chest hair. Bishop noticed him absently playing with it and lobbed a roll of stick tape at his head, laughing when it made contact with a thud.
“What’s up, Teener, you gonna find you a nice fighter to husband up?” Bishop asked, leaning back in his stall and spreading his legs wide. He made several gross faces and gestures. Zack didn’t even pretend to know what half of them meant.
“As if, Bishy,” Zack responded with grace. “You know I’m better than that.”
The entire locker room erupted in laughter. Zack chose to believe they were laughing with him, besides the European guys, who were laughing because everyone else was.
Zack resumed suiting up. Just as he was tying up the drawstring of his hockey pants, Vellucci stomped into the room, grumbling to himself and a clipboard in his hand. The chatter in the locker room died off as their head coach made his way to the front of the room. Vellucci looked up and increased the volume of his grumbling. Finally he chose to use actual words.
“Boys. Lads,” he said. “Hershey is one of the worst teams in the league this year. This is rare, my guys, we gotta pounce on that while we can. We gotta.”
The boys murmured in agreement.
“But my guys. My dudes. You know how we do that? Do you know how we win?”
Zack exchanged glances with the others guys in the room. Finally Saarela put his hand up.
“We put puck in net?”
Vellucci slammed his clipboard over his knee, breaking it in half. “Fuckin’ right, boys!”
Confused and frightened, the Checkers all cheered and headed out to the ice for warm ups. Zack followed his teammates out of the locker room, but coach pulled him aside before he left the room.
“Stortini,” Vellucci said seriously, his upper lip where a moustache would be trembling. “Son. You know I respect you for what you do and how well you do it.”
“You mean how I’m a great skater?”
“Don’t be an idiot, boy, I’m talking about how you make our opponents kiss your knuckles.”
“Oh,” said Zack, trying not to seem too crestfallen.
“Son, my fella, you sure are an enforcer, but have you been tracking your fight times?”
Zack stilled, his 6 foot 4 inch 225 pound frame radiating guilt.
Vellucci sighed explosively. “Pal, your fight times are getting mighty close to two-thirty. I know you aren’t ready to settle down, and Charlotte can’t lose you to a honeymoon right now.” He slapped a meaty hand onto Zack’s shoulder, shaking him in a supportive manner. “Just keep the clock in mind, eh?”
“Yes sir,” said Zack.
“Good,” said Vellucci. “Now let’s do that hockey.”
*
It was always nice to get the first goal in a game. Well, not personally get the goal, that would be sweet as fuck, but it was nice when the Checkers got on the board first.
What was decidedly not nice was the asshole who laughed at him when Zack tripped over the edge of the Bears net. It wasn’t his fault, the goal came right at him.
“Fuckin’ hoser can’t even skate right,” Number 14 shouted at him, circling Zack like a thing that normally circled other things. Like a pencil, or a hula hoop.
Zack’s heart rate increased, probably in anger. Number 14’s voice sounded familiar, so Zack had definitely punched his face once or twice before.
“Fuckin’ asshole!” Zack yelled, skating after Number 14. “I’m a fuckin’ beautiful skater, you dick!” Zack proved this by skating right into Number 14’s arms and trying to punch him.
Unfortunately for Zack, Number 14 was like a mind reader or something and anticipated the sneak attack. Just as Zack gripped the Bears jersey, Number 14 grabbed his Checkers jersey, and they were locked in a stalemate. They drifted across the ice between their teammates and the linemen, throwing ineffective punches at each other. The noise from the crowd increased as the normally mild mannered Pennsylvanians demanded blood be spilled for their savage enjoyment.
“Fuck him up, Teener!” Miller shouted encouragingly.
“Make him cry for him mama!” wailed one of Number 14’s teammates.
Neither of them seemed to make headway in the fight. Zack was taller than him by one inch, but he could tell Number 14 was heavier than him by at least ten pounds. A couple of times Zack thought he would lose his balance and fall but he just gripped Number 14’s jersey even tighter to stay upright on the ice.
As they continued to grapple with each other, the noise of the crowd dwindled into nothing before abruptly starting again with nervous energy. Something was not right.
“Teener!” Neddie cried from the net. “Check time! Check time!”
Zack knew his time was running long but fuck, he was not about to let go, to turn tail and run and let Number 14 win this fight. That was not gonna happen.
“Just give up, goon!” Number 14 growled around his mouth guard.
“Your mom!” Zack gasped, wind whistling through the gap in his teeth.
Suddenly one of the linesmen blew his whistle, shattering the moment between them.
“That’s two-thirty exactly boys!”
Zack struggled against his teammates and the lineman who were trying to pull him away from Number 14, the words and their meaning not yet sinking into his sports-addled brain. Then at once his eyes met Number 14’s wide brown eyes across the ice between them, and the reality of the situation slammed into him like an Ovechkin slap shot would slam into his shin. It fuckin’ hurt, and maybe something was broken? And like, maybe he had made a mistake somewhere along the road that had led him to this point.
“Stortini!” raged Vellucci from the bench, his face nearly purple, “What have you done?!”
Shocked, his mouth gaping, Zack allowed himself to be skated docilely to the penalty box. The linesman gripping his elbow was humming the wedding march under his breath, that fuckin’ asshole. Zack felt tears welling up in his eyes. He wasn’t ready for marriage, his mom would kill him. Oh god, and his sister!
Zack sat on the bench in the no-no box, hands dangling between his knees. A banging to his right drew his attention away from his inner turmoil, and he looked up, locking eyes with his...future husband? Fuck!
Number 14, seeing that he had gained Zack’s attention, brought up his left hand and pointed at it vigorously. Zack stared at the silver band on Number 14’s ring finger uncomprehendingly. He made a face at Number 14 and shrugged. Number 14 flipped him off.
“You absolute asshole,” Number 14 yelled over the roar of the crowd , “I’m trying to tell you I’m already married! The Rule doesn’t apply to this situation!”
Zack’s terror and nausea abruptly melted into absolute relief. “Oh, word?” he shouted back. “Sweet!”
“Hell fuckin’ yeah, sweet,” Number 14 yelled. “Besides, I could never be married to such a piss-poor excuse for a hockey player. You couldn’t skate your way out of a wet paper bag!”
The relief bubbling through Zack’s veins evaporated and Zack was possessed by an anger he had only felt three dozen other times in his life. He leapt from his seat and banged his fists against the plexiglass of the no-no box, snarling at Number 14, “I will end you, shitbag!”
“If you can catch me!” laughed Number 14.
“Boys, please,” begged the official in the no-no box as Zack and Number 14 were ushered away from each other once more.
Zack seethed. This wasn’t over, not by a long shot.
*
Bishy got the Checkers on the board again, and Neddie was doing a great job between the pipes, so really Zack shouldn’t have been consumed by a wildfire of anger, but Number 14’s words kept replaying in his head. The look of derision in Number 14’s deep brown eyes, the athletic flush on his cheeks beneath his thick dark beard, the shape of his rose colored lips as he insulted Zack’s skating. What a dick, Zack was an absolute catch, and Number 14 would be fuckin’ blessed to be married to Zack. Zack bet he was probably drafted higher than Number 14 anyway. He rubbed absently at his own patchy and stubbly cheek.
“You caught a real fuckin’ lucky break, buddy boy-o,” Vellucci grumbled at him when Zack returned to the bench after his stay in the no-no box. “I’m keeping my eye on you and that Number 14.”
“I think his name is Peluso,” Samuelsson piped up helpfully. Vellucci made a walrus sound and pushed Samsy over the boards and onto the ice.
“What’s the point of keeping us from fighting anymore?” Zack asked. “He’s married, so there’s nothing to worry about. The Rule doesn’t apply!”
“There’s a lot you don’t know about the Rule, my guy, my pal,” Vellucci said darkly, staring off into the middle distance. He didn’t elaborate further, so Zack figured it was okay if he didn’t know anything else about the Rule. To Zack’s frustration, Vellucci made sure he and Number 14–Peluso–weren’t on the ice at the same time for the next couple shifts.
“Can you behave yourself now, my dude?” Vellucci asked Zack as a line change was coming up for the Checkers. Peluso had just been sent onto the ice as well, and was skating around like a straight up dick, making sharp turns and following the puck and passing to his teammates. Zack shook his attention away from Peluso to give Vellucci a winning smile.
“You betcha,” Zack said in his most sincere tone of voice. Vellucci nodded grimly and sent him over the boards on the next line change.
Zack tried his hardest to avoid Peluso on the ice, he really did, but Number 14 kept skating near him, obviously trying to get in his way. So maybe Zack threw out a choice few phrases to his opponent, commenting on what a shitty team Peluso played for and how Peluso’s beard looked like Canadian roadkill. He wasn’t treating Peluso special or anything. He would have done the same to any of players on the Bears who were being obnoxious.
And then Peluso, that asshole, crosschecked him into the boards near the Checkers’ own goal, and frankly that wouldn’t fly.
As soon as Zack gathered his bearings and spun around to grip at Peluso’s jersey, the crowd erupted into groans. The linesmen let them swing a few punches at each other and spin around on the ice before they sounded the whistle again. One of the linesmen grabbed Zack’s elbow as the other steered Peluso towards the no-no box. From the corner of his eye, Zack could see Chelios and Bourque, one of the Bears’ alternate captains, converging on the head referee, both looking far too serious for a simple roughing call.
“Oh, Teener, you’ve done it now,” McKeown said ominously as the linesman led Zack to the no-no box. Zack looked over his shoulder at the dman, eyes wide in confusion. What? What had he done. He spun around to look at the bench. Vellucci had his face in his hands, and a second clipboard lay shattered on the ice in front of the Checkers’ bench. Even Mann, the Bears’ head coach, looked upset, having gone white as a ghost.
Once situated in the no-no box, the official shaking his head at him sadly, Zack turned to look at Peluso to see if the other player knew what was going on. Peluso looked as shaken as Zack felt, and shrugged at him in response. They both turned to watch their alternate captains negotiate with the referee. Bourque had a desperate look on his face, and kept gesturing up at one of the private suites located behind the Bears’ bench. Chelios, on the other hand, sported a look of sad resignation. Fear gnawed at Zack’s stomach. He rubbed at his jersey and poked his tongue between the gap in his teeth.
After what felt like ages, the ref made a definitive hand gesture and broke up the meeting. Chelios skated back to the Checkers’ bench without making eye contact with Zack. Bourque skated up to the Bears’ penalty box.
“I’ll serve this one, Anthony,” Bourque said to Peluso. “They’re sending you off the ice.”
“What?” yelled Peluso, jumping to his feet. “Why? That asshole over there is just as much at fault as I am!”
Zack pressed a hand to his chest, deeply offended.
“He’ll be sent off ice once he’s served his time,” Bourque assured Peluso. “You need to meet with Coach Murphy. And Anthony? You’re gonna need to talk to your wife as soon as possible.”
Peluso reached out to grab at the door to the no-no box, apparently needing it to support his weight. “What?” he gasped.
Bourque gently pulled Peluso out of the no-no box and pushed him toward the Bears’ bench. “Just go talk to Murphy, man. Gotta take this one step at a time.” With Peluso on his way off the ice, Bourque took his spot in the penalty box, closing the door behind himself and sitting on the bench. As play resumed, Bourque turned to look at Zack. “You fucked up, kid,” Bourque told him, squirting gatorade into his mouth. “You both did.”
*
Zack didn’t spend his full two minutes in the no-no box, since Millsy scored an absolute beaut of a goal less than a minute into the power play. Zack skated towards the bench after the official released him from the no-no box, but Vellucci wouldn’t make eye contact with him. Instead, Peter Andersson waved at Zack, indicating that they go down the tunnel to the locker room. So Bourque wasn’t kidding about Zack being kicked off the ice.
Andersson pulled Zack into one of the trainer rooms branching out from the locker room. Zack sat on the examination table and started at his assistant coach. He swung his legs back and forth, the blades skipping over the concrete floor, as Andersson sighed and rubbed at his forehead. Finally Andersson made eye contact with Zack.
“This is a real mess of a situation,” Andersson said, sitting in one of the rolly chairs the trainers used.
“Uh,” said Zack, “I don’t really know what’s going on. Sir.”
Andersson stared at him judgmentally. “Don’t pretend you don’t know about the Rule.”
“I know about the Rule!” Zack said loudly. “We already established that it doesn’t apply, Peluso is already married so--”
“That’s only part of the Rule,” Andersson interrupted him, his accent becoming thicker with his growing frustration. “Doesn’t your agent explain everything you sign for this position?” Zack shrugged and looked away, too embarrassed to say that he was usually too excited to be playing another year to listen to any of the legal jargon. Andersson sighed again. “Listen. You’re operating on the parameters of the 2011 edition of the Rule. Non-single players were completely exempt from the Rule, that’s true. But, there was still too much fighting going on in the league. Too many guys were getting hurt. Nasty career-ending injuries, that sort of thing. All because one or both of the guys were married, and the rule didn’t apply to them.”
“Well that’s just hockey,” Zack said softly.
Andersson ignored him. “So in 2013, after the last NHL lockout, another amendment was added. I guess you didn't get the memo. Or read it.” Andersson rolled his eyes and recited from memory, “Should a fight between two unmarried players last longer than two and a half minutes, those two players become married in the eyes of the law and the Hockey Gods. In the event that two players, regardless of prior marital status, engage in two fights in one single period of a hockey game, with one fight lasting two minutes and thirty seconds or longer, the prior marital status of the players is nullified and the two players become married in the eyes of the law and the Hockey Gods.”
Zack felt like all of the air had been sucked from the room. “What?” he gasped.
Andersson stood up with a grunt and slapped Zack’s knee. “Congrats, Stortini. You’re married. The official ceremony will be after the game.”
“What about Peluso’s wife?” Zack asked, scrambling off the table. “What happens to her?”
“The marriage is annulled,” Andersson said, tucking his hands into his pockets. “There’s nothing we can do. She’ll get a nice severance package.” Andersson looked at Zack again. “I know you think this is unfair but you signed off on this when you signed your contract. You both did.”
Zack didn’t know what to say to this. He shifted his weight on his skates.
With a sigh, Andersson turned around and opened the door to the locker room. “Well come on then. We have another two periods to go. You can face the music after the game.”
Zack sullenly followed Andersson into the locker room, where the mood was much brighter and less filled with dread.
“Teener!” Saarela cried, bounding up to Zack. “I put puck in net! Great present for wedding!”
“Thanks buddy,” Zack said, patting the Finn on the head. “That means a lot.”
As his other teammates noticed his presence in the room, the cheerfulness died down to a careful somber tone more like a funeral than a first period intermission with a 5-0 score. Several of the boys reached out to slap at his shoulder consolingly as Zack made his way to his stall.
“That’s rough, buddy,” Gauthier said, sounding far too old and jaded for the little baby rookie that he was.
“I told you, check time,” Neddie admonished sadly. Zack could only nod back at him in agreement. Neddie did try to warn him. What a good goalie.
“Eyes forwards fellas and guys,” Vellucci called out, gaining the team’s attention. “This first period sure has been, uh, something else. To quote the official twitter account, it’s been,” Vellucci squinted at something on his clipboard and made air quotes with one hand, “‘lit.’ Shout out to you boys who got us on the board. Five fuckin’ goals, boys, fuckin’ right!”
The team cheered, all banging their sticks on the floor in a loud demonstration of support.
“You know what could make this game better, my pals?” Vellucci asked, his eyes scanning the players in front of him.
Saarela raised his hand hesitantly.
“Not give up lead?” he asked.
Vellucci roared, grabbed the Gatorade bottle out of Samuelsson’s hand, and slam dunked it into Carrick’s stall. Carrick yelped and jumped sideways into Kichton beside him. The rest of the team stared at Coach, eyes wide in silent terror.
“Not giving up the lead, boys, fuckin’ right!” Vellucci said, turning to high five Andersson. “My dudes, my buddies, we gotta learn from the Canes up in the NHL and know that we can’t have a great first period and then get complacent for the rest of the game! We gotta go hard the whole game, my pals!”
“Woo!” someone, maybe Neddie, said meekly.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” Vellucci said. “Now get ready for the second period. And Stortini?” he added, not even looking at Zack.
“Yes sir?” responded Zack quietly.
“You’re dead to me.”
Zack wailed internally.
*
The rest of the game seemed to pass in a blur. The Checkers didn’t score any more goals, and the Bears got two in the second, but with an end score of 5-2, it really could have been much worse. Much, much worse, Zack acknowledged as they checked the Canes game while undressing.
“Fuckin’ right boys!” Vellucci shouted at them as he strode through the locker room, on his way to do media. Saarela, Millsy, and Neddie, as the three stars of the game, followed meekly in his wake.
Zack sat in his stall, half undressed and fiddling the gold ring on the chain around his neck. He should probably call his family, or maybe shower and get dressed. Or sprint out of the Giant Center and try to make his getaway in the slushy misery of Hersheypark in the wintertime. No one would follow him.
“Are you nervous?”
Zack looked to his right and found Samuelsson setting on the edge of the bench next to him. The kid gave him a shy smile.
“Fuckin’ duh, Samsy,” Zack said, agressively ripping off the tape on his socks.
Samuelsson frowned at him. “Rude,” he sniffed, and turned away.
Getting undressed and showering felt like moving through water. Well, showering was essentially moving through water, but Zack still felt pretty detached through it all. He soaped up his thick chiseled body mechanically, running his slippery fingers through the curls of his hair. He still hadn’t told his mom that he had gotten himself hockey- and legally-married because he let some guy get on his nerves. And because he hadn’t read the fine print on a couple pieces of paper. That too.
“Stortini!” Andersson shouted from outside the shower room. “Hurry up, they want to get the ceremony over and done with so everyone can head home to watch the Big Game.”
Zack sighed and dragged himself out of the shower. In the locker room, he dressed himself in his usual game day suit and, having no other way to stall for time and prolong the inevitable, he got up to find Andersson and Vellucci. The locker room had long since cleared out, all the other boys going back to the bus, with the exception of Chelios, Carrick, and Brown.
“What’re you boys still doing here?” Zack asked, heartened by their show of support.
“As your captain, I have to walk you down the aisle,” Brown said, coming forward to straighten Zack’s tie.
“We’re here as support,” said Carrick, smiling behind his aggressive moustache.
“Actually we’re here as witnesses and potential backup in case anything goes wrong,” corrected Chelios.
Zack gulped and stared wide eyed at his captains. “What could go wrong?”
Chelios stared at the hockey skates piled in the equipment manager’s cart and said nothing. “Let’s not think of that right now,” Carrick said instead. “Do you have your ring?”
Zack’s hand automatically flew up to the chain around his neck. “Yeah, I have it.”
“Then let’s get this show on the road,” Brown sighed, and led the way back down the tunnel towards the ice.
As they made their way down the tunnel, Zack noticed that two red carpets had been rolled out on the ice, one in front of the home team tunnel and the other in front of the away team tunnel, both leading out to center ice. A zamboni was parked right in front of where the two carpets coalesced. Vellucci and Andersson stood to one side of the zamboni, on the away team side of the carpets, and Mann, Cashman, and Murphy stood on the other side. The linesmen and refs had all taken a knee in the triangle of ice between the two carpets, all eerily silent and still. The stands were thankfully empty of fans, as was the proper procedure for such ceremonies. And there, standing on top of the zamboni, was Coco.
Zack knew, now that he thought about it, that the home team’s mascot was to officiate the wedding should the Rule be invoked at a game. He had never given any real thought as to whether he would prefer to have Chubby officiate his wedding, or some other team’s mascot. Chubby was definitely one of the less frightening mascots and, now that he was forced to face this reality, Coco was reasonable enough as well.
Brown stopped Zack before he could start walking down the aisle. Behind them, Carrick and Chelios grabbed buckets of pucks from near the end of the tunnel. Brown waved at Coco until the mascot saw him and gave a thumbs up with one massive bear paw. Zack shifted uneasily on his feet. The bear’s head swung back to the home team tunnel and gave another thumbs up. Zack guessed that this meant that Peluso was ready as well. Coco began pointing at the Giant Center broadcasting box, waving and giving two massive bear thumbs up.
At once, the organ started up with a tune Zack thought he remembered. Unfortunately, it all came back to him once the linesmen and refs began singing.
“Hello out there, we’re on the air, it’s Hockey Night tonight! Tension grows, the whistle blows, and the puck goes down the ice!”
“Jesus fuck,” Zack muttered to himself.
“Stand up straight and smile,” Brown whispered to him, linking their arms and beginning to walk down the aisle towards Coco and the zamboni. As they walked down the aisle, Chelios and Carrick followed, tossing pucks behind them from their buckets. Out of the corner of his eye, Zack could see Garrett Mitchell walking Peluso down the aisle, Sill and Bourque acting as the, uh, the puck boys.
After an eternity of slowly walking down the red carpet and listening to the refs opine about the good ol’ hockey game, Zack and Peluso finally made it to the area directly in front of the Hershey bear. Coco stared down upon them as the organ slowly faded into silence.
“Dearly beloved,” Coco intoned in a frighteningly deep voice that was somehow unobscured by the mascot costume, “we are gathered here today to join these two fighters in hockey matrimony." Zack turned to face Peluso. He was annoyed to note that the man had an alright face. Son of a bitch even looked like he still had most of his teeth.
“Anthony Peluso,” Coco continued, “do you take this man to be your husband, to live together in hockey matrimony in the off-season, to pass to him, to block for him, to assist him, and to keep him in bad seasons and in good seasons, forsaking all others, for as long as you both shall live, or until otherwise determined by the Hockey Gods?”
“I do,” said Peluso, in the voice of someone who was being threatened with a sharpened skate blade to the throat.
“Zachery Stortini,” Coco said, turning to focus his unseeing eyes on Zack, “do you take this man to be your husband, to live together in hockey matrimony in the off-season, to pass to him, to block for him, to assist him, and to keep him in bad seasons and in good seasons, forsaking all others, for as long as you both shall live, or until otherwise determined by the Hockey Gods?”
“I do?” said Zack. Coco nodded once.
“Do you have the rings?” Coco asked.
Zack reached up and unlatched the chain around his neck. He slipped the ring off the chain and into his hand before holding it up to Coco. “I have mine.”
Peluso shuffled back and forth on his feet. “I do not have mine,” he admitted. Zack’s eyes darted down to look at his eminent husband’s left ring finger. While a tan line was visible, the silver ring was not. “She wanted it back,” Peluso said softly.
“Captains,” Coco said, lifting his head to address Mitchell, Sill, and Bourque, “can any of you provide Anthony Peluso with an assist?”
“I can,” Garrett Mitchell said, stepping forward as he removed the chain around his neck and handing it to Peluso. Peluso took it from his captain with a quiet word of thanks. He lifted it aloft to show Coco, much like Zack had.
“Now that the rings have been presented, they may be exchanged. As you place the ring on each other’s finger, swear the following: I give you this ring as a token and pledge of our constant conditioning and abiding shot accuracy.”
Zack carefully slipped his ring onto Peluso’s finger, muttering along to the vow Coco had provided. Peluso followed suit, and Zack couldn’t help but notice how strong but soft the other man’s hands were.
“By virtue of the authority vested in me by the American Hockey League and the Hershey Bears, I now pronounce you husbands,” Coco announced, throwing his paws to the sky. “You may now kiss each other!”
Zack and Peluso stared at each other for five seconds before Peluso darted forward to kiss Zack softly on the lips. It was kind of sweet. Not to be outdone, Zack swept Peluso into his arms and dipped him before pressing their mouths together. Peluso took it one step further and slipped him some tongue. Zack did not hate it. The referees all cheered.
As they parted, Zack whispered, “You can shit on my skating as much as you like, but I promise, my stickhandling is out of this world.”
For the first time that night, Peluso’s face lit up with a small, sincere smile.
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A lapsed international Leafs fan returns to the fold.

TL:DR-Lapsed Australian fan reconnects with his love of the Leafs. Fuck Bettman. NHL players should go to the Olympics. Go Leafs!
As an Australian, ice hockey is not a sport we hear of very often but every four years the Olympics rolls around and we get exposed to sports we rarely see at any other time. In 2002, with the Olympics in Salt Lake City I caught a few games in the preliminary rounds and liked what I saw. Sweden was kicking ass and with no attachment to any other country they became my national team.
With Sweden getting knocked out by Tommy Salo's head against Belarus in the Quarter-finals and the tournament finishing I decided hockey was a sport I could get into. Without a team in the NHL or any ties with Canada or the US I had to decide who to support. Who better than the club the Swedish Captain plays for? What a year it was for the Leafs as well, making it to the Conference Finals before losing to Carolina.
And so it was that I started following the Leafs. With the time difference the games usually start between 9am and Midday here and with me working night shifts at the time I was able to listen to plenty of games through 1050 The Fan online. I have fond memories of listening to the play by play whilst playing some CS:S deathmatch games and not so fond memories of all the shitty Alarm Force commercials they ran.
Towards the end of the 2003 season I ordered my first hockey jersey. An away Mats Sundin authentic and it is beautiful. Even though I wear it rarely, and have bought several jerseys since, it remains my favourite of all those I own.
My love of hockey and the Leafs continued to grow until the CBA expired. Sadly, with negotiations going nowhere, key dates passing with no resolution and finally the 2004/05 season being cancelled I was pissed off and bitter. A sport I had only recently fallen in love with had fucked me in the ass and was gone for a whole season. I didn't know what the hell would happen but I knew it wasn't going to be the same again.
When hockey did return for the 2005/06 season I had lost a lot of faith in the league. With the Leafs not playing as well as they had before the lockout my passion for the team waned as well. Was I a slimy bandwagoner? Maybe. I was still a fan, I still listened to games but not as often as I once did and since I had started gambling on games a larger portion of my interest was devoted to how my bets were doing than the team itself.
With the way the Leafs have played pretty much every year since the lockout it was pretty easy to drift into not really caring, especially when you're thousands of kilometers away and see nothing about the league or team unless you go looking for it.
This is how my interest in the Leafs remained until halfway through last year when I gave up gambling due to the obvious conclusion that I was shit at it and was wasting my money like 99.9% of every other gambler in the world. Without gambling on the games I pretty much forgot the NHL.
The turning point in my relationship with the Leafs came in February this year. My brother went to the US for a holiday and whilst relaxing in his LA hotel one night he flicked over and caught a Ducks game. He knew I listened to/watched the hockey but he had never been interested until he actually sat down and watched a game.
Of course the Ducks won so he automatcally thinks they're pretty good MFW. Yep, a team that uses a toothless, shit factory of a bird for a mascot is an awesome team. Unfortunately they went on to win eleven games in a row and I had to hear about how they were the greatest team in the NHL until they got bumped by the Predators. I hate to say it but I would have had to kill myself if the Ducks hoisted the Cup and I had to hear his shit for the entire off season.
Anyway, my brother's sudden interest in hockey rekindled my passion for the game and I started streaming games more often. The Leafs were still shit but they were the first team I cheered for so I figured I better stick with them. I figured it was gonna be a long, painful ride but after doing a a bit more research into the Leafs prospect pool I was a little bit happier. Nylander, Marner, Kapanen, Zaitsev and then to win the draft lottery and snag Matthews. Outstanding! I would prefer a bit more D prospects but we can't have everything.
Its gonna be a few years before the Leafs return to top form but at least there's light at the end of the tunnel. In the Shanaplan we trust! As a late comer to the Leafs I can only imagine how excited long term Leafs fans are for the future.
Bonus pics of my Sundin Leafs jersey and a Forsberg Tre Kronor I recently picked up.
submitted by OvechkinsYellowLaces to leafs [link] [comments]

Who can forget the great lockout of 2004-2005? It was our first winter in the isolated countryside, and hubby took up bread making while listening to CBC Radio to dull the pain. Seven different teams have won the Stanley Cup in the nine years since the 2004-2005 NHL lockout. We’ll see two of those teams in action Wednesday night (8:00 PM ET, NBCSN) when the Chicago Blackhawks visit the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blackhawks won in 2010 and 2013 to end nearly 50 years of frustration, and the Penguins claimed the Cup in 2009. Betting on these unwanted squads could be the way you start lining your pockets with some cash. Overtime and Shootout. After the 2004-2005 lockout season, NHL implemented new rules removing the possibility of tie games and replacing it with a shootout at the end of the overtime period. When it comes to gambling on the four major pro sports in America, betting on NHL totals is unique. The NHL has gone through several distinct eras and in the current one, scoring is down. Let’s take a trip down memory lane. Right around 1960, scoring was on the rise and NHL teams began to average around three goals per game. The NHL owners have locked out the players since September 15, 2012. The best sports betting sites online for USA Players tend to avoid topics like lockouts and strikes because those kinds of activities do not lead to final scores. But the notion that the NHL is once again in a lockout is actually quite startling to most people who bet on the NHL, and extremely annoying to fans of the league.

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