The Play (Briar U, #3)

Short of that, who the fuck cares.

Coach’s arrival spares me from humoring my teammates. He strides in and claps his hands sharply. “Let’s not waste time,” he barks. “Eyes on the screen.”

Chad Jensen is a total hard-ass—he doesn’t mince words or indulge us. When we’re in this arena, we’re required to be all business or else GTFO.

“Pay attention to Kriska on this first play,” Coach orders as a hi-def video pops up on the projection screen. He’s at his desk, using his tablet pen to circle Eastwood’s goalie, Johan Kriska.

The freshman is rumored to be one of the best college goalies on the east coast. I’ve been studying the handful of his high school games that were televised, as well as all of Eastwood’s preseason games. I need to be prepared when I face this kid. Not to sound cocky, but I’m the best forward on the team. And the top scorer, for sure, judging by last season’s stats lines. Nate and I were tied for goals, but my former captain had me on assists. I guess that’s another captainly requirement—Don’t hog the glory.

I’m slowly compiling a list of captain dos and don’ts.

Despite his stellar rep, I’m not overly concerned about Kriska. I’ve already found a weakness. “His glove is slow,” I pipe up. “Kid has trouble with the high shots. Maybe a thirty percent save rate, if that.”

“Yes,” Coach confirms. “That’s why we’ve been running those concentrated shooting drills this week. But I’m sure they’re prepping just as hard, and Kriska knows his own weaknesses. I want to see a shit ton of low shots on goal tomorrow. He’ll already be overcompensating for the weak glove, and he may be so focused on stopping those shots that we’ll catch him off guard and push one through the five hole.”

“Good point.”

We watch more of the tape. Someone whistles when Kriska makes one of the most gorgeous stick saves I’ve ever seen.

“Look at that,” Coach says, pausing the game. “No desperation on his face at all. He’s diving back into position to try to deflect the puck after getting completely hammered by those shots, and he’s cool as a cucumber.”

It is kind of impressive. Goaltenders don’t use their sticks to make a save if they can help it. Pads, gloves, even their own bodies, are preferable. A stick save tends to be the result of pure luck, with the goalie scrambling like mad. But with Kriska, it appears effortless.

“We just need to find a way to rattle him,” Matt speaks up.

I nod in agreement. I’m feeling confident, though. Last season we were killing it. It wasn’t lack of skill that cost us. It was a fluke injury, along with Nate’s ejection while defending my honor.

Another rule for the captain’s handbook: defend your boys.

This year we lost a few good guys to graduation, but we gained a lot more. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t make it to the Frozen Four, not unless we’re waylaid by massive team-wide injuries or do something to royally fuck up our chances.

The meeting wraps up when Coach claps his hands signaling that we can leave. Bucky instantly raises an arm and clears his throat. Loudly. He glances over to shoot me a meaningful look.

Shit.

Coach’s head lifts from his laptop. “What’s going on?”

“The captain has something to say,” Bucky announces.

Jensen’s shrewd dark eyes shift toward me. Those eyes are uncannily like Brenna’s, complete with the perpetual glint of mocking. Then again, he’s her father, so…

“Davenport?” he prompts.

“Uh…” Fuck fuck fuck. I’m about to sound like total moron. But I force myself to stand up and say, “Some of the guys want a pig.”

Coach’s eyebrows rise to his hairline. It’s rare to catch the man off guard, but right now he looks flabbergasted. “A fucking what?”

I swallow a sigh. “A pig.”

“A teacup pig,” Jesse Wilkes chimes in.

“A fucking what?” Coach repeats.

“Here’s the thing,” I explain stupidly. “Bucky’s sister and brother-in-law just got a pig from a breeder up in Vermont. Not a huge one, but a mini version. Apparently they make great pets? They’re like dogs, except they eat and shit more.”

“What is happening right now?” Coach shakes his head. “What are you saying to me?”

I take another stab at an explanation. “You know how some teams have mascots? The Darby College Rams have that billy goat that lives in the clubhouse behind their arena. Or the Coyotes down in Providence—they have a dog that’s half-wolf and everyone takes turns housing him?”

“Tabasco,” exclaims a senior D-man.

“I love that dog,” Tree says happily.

“Did you know Tabasco can hump on command?” Bucky says, sounding impressed.

“Big fucking deal,” Conor drawls. “I can do that too.”

Loud laughter rings out.

Coach holds up his hand to silence everybody. “Are you idiots asking me if you can have a pet?”

“Pretty much.” I give him a pleading look. “As the new captain, I’ve been asked to formally put forth the request.”

“A room full of grown men are requesting a pet.”

I nod.

“It’ll be great for morale,” Bucky insists. “Think about it, Coach. We could bring the pig out before games and he’ll get the crowd all hyped up. Dude, it’ll build so much excitement.”

“How does a pig hype up a crowd? Is he going to sing the national anthem?” Coach asks politely.

“Come on, Coach, don’t be silly,” Con mocks. “Everyone knows pigs can’t sing.”

“You on board with this, Edwards?” Coach is skeptical. “You’re Team Pig?”

Conor flashes a cheerful smile. “I literally could not care less.”

“We’re all on board,” Bucky argues.

Coach’s sharp gaze conducts a sweep of the room. “Jesus Christ. You dumbasses are serious? You honestly think that between the thirty of you, you can actually keep an animal alive?”

“Hey,” Matt protests. “I’ve got two dogs at home.”

“And where is your home?”

“Minneapolis.”

“And where are you right now?”

Matt shuts up.

“You’re all full-time college students with intensive athletic schedules—and don’t even get me started on your social lives—and you think you can take care of a living creature? I call bullshit.”

He’s done the exact wrong thing. A bunch of competitive hockey players being told they can’t do something? Suddenly even the guys that were indifferent to the pig are coming to their own defense.

“I could take care of a pet,” objects Joe Foster, a new addition to the forward roster.

“Me too.”

“Ditto.”

“Yeah, come on, bro, give us a shot.”

Coach’s jaw tightens and twitches as if he’s holding back a sea of expletives. “I’ll be right back,” he finally says, before stalking out of the room without explanation.

“Holy shit, you think he’s going to get a pig?”

I turn toward the moron who asked the question. “Of course not,” I sputter at Bucky. “Where the fuck would he find one? Hiding in the equipment closet?” I shake my head mutinously. “You just had to make me ask him, eh? Now he thinks we’re insane.”

“There’s nothing insane about wanting the love of a pig.”

Jesse hoots. “Guys, I know what to write on Bucky’s tombstone.”

“Fuck off, Wilkes.”

My teammates are still bickering amongst themselves when Coach returns. With purposeful strides, he goes to the center of the media room and holds up an egg, which I assume he grabbed from the team kitchen.

“What’s that?” Bucky asks in bewilderment.

Our fearless leader smirks. “This is your pig.”

“Coach, I think it’s an egg,” one of the freshmen says hesitantly

That earns him a look of disdain. “I know it’s an egg, Peters. I’m not a moron. However, until the end of the regular season, this egg is your pig. You want me to sign off on a team pet, which, by the way, involves a shit ton of red tape with the university? Then prove to me that you can keep something alive.” He waves the egg in the air. “It’s hard-boiled. If it cracks, you killed your precious porker. Bring it back to me in one piece and then we’ll talk pigs.”

Coach grabs a Sharpie from the desk and scribbles something on the egg.

“What are you doing?” Bucky asks curiously.

“Signing it. And trust me, I know when my signature has been forged. So if this breaks, don’t even think about trying to swap it out with another one. If this isn’t the egg that comes back to me, then no pig.” Coach plants the egg in Bucky’s hand. “Congratulations, you have a team mascot.”

Bucky catches my eye and gives me a triumphant thumbs-up.

If this is what being team captain is all about, I don’t know if I really want the job.





6





Hunter





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