Get accustomed to the view from here, Oleg Godynyuk thinks. With pain building in his leg, he waddles off the ice like an injured penguin, slightly euphoric from his overtime heroics in net. The win brings the team back into the playoff hunt.
Godynyuk or “Gaudy” (the goaltender with the flashy glove) feels a slight pinch at the back of his knee. Walking through the tunnel, away from the noise, into the locker room, Gaudy holds his breath. He releases the air at his stall where his 29 GODYNYUK nameplate marks his spot. The smell of burning tire still engulfs his nostrils. He bites the side of his tongue and swallows the blood, something he's done to sidetrack pain since he was a boy back in Kiev.
The locker room becomes a cigar house sans the smoke. Guys “mother fuck” one another, chirp about plays from the game, plan what rookies are bringing beer and food for the upcoming road-trip. Gaudy listens with a smirk, takes off his glove, blocker, chest protector – attempting to remember the scene where he tweaked his knee. Before he can, coach calls him.
In his office, coach says, “What do you think?”
Coach’s office is lamp-lit and warm. Gaudy fingers the sausage folds in his gladiatorial leg pads. “Teams skating good. Strong back-checks. Defense block shots,” he says.
Coach nods. He says, “I know you’re knees acting up. I saw you tweak it. Everyone saw.”
Gaudy moves his hands to his lap. “No problem. I had to force it a little. You know? I feel fine.”
Although Gaudy has been with the team for two years, this is the first season he’s starting. After the team’s number one went down in exhibitions, Gaudy saw a significant reversal in his role as backup. Fleeting opportunity, he called it, a phrase he’d heard on a sport’s channel where they talked about an old relief pitcher.
Coach stares at Gaudy. He blinks and says, “Get some treatment on that knee, son. See you on the bus tomorrow morning.”
In the silence between them, Gaudy hears his forefinger rubbing hard at the leather over his knee. He quickly heads back to his stall, and Tonkavich, sitting in his stall, smacks one of Gaudy’s leg pads.
“We’re rollin’ now, Gauds, eh?”
Gaudy takes his time loosening his pads. He begins envisioning tomorrow night’s game, the press. The playful opening scene from Slapshot with Andrew Duncan reels in his head, and he tries to think of his life as a comedy.
Gaudy leans to untie his skates and wonders how his brother’s doing at the paper plant in Kiev. He’s always told Gaudy he’s mental for playing goal, and until high school, they both played. Gaudy sometimes thinks he’s playing because his brother can’t.
The locker room chatter dwindles, and guys don’t stick around to bullshit much. Gaudy removes his jockstrap and lays naked on his back. The dark carpet is scratchy but reminds him of home. He moves one leg over the other forming a clean right angle at his crotch and lets the muscles in his back relax. Gaudy switches sides. Spends time on his groin. Walks to the showers. Focuses too much on straightening the bad leg.
Before entering the showers, Gaudy hears the presence of a teammate – water pelting skin. The bathroom stinks of antiseptic. Walking onto the hard floor creates a quick shock of coolness. Gaudy stands, back to the water, feeling the stream tap his head and roll down rivulets of muscle, through the crack of his ass.
Houser, showering next to Gaudy, turns off his water. He winks at Gaudy and says, “Walk with your shoulders cocked. Then people think you slept weird. They won’t look directly to your leg.”
Gaudy tries to relax.
Houser laughs. “Tomorrow, kid.”
When the bathroom empties, Gaudy adjusts the water and washes himself, scrubs his head. He flips his soaking hair to the side. As kids, his brother and him made fun of the way old goaltenders (before the mask-era) combed their hair. Like kids, today, laugh at bowties. Gaudy details his nails and picks a piece of calloused skin from his palm where he grips the stick, sometimes a little too tight.
Gaudy thinks of his brother’s hands, rough for different reasons. Dmitri works the factory with vigor, as if he were eighteen. He told Gaudy, “No matter the life, it should be lived intensely, brother.”
Gaudy remembers the winter morning sixteen years ago when they decided to find a frozen pond, discover hockey’s roots beyond the perfectness of indoor, amateur rinks. They wanted a feeling from a time before theirs, like most.
It was a lazy Sunday, but the air was alive. Gaudy doesn’t remember snow. He remembers Dmitri’s face, tight and red, before he went through the ice. Gaudy, wearing one skate, missed his brother go down. He heard the splash, though – something a bullfrog would make. Gaudy tries to imagine what Dmitri saw, felt, for the eternity he sank, flailing like amid a base jump.
Dmitri spent a month in the hospital and lost three toes. Gaudy knows his brother wishes it were the other way around, Dmitri saving little brother.
Back in the locker room, he sits naked at his stall. He rubs a towel over his hair. In his head, he watches the game-tying goal he allowed. Replays it. Again.
When he’s on the ice, Gaudy stands alone in the net but isn’t in the dark. He’s in the war but not battling, mucking and grinding. He doesn’t feel that push towards rage he hears a lot of the guys talk about. He faces a hard tangible – an emotionless, never-changing integral. The puck. A piece of vulcanized rubber.
Gaudy feels a flicker of adrenaline. As he dresses into street clothes, the equipment managers come to prepare the gear for tomorrow’s trip. Gaudy acknowledges them and leaves.
Snow falls in heaps outside the arena, and Gaudy sweats, steaming like an engine. He finds his car in the lot and dusts off the snow with a coat sleeve.
Oleg, get accustomed to the view.
Dmitri’s voice runs through Gaudy’s head.
Watch them come at you in waves; watch them fly away.
Matthew Bohn was raised in Canonsburg, PA and currently lives and writes in Pittsburgh. Growing up, he played ice hockey, and now he coaches at his old high school. In 2011, he earned his MFA from Chatham University where his thesis was a collection of short stories about a minor league ice hockey team.