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SURPRISE WINNERS: DEKES COME OUT ON TOP

By Kevin McIntyre

With the season now underway, this year’s award for most surprising turn of events in the NHL goes to Quebec’s Nordiques.

Less than ten games into the regular season, and with six exhibition games under their belts, the newbie team from Canada has delighted fans with surprisingly sophisticated play and a 6-3-0 record.

After last night’s game against the Leafs, it’s pretty clear that captain François Fillion and his right winger, Gabriel Martin, have been making most of that magic with their new left wing, Dante Baltierra. While the team put up strong efforts during the exhibition games that didn’t feature veteran Fillion (Martin also sat out a few), since the line took to the ice, they’ve been a dream.

After a few seasons of playing side by side, it’s no surprise Fillion and Martin click. But the three of them together seem almost unstoppable. While Martin and his soft hands lead the team in goals, making plays off assists from Fillion and Baltierra, Baltierra isn’t far behind, thanks in part to those same soft hands.

Last night, Baltierra made a backhanded goal after Martin snaked the puck past two defensemen to land it right on Baltierra’s tape.

Check out the video below to see Baltierra’s goal from last night.

 

 

TOWEL WRAPPED around his hips, Gabe moved from the showers toward his stall, drying his hair with a second towel as he went.

He had a definite swagger to his step. He’d racked up a couple more points that night, trading goals and assists with Baller. Like everyone else in the locker room, he was feeling pretty high off tonight’s win.

Things were going well for the Dekes so far. They weren’t about to break the Flyers’ thirty-five game record, but Gabe was proud of them.

Gabe slipped on his briefs and pants and was buttoning his shirt, bemoaning the need to get back in his suit after a game, when his phone started vibrating across the bench.

Snatching it up, Gabe found an unknown number calling him. Frowning, he rejected the call and tapped his phone. The same unknown number had called him yesterday. And a few days before that.

Gabe couldn’t help but notice that the calls started just a few days after he’d finally blocked Pierre’s number. It might just be a telemarketer, but for some reason, Gabe didn’t think so.

“Hey, losers, let’s go drinking.” Tom was grinning like a loon. Probably because he’d scored his second NHL point tonight.

Baller whooped. “Hells yeah we’re going drinking. Chalk one more up for the underdogs.”

Gabe smiled. Their enthusiasm was infectious—though if they kept winning, could they really be the underdogs?

“Oui, oui,” Fifi said. “We will go drinking. Just put your pants on first.” As nice as the view currently was, Gabe had to agree that pants would be just as nice. That ass.

Gabe started buttoning his shirt up one-handed and was about to put his phone away when he noticed the voice mail.

Figuring he better check that, he dialed it. As he waited, Baller and Kitty started dancing together across the room.

“Shake what yo’ mama gave you,” Baller got out between giggles.

Gabe shook his head and pressed 1 for his new message.

“Hey, Gabriel, it’s Erika. You know, your agent. I got a call today from Hello! Canada—an interview request. Said they wanted to chat about the Dekes’ new hot streak. Probably not a bad idea. We’d need to clear it with PR, but I can’t imagine they’d say no to their top scorer putting out some good pub. Anyway, give me a call so we can chat about it.”

Gabe deleted the message and considered the pros and cons of doing the interview. Before he could make up his mind, something collided with his back.

“Banksy! You finished on your phone yet? It’s time to partay!”

Laughing, Gabe locked his screen and tucked his phone away. “You weren’t even born when ‘partay’ was a thing, Baller. And get off my back, you monkey.” He shrugged, trying to get Baller to release his grip around his shoulders. But he wasn’t actually upset. He was too happy about things not being weird between him and Baller—and their continued awesomness on the ice.

Baller gave an exaggerated sigh, then loosened his hold before digging his chin into Gabe’s shoulder as a parting shot.

“Ow, you fucker,” Gabe groaned. Baller had one pointy chin.

Baller cackled as he skipped back to his own stall, scooped up his tie, and skidded behind Kitty.

“Save me,” he said dramatically, slipping the tie around his neck.

Only Baller.

“Where the fuck is my fucking tie?” Gabe wondered. Ah, there it was. He’d stuck it in the sleeve of his jacket instead of around the top of the hanger. He slid it on and tightened it before putting on the jacket and shooting the cuffs. “Where are we going, Mr. Party Coordinator?”

“I know good place,” Kitty said, fastening his cuff links. Gabe was a multimillionaire and he didn’t want to think about how much those cost. They could blind a man at twenty paces. “Best food. Russian vodka.”

“Leafs fans?” Tom asked with only a hint of trepidation. Last time they were in Toronto, he narrowly avoided a bar fight. He’d learn eventually. Toronto fans were fierce, and they weren’t going to play nice with another team just because the Dekes had once given them their favorite player.

Kitty snorted. “No.” He didn’t elaborate.

“Sounds good to me,” Gabe agreed, grabbing his stuff. “Baller?”

“Vodka is my middle name.”

Fifi feigned surprise. “I thought it was Tequila.”

“Racist!” Baller said, but he was grinning. “It’s only Tequila in the summer. Obviously. You in, fearless leader?”

“Someone has to babysit, otherwise you’ll end up married to Carly Rae Jepsen.”

Gabe smiled as Baller put on an offended air, bringing his hand to his chest and opening his mouth. Before he could protest, Gabe said, “He could do worse.”

“He has done worse,” Tom piped up. “According to Deadspin—”

Gabe tossed a balled-up hockey sock at him. “Can it, rookie. You’ve got another year at the bottom of the food chain before you’re allowed to chirp anyone.” Then, to show no hard feelings, he continued, “According to Deadspin—”

“Oh, fuck you. Any press is good press,” Baller said loftily. He stopped in front of the mirror by the door to check his hair, freshly gelled after his shower, and then checked out his ass for good measure. He caught Gabe catching him do it and winked at him in the mirror. “Anyway, drinks: I need one. To the bar! Via the bus and the hotel, obviously.”

Kitty shoved him out of the way and toward the door. “Quit hogging mirror, then. Vain motherfucker.”

Gabe grinned. “I knew I liked you, Kitty.” He retrieved his sock from Tom and shoved it back where it belonged. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

 

 

IN THE morning Gabe had regrets. Audible ones. Ones being spoken in a voice that didn’t belong to him.

“Oh my God, everything is terrible and I want to die. Fucking Kitty. Fucking Russia. Fucking Canada and its insufficient drinking age, I wasn’t prepared for this—”

Gabe raised his pounding head with mounting trepidation—and bile. His stomach felt like it was rotting. He turned to look next to him. Baller was lying facedown beside him, still (thankfully) wearing his clothes. He stank like vodka. Gabe didn’t even know vodka had a smell.

Then again, maybe Gabe smelled like vodka too.

He had to work his mouth for a moment to gather enough spit before he could speak. When he did, his voice came out sounding like a chainsaw. “Why are you in my room?”

“English Canada hates me, Banksy,” Baller lamented. “I lost my key card. You took me in. Again. You’re the best.”

Gabe squinted at him, trying to find the flaw in this statement. “You share a room with Tom.”

“Tom! Fifi took that fucker home after an hour. His liver is weak.”

Your liver is weak,” Gabe said. That still didn’t quite explain what Baller was doing here. Or, more importantly—“Why are you talking so much?”

“I can’t puke while I’m talking.”

Gabe thought it was more likely that he couldn’t talk while he was puking, but he wasn’t going to pick apart hangover logic. Not when he felt like a herd of extremely agitated elephants had taken up residence in his frontal lobe. Instead he rolled to the side and grabbed his cell phone from the bedside table. His arm was bare, so at least he hadn’t slept in last night’s clothes. That was something.

Two missed calls from that unknown number. Gabe’s stomach lurched as he dismissed them. But what caught his attention was the time. “Fuck. Get up. We have twenty-five minutes to catch the bus.”

“Go on without me,” Baller said, pulling the pillow over his head. The rest of his words came out muffled. “I’ll only slow you down. Tell my parents I love them. Tell my grandmother I died with dignity. Tell Coach—”

He cut himself off, took the pillow away from his face, and rolled to his feet. Yeah, Gabe didn’t blame him. He too would get out of bed thinking about what Coach would do to him if he didn’t. Somehow he didn’t think his death would stop her.

“You shower first,” Gabe said magnanimously. “I’ll text Fifi to grab us something for breakfast.” He paused. “And then I’ll make sure Tom’s not actually dead.” The details of the night before were coming back to him, and they involved a lot of alcohol. He hoped their pet rookie hadn’t choked on his own vomit. He didn’t want to break in a new one.

“I seriously love you,” Baller said, not so much standing as slouching and seeming to slough layers of clothing as he went.

Gabe resigned himself to picking them up. Maybe he could train Tom to play valet for Baller next time.

They made it to the bus with minutes to spare. When they’d stopped by Baller’s room, they found Tom looking even worse than Baller, with a black right eye to go with the dark circle under his left one.

“Did we encounter Leafs fans?” Baller said dumbly as he shoved his toiletries into his overnight bag.

“I encountered a door handle,” Tom admitted. Gabe would’ve laughed if he hadn’t thought it’d make him barf. “I hate this city.”

Kitty, of course, looked downright chipper. Apparently the rumors about Russians and vodka were all true.

Fifi clucked disapprovingly and handed over two paper cups of coffee before digging a handful of cereal bars out of his jacket pocket. “Well, at least you didn’t get married,” he said in French.

Gabe flushed, but he figured no one would be able to tell since he was running hot from the alcohol anyway. He took the food wordlessly and leaned back in his seat. His last thought before he passed out was that he really ought to call his agent back.

 

 

ONE OF the perks, and downsides, of being a professional athlete was the ability to make a difference. Gabe understood kids (and adults) looked up to him and that they noted his support for any cause. He liked knowing that he could do good and inspire people to do better. The downside, of course, was the pressures of that system. Always setting a good example and worrying about your image could suck.

But some days, when he got to see tangible results of his actions, Gabe felt damn good about what he could do.

One Saturday between games, Dekes’ PR sent him, Baller, and Tom to bolster early support for one of the city’s charities, Habit de lapereau.

Gabe arrived at the event center early in the morning and was ushered through a back entrance into a comfortable green room. Tom and Baller were already sitting in squishy-looking chairs. Tom sipped sleepily at a mug of coffee, and Baller tapped at his phone.

“Banksy, my man. You’ve arrived just in time. Tell me, why are we supporting bunny suits?”

Gabe blinked, then slowly grinned. Baller had downloaded a translation app to his phone shortly after arriving in the city, and frequently made use of it, to moderate success. But sometimes the translations gave ridiculously literal results.

“It’s a mix of snowsuit, habit de neige, and baby bunny. It’s a charity for getting snowsuits to unprivileged kids.” After swiping a bottle of orange juice, Gabe took a seat.

“Oh. That makes more sense than an overwhelming need to dress the city’s furry population.”

That made Gabe laugh. “Didn’t you ask what this was about?”

Baller shrugged. “They said it was for charity.” Like that was all he needed to know. Gabe tried not to think of that as endearing. He focused on the stupidity of it instead.

Tom, the adorable puppy that he was, frowned in confusion. “So if it’s about snowsuits, why are we doing this in October?”

It was Baller’s turn to laugh, though his was a mixture of pity and mockery. “Oh, honey. Yorkie.” He patted Tom’s shoulder.

Tom flinched, though Gabe suspected it was the new nickname. Really, Gabe was just surprised no one else had thought to shorten Yorkshire into Yorkie before. Sometimes he could swear he saw Tom trying to wag a tail in eagerness.

That one was probably going to stick. Poor kid.

“It might feel early to you, but trust me, winter is coming,” Baller said seriously.

Tom blinked at him before turning to Gabe. He looked adorably uncertain, like he couldn’t decide if he was being pranked.

Gabe shrugged and settled into his seat. “Sorry, kid.”

Tom scrunched his nose. Gabe wanted to laugh.

The door opened and a tall woman with neatly braided dark hair stepped in. Gabe vaguely recognized her from other Dekes PR events. “Hi, Gabe, Dante. Tom, I don’t think we’ve met—I’m Trish,” she said, reaching out to shake his hand. “Thank you for joining us today. Your help is really appreciated. I was hoping to go over the day’s plans?”

“Of course.” Gabe gestured for her to continue. He cast a look over his shoulder at Tom and Baller. “I hope it doesn’t involve a lot of speaking French.”

Trish shook her head. “We wanted the captain, but he had a prior commitment with one of the Make-a-Wish kids. The organization has young volunteers who speak English. We’ll make do.”

She gave them a brief outline of how the fundraiser worked. Guests who made a cash or clothing donation received access to the room and a number of tickets they could use for various activities. “We’re going to set you up in the main room. There are plenty of other attractions, not just you.” She gave them a reassuring smile. “We were hoping we could get each of you to spend time at an activity station.”

Which was how Gabe found himself sitting on the floor at the edge of a gingham blanket, serving “tea” to children and teddy bears.

They’d given Gabe his own bear, of course, because he couldn’t host a teddy-bear picnic without one. They’d dressed it in one of the Dekes’ baby-size jerseys, so Gabe was sitting cross-legged and drinking juice from a teacup with a Baller bear.

He took a dainty sip, pinky up. Several of the round-faced, eager kids around him giggled.

A loud cheer went up from across the room. It sounded like someone else had scored in Yorkie’s game of ball hockey. According to Trish, the game was less of a match and more Yorkie leading kids around the arena and encouraging them to score on the volunteer goalie. There was a lot of cheering happening from the corner.

Maybe one of the kids would teach Yorkie something about shoot-outs.

Baller was off at the other end in a much quieter activity. He’d balked at first at the face painting, but when Gabe pointed out that a) Baller was the only one with artistic talent, and b) they were sending poor Yorkie off to run around with children armed with sticks, he conceded pretty quickly.

As the children around him rotated in and out, Gabe started to see examples of Baller’s handiwork—a few cats and rabbit faces, but mostly the Dekes’ logo, sometimes with a number (or two or three) on the other cheek. Most of the kids sported Baller’s 68, Yorkie’s 18, or Gabe’s 53—they obviously wanted a player in attendance—but there were still plenty of 33s and 96s for the absent goalie and captain.

As the day wore on, the Dekes’ logos looked better and better, and more and more kids showed up with two numbers on their faces. It seemed Baller was getting better at convincing kids to wear his number too.

By three thirty Gabe was as ready for his nap as the two-year-old who’d burst into tears when he spilled his bear’s tea. Luckily he just had to get through the raffle for the three jerseys, and sign his, and then he could go home, OD on vitamin C, and shower in bleach. Some of these kids had the sniffles, and he couldn’t tell if it was just child-related lack of hygiene or legitimate illness. Gabe didn’t want to risk getting a cold, even this early in the season.

The event coordinator announced over a microphone that the draw would soon begin, and a number of volunteers swooped in to clear up the remains of the tea party while Gabe hefted his bear and made his way to the front of the room. Baller was sitting on the edge of the stage, legs dangling, face paint smeared over his fingers. Someone had drawn an inexpert Dekes’ logo on his right cheek. He looked like he’d had an encounter with the original Banksy.

“Nice bear,” he said with a grin, making grabby hands.

Gabe held it protectively to his chest, away from danger of staining. “Nice tramp stamp,” he retorted. “Get your grubby paws away from the bear. You’ll stain it.”

Yorkie stumbled up just then, flushed and sleepy eyed. He seemed to gauge the effort needed to pull himself onto the stage, then decided it wasn’t worth it and took the stairs. He flopped on his back next to Baller.

“Poor sleepy rookie,” Baller cooed, ruffling his hair. “Kids wear you out? Get any good pointers?”

“Birth control is very important,” Yorkie said to the ceiling. He sounded one yawn away from unconsciousness.

Baller nodded seriously and patted him on the stomach. Yorkie wheezed. “You gotta wrap it up.” He winked at Gabe.

Gabe rolled his eyes, set Baller Bear just out of Baller’s reach, and hoisted himself between them. On the auditorium floor, parents and children were scrambling for seats as the emcee announced the beginning of the raffle. Aside from the jerseys, Dekes’ PR had donated a number of tickets and framed pictures, and a number of local businesses had contributed prizes as well.

Gabe poked Baller in the side. “Go wash your hands. And make Yorkie sit up. PR’s going to want pictures that don’t imply we can’t hold our own against children.”

“Ugh. Yes, Fifi,” Baller groaned in the same tone people used for yes, Dad, but he hopped off the stage, slapping Yorkie in the leg as he did so. “Come on. You heard the man. Look alive. Half an hour and then we shall nap like champions.”

Yorkie grumbled but got to his feet.

As Gabe had predicted, Trish did indeed want pictures. While Baller was gone, she ushered Gabe and Yorkie backstage and into their home jerseys—the raffle ones were in the away colors—and fussed with their hair.

“I have a buzz cut,” Yorkie protested, to basically no avail.

Trish sighed at him and shook her head before turning her attention to Gabe’s hopeless tangle of curls.

“Oh Lord. I’ve interrupted the Anglo Angel getting ready for his close-up,” Baller teased after a volunteer shoved him behind the curtain.

Gabe raised his arm to shoot him the finger, because nobody preened more than Baller, but Trish smacked his hand before he could complete the gesture. “Behave yourself. There are children present,” she admonished, and Gabe remembered he was supposed to be setting a good example. He stuck his tongue out instead.

Once the three of them were primped to her satisfaction—which involved a quick touchup to Baller’s face paint, and maybe Trish should’ve been the one at that table—she ushered them back onto the stage for the draw.

“I’m going to bathe in Icy Hot,” Yorkie said under his breath as he and Gabe waited while Baller signed and personalized the first jersey. “You’d think these kids had never heard of a slashing call. My shins look like a dalmatian.”

Gabe snorted as Baller and the girl who’d won the jersey—which covered her hands and fell past her knees—mugged for the camera. “How did you get slashed during shoot-out practice? Poor classroom management. No A for you.”

“Shut up. You don’t have a letter either.”

This time Gabe didn’t bother to retort. It was Yorkie’s turn to draw a winner. The woman with the winning ticket donned his 18 with pride before handing him the Sharpie to sign it and bending over. Gabe snickered as Yorkie flushed scarlet.

Gabe’s winner was a serious-looking preteen with acne and a lot of elbow who informed him in French that he was going to play in the NHL and win the Dekes their first Cup.

“Not if I get there first,” he said wryly and tipped his head at Baller. “He might have something to say about that too.” He uncapped the Sharpie, spread the jersey on the table, and raised his voice in English. “Hey, Dante.” He probably shouldn’t call him Baller in front of impressionable young fans.

Baller looked away from his charge, who seemed to speak at least a little grade school English. He had a strange expression on his face. “What?”

“We gonna win a Cup before this kid gets drafted?”

“F—heck yeah.” He grinned ruefully at his almost slip.

Gabe turned back to the kid and switched into French, sure the exchange was pretty much self-explanatory. “Sorry. Maybe you can help us win the third one.” Maybe he shouldn’t get the kid’s hopes up, but what did Gabe know? Maybe he was looking at the next Maurice Richard.

Trish hustled them all together for a few group shots, but before they could make a break for it, Baller said, “Wait!” and snatched up Baller Bear from the chair Gabe had been sitting in earlier. And chucked it at Gabe’s head.

Gabe caught it by one furry leg and raised an eyebrow. “Seriously?”

“Like two of me is even enough.” He was trying for a haughty smirk, but his cheeks were pink.

Gabe sighed a put-upon sigh and told the francophone fans Baller was a big teddy bear. Literally.

When the picture went up on the Dekes’ website, Gabe had the teddy bear tucked under one arm and Baller under the other. His smile was so wide, you couldn’t tell his eyes were blue.