As I was preparing for my last, B-League, hockey game at the Stumptown Ice Den, my girlfriend hugged me and gently questioned why I was heading to Whitefish from Kalispell to play in a 10:45 p.m. game for which the outcome was certain.
“You know you’re going to lose, right?” she asked, apologetically. And I did. But I still found myself, yawning, on the bench at around midnight as the buzzer blared and our season ended in yet another defeat. I can’t blame her for not wanting to freeze through another game watching our net fill up with pucks.
I played for the Prophets, and I’m pretty sure our season record was 1-7 (though it could have been 1-8; the losses started to blur). We finished fourth in a league with four teams. Strangely, many of our players were among the top scorers in the league, and in terms of talent and young, tough players, we were well represented. But no matter how good we felt in warm-ups, we couldn’t quite figure out how to play three solid periods of hockey.
Weirdly, it was still fun. Don’t get me wrong. Losing loses its novelty real quick, and few of our early losses – particularly early season – were heartbreaking overtime defeats. In many cases we held a lead for most of the game and stumbled in the final period or gave up three goals in the second period and couldn’t come back. Those games put victory within tantalizing reach. Toward the second half of the season, we settled comfortably into successive losses.
But no one ever gave up. We talked earnestly of strategy between periods. Our passing, shooting, skating and puck handling improved. The problem was the other teams were improving too. We encouraged each other and never pointed fingers after a loss. After the games, everyone joked and drank a beer. I can honestly say there was not a harsh word between teammates the entire season – and there were some fairly humiliating losses.
Luckily, it was not our fault. Apparently the green jerseys issued to us at the beginning of the season are cursed. The Prophets were among the expansion teams, when the nascent league expanded from two to four teams, and every team forced to wear them plays poorly.
I heard this Stumptown Ice Den legend about halfway through the season, and relief washed over me immediately. It explained everything: the dribbling pucks that snuck across our goal line or bounced off of our shin guards into our own net; the opposing goalie’s Hail Mary saves when we had an open net. The curse even explained why I felt so tired in that third period, (because it certainly had nothing to do with my fitness).
I remember another team I played for with green jerseys, over ten years ago, in high school. I drove to the Sport-o-rama Rink in Monsey, N.Y. at all hours of the early morning and night, trying to learn the game. The smell of artificially chilled air, mildewed pads, the scrape of skates and the gunshot-sound of a puck hitting the boards: These things kept me returning to the rink game after game, though we lost every single time.
Yes, the Curse of the Green Jersey will get you every time. Because other than that, the only thing those two teams had in common was that I was playing for them. Wait a minute…
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