The final shootout. Our championship game against Iceland hangs on one final shootout. In about one minute, one of us will be celebrating while the other watches in disappointment. Now, Iceland's star player, Gunnar Stahl, is up. Gunnar's fierce, like all the Icelanders. He could easily get this shot past Goldberg and-bam-we'd lose. Just like that.
"Julie." Coach Bombay comes down and sits next to me. "You've got the fast glove. I know this kid's move: triple deke, he'll go glove side."
"What if he goes stick side?" I ask, somewhat nervous. I haven't played at all the whole time we've been here. I may have a fast glove, but I'm also out of practice.
"He's fancy, he'll go glove." Coach Bombay assures me. "Don't hesitate. Go."
I nod and leave the bench. I'm sure Goldberg is going to put up some kind of fight, but instead when I reach the net, he just looks at me for a moment. Then he smiles, pats my shoulder, and says "Go get 'em, Julie!" I think he's glad to be relieved of duty. I pull my face shield down, hit both posts with my stick, and assume position.
Gunnar kicks the puck to get it moving. "That's one." I murmur as he dekes once. "Two." I say as he goes for his second deke. "Three."
Gunnar stops. For a split second, I hesitate. What if he heard Coach Bombay? What if he decides to break tradition and go stick side? What if I'm not prepared?
As Gunnar shoots the puck, I hold up my glove and let instinct take over. I swear my heart stops beating as I feel the glove jerk.
I look at my team. They look frozen. Coach Bombay is staring at me so intensely I have to look away. The Icelanders are glaring at Gunnar. Nobody knows the verdict yet except for me. I have never heard twenty thousand people sit so silently. It's almost as if the entire stadium is holding its breath.
I lock eyes with Gunnar. He, too, looks frozen in time. I raise myself to my feet and drop the puck out of my glove. Up until that second, even I wasn't sure if I'd caught it.
The crowd erupts in cheering. Coach Bombay leans over to hug Charlie. The rest of the Ducks are jumping up and down, hugging each other, and celebrating. The Icelanders look shocked. I can't say I blame them. They were, after all, the heavy favorites.
"Nice try." I say to the stunned Gunnar as I head back to celebrate with my team.
Now the Ducks have spilled out onto the ice. I grab Charlie in a quick hug as I high-five Connie. Portman and Fulton are celebrating as I thought they would: head-butting, chest-bumping, and hollering. Goldberg gives me a high-five with both hands. "Great work, Julie!" He says.
The Icelanders line up to shake our hands. I think that's very classy of them, even though they don't look particularly happy to be doing so. I overhear Gunnar saying, "Good work, Captain Duck." I smile inwardly. Very sportsmanlike.
Coach Bombay gives Adam the flag. Adam skates over to Charlie and gives him the flag. Charlie looks uncertain at first, then smiles proudly and waves the flag, signaling us to follow him. We all do so, quacking all the way. I've never felt this kind of pride before in my life, not even when I won the state championship for Maine. Not even when I was told I would be on Team USA. I've never felt like this before, and I doubt I ever will again.
When I get home, I think I'll be in for a serious decompression period. I don't know how I'm going to go back to playing for the Bangor Bears. Because I'm not a Bear.
I'm a Duck.