November 2019 / @ Boston Bruins
-hey, it’s sid crosby, welcome to the team :)
thanks, excited to be a part
weird question, but Bruins plays you guys tomorrow. think you could get someone to bring gear for me?
-like, your pen’s stuff? jersey, etc.?
i wanna play
-oh wow. sure, ok, i'll talk to Dana. don't need sticks or anything, tho, right?
just Pens-specific stuff
-i'll take care of it, just send me your sizes
-np, see you at the arena
Going to the arena and heading towards the visiting locker room is definitely strange, but I suppose it could be much worse. I only played for the Bruins for about a few months. The path to the home locker room isn’t engrained into my bones like the route in PPG Paints is into Sidney Crosby.
Sid texted me to let me know when they landed, so the team is already in the locker room when I get there. What feels like every pair of eyes turns to look at me when I open the door. It falls shut behind me as Sid is crossing the room to shake my hand.
“Welcome to the team, kid,” he says brightly. Some of the tension in the room breaks at his words. “What d’you go by? Christopher or Chris?”
“Chris is fine,” I reply, swallowing thickly. “Lot of guys called me Holden, too.” An awkward silence falls over the room.
“He here to play, guys, stop being weird,” Evgeni Malkin pipes up from where he’s sitting in his stall.
The room relaxes even further, dissolving back into the chatter I quieted with my entrance.
There’s a tag with my name on it in the stall next to Tristan Jarry. There’s a little penguin printed next to it just like everyone else’s, and something warm settles into my stomach. I never thought I’d ever get to see something like this.
I can understand everyone’s reaction. My trade made big news because of the fact that it was so insanely uneven. Apparently my value is incredibly high, and the fact that Boston traded me for nothing more than a third and fourth-round picks in the 2024 draft has a lot of people asking questions. Nobody knows I asked for my trade, and that’s how I’m planning to keep things for a long time. I don’t know any lie I can come up with to explain how I managed to pull off such a trade.
There’s a pair of Pens breezers and socks, a white Bauer helmet with the number 65, and, the best part, a black and yellow jersey hanging from the hook in my stall. Holy shit. This is for real.
I stop being weird and staring, leaning the two sticks I brought over from when I cleaned out my old Bruins stall on the other side of the building. I lugged the remainder of my gear here, as well, and make quick work for pulling my pads on. I grimace a little at the pulls of the wrapping around my chest. I was blessed, seemingly by the hockey gods, with a relatively small set of breasts. They’re hidden relatively easily. That doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to the day when I can go about my business in a normal, breathable sports bra. This whole wrapping thing is entirely necessary right now, sure, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a total pain in my ass.
I feel eyes on me as I lean down to lace up my skates. There have been plenty of passing glances, sure, but Jarry is outright staring at me from the stall directly next to mine. I bite the bullet and sit up straight, looking him right in the eye. He startles a little bit but doesn’t turn away.
“What’s up?” I say.
“Just trying to figure you out.”
“Not much to figure out,” I reply. “I want to play hockey.”
“And you don’t care where?” he says, eyes narrowed.
“I didn’t say that.”
He stares for a few more moments, head clearly filled with a lot of questions but saying nothing.
I look away, taping a couple sticks in an attempt to calm myself down as the nerves start to creep in. My anxiety hasn’t improved by the time I’m done taping them, though. I resort to shooting out a text to Jace in the hope that he replies quickly. I’d really prefer to call him, but that doesn’t seem like an appropriate move right now.
-are you okay?
i'm freaking out
this is so awkward
-it’s the trade, how weird it is
i don’t think I’ve been so happy and anxious at the same time before
-it’s where you should’ve been all along. they'll see that soon
-go get em, babe. good luck
Sully puts me on a line with Lafferty on my right wing and Simon on my right. We haven’t even gotten the chance to practice together so it’s going to be pretty rough, but it is what it is.
I skate out only a few players ahead of Sid. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from the Boston crowd, but I really didn’t think they’d start booing the second I hit the ice. I suppose it makes sense considering the way Boston destroyed my image as justification for the trade. I can’t even be mad since it’s what I told them to do. I definitely didn’t think the fans would turn so quickly, though. It’s hardly been two days.
The sudden roar of noise almost has me tripping over my own feet, but I catch myself from going down just in time. I take a couple laps around our zone, my new zone, and try my best to ignore all the terrible signs.
Jace Johnson falls into rhythm beside me on my third lap around, offering me a friendly smile.
“Ignore them,” he says. “They did the same to Seguin and look where he is now.” Right. Tyler Seguin. Boston’s previous problem child. That’s me now, but that’s by my own doing. I literally told management to model my trade reasoning after his whole debacle.
“Don’t know if I’m ever gonna be Seguin,” I reply.
He grins and shakes his head, skating off without another word.
I stand in the bench as the national anthem is sung. Head bowed, I actually pray. I was never really religious as a kid. My parents didn’t take us to church or try to instill and kind of religious values in us. I don’t even think I pray the right way, but I started doing it before games back in the AHL and haven’t stopped. The amount of things stacked against me getting there, let alone the NHL, was ridiculous. Impossible. I have to thank someone, so I suppose it might as well be god.
Crosby takes the opening faceoff, winning it and sending the puck straight to Guentzel. I zone out a bit as I’m waiting for my shift, and somehow I found myself in a faceoff in the offensive zone. It’s almost too easy to knock the puck to Lafferty, squirm my way around the back of the net, and catch a pass from Johnson. I fake right, then left, then right, and back before finally sending the puck sailing. Somehow it finds itself in the back of the net.
Boos erupt throughout TD Garden, but Lafferty and Simon come crashing into me with shouts of celebration, drowning out the wave of dread that wanted to crash over me.
We glide past the bench, fist-bumping as we go. Malkin pats me on the head and gives me a goofy smile. The period continues.
Dumo takes a penalty for a high-stick, so we head for the PK. I get my first short-handed goal of my NHL career off of a lucky pass from Riikola. It’s completely unbelievable.
The period winds down with us still up by two over Boston. I sit in my stall during intermission and sip at a blue Gatorade, trying to stop the adrenaline shakes jittering through my body.
“Didn’t take you long to settle in, huh?” Jarry jokes, nudging me with his blocker.
“Wouldn’t’ve gotten anywhere without pass from Johnson. What a beauty,” I reason.
Sid nets one top shelf two minutes into the second.
Fate, it seems, eventually has Volkov out on the ice with me after I take change. Marino passes me the puck and I end up in the corner boards with Volkov on my ass, battling for the damn thing. I eventually win and whirl around to take it around the net, but Volkov’s stick connects with my mouth and sends me sprawling to my knees. I keep my mouth shut, careful not to show any blood yet, and let the sudden surge of anger take over. It’s hardly been second so Volkov is still skating backwards away from me.
I get to my feet, drop my gloves, and grab a fistful of his jersey when he surprisingly does the same. I skip that little song and dance of sizing him up, punching him as hard as I can manage square in the nose. I caught him completely by surprise. He probably never thought I’d ever actually go for it. Blood gushes from his nose but he muscles me around, using the fist in my own jersey to jerk me around. He gets me in the cheek and I get him the jaw. I press into him with all my weight, kicking around with my feet and it miraculously takes him off his feet. We topple. I land on top and am readying another punch when suddenly there are refs pulling us apart. Good. I was quickly heading towards a suspension hearing and my brain just couldn’t get my fists to cooperate.
I’m skated past a stunned Bruins bench to a Pens bench full of sticks banging against the boards. They send me straight down the tunnel.
I took the time earlier to go and see the Pens training staff, armed with NDA’s, to quietly explain my situation. They weren’t particularly happy about the news, but I think they’re already coming around.
Melissa eases my dumbass down onto the table when I get back there.
“Sam grabbed your tooth,” she informs me, holding it out for me to see in the palm of her gloved hand. “Christ, I’m glad you let us know today instead of waiting.”
I open my mouth to speak and blood dribbles out and down my chin. It drops onto my brand new away jersey and I frown, shutting my mouth. My first Pens jersey and I’ve already managed to ruin it.
“Well, he didn’t get your nose, so that’s good,” she says. “Open your mouth, hon.”
I open. More blood spills out, but not nearly as much as before.
“Nothing with your jaw, it seems, thankfully,” she notes, poking along it with careful fingers, “we’ll schedule you with a dentist back in Pittsburgh, but the third period is your call.”
“I wanna play,” I say instantly, my words slightly slurred.
“I figured,” she says with a nod.
I take few swigs of water and spit until it’s relatively clear, swallowing a couple Tylenol before heading back to the locker room.
The chatter only raises in volumes when I get inside. Lafferty is up on his feet in an instant, patting me on the back like we’ve been best pals for years.
“Christ, Holden, that was nuts,” he says with a loud laugh.
“Yeah, well,” is all I’m able to offer in response, shrugging a shoulder helplessly.
“Like, damn, what’d he ever do to you?” he continues as I make my way over to my stall.
“Knocked one of my teeth out?” I deadpan. “He also tried to fight me at one of our games a couple weeks ago. Just have him what he wanted.”
“Really?” Jarry pipes up from beside me.
“Yeah, guy went total psycho,” I reply, trying to shrug my tension out of my shoulders.
Sid sidles up to my side when we’re getting ready to head back out for the third period.
“You going for a hatty tonight, kid?” he asks.
“We’ll see what happens,” I say cryptically, finally cracking a full-on smile. Geno barks out a laugh from behind Sid.
“Shut up,” I say, feeling at the gap where I’m missing the incisor to the left of my two front teeth. “I think I’m just gonna leave it like that.”
“Should call Ovi,” Malkin chirps. “Tell him he has twin now.”
“Ha ha,” I say.
The team starts to file out onto the ice so things start moving really quickly after that. My line is starting the period for some reason.
Chara skates up while we’re waiting for the puck drop.
“Okay?” he asks.
“Just fine,” I reply, baring my teeth in the parody of a smile.
“Out of character for you,” he says conversationally.
“Clearly you weren’t paying close enough attention,” I reply, heading for the faceoff dot.
Bergeron gets a goal to start the period. Marchand gets called for a slash four minutes in, which sends us to the power play. Sully sends out my line when the first power play unit changes instead of the second unit. It’s a lot of pressure. I end up being the right place at the right time, though, accepting a pass from Johnson and tapping it to Simon who smacks it into the net.
“A Gordie, holy shit,” Lafferty shouts. My line earns lot of helmets taps when we make our way back to the bench.
The buzzers sounds at the end of the period, signaling a three-one win for the Pens. Everyone streams out onto the ice, tapping Murray’s head in thanks. I hang back awkwardly until eventually I’m at the front of the line. He takes the initiative, tapping the front of his helmet against mine. I smile shyly as I make my way off the ice.
Jen from PR practically ambushes me once I’m down the tunnel.
“Please say you’re open to talking to the media,” she says with little preamble.
“Oh, uh. Yeah, sure, I guess,” I say in response, because even though that’s quite literally the last thing I want to be doing right now, I want everyone involved with the Pens to like me.
I have just enough time to take off my jersey and pads before I’m swarmed by the press, still in my breezers and skates.
“Was it your decision to play tonight’s game?”
“It was, yeah,” I say stupidly. I never really got any formal media training. I’m operating mostly on common sense at this point, just like always. It’s terrifying.
“How was it jumping onto a line of guys you’ve never played with before?”
“Oh, well, it actually went a lot better than I thought it would. They don’t know me, they’ve never played with me. That pass Lafferty send me was a total beauty, though. Insane. Wouldn’t’ve gotten anything done tonight without all of them.”
“You’ve never fought in the NHL before. Was your first fight tonight in response to Boston’s statement about you not fitting in with their style of play?”
I have to restrain myself from blurting out all kinds of things.
“Of course not,” I reply. “The opportunity never presented itself like it did tonight, is all.”
None of the reporters look at all convinced, but the topics drops anyway. Jens moves them along quickly to Sid. I tune out after the first question they ask him about me because I only take so much embarrassment in one night.
I leave my gear for the Pens crew to take back to Pittsburgh.
“You’re flying out with us tomorrow, right?” Sid asks, suddenly right in front of me.
“Tam bus for the airport leaves pretty early. It might be easier to just sleep at the hotel if that’s okay with you,” he explains.
“Oh, well, I don’t know how easy getting a hotel room so last minute is going to be.”
“You could share with one of us. Me or Geno if you want, or one of the rookies if you don’t.”
“I gotta run home and pack some clothes and stuff, first, so I guess send me your room number or whatever,” I reply, mildly struck by the idea of sharing a hotel room with Sidney Crosby. I hope this starstruck feeling goes away soon.
“Will do,” he agrees. “See you later.”
I shoot off a text to Chara asking for a ride home that he answers a minute or so later. The walk to the players parking lot is as familiar as ever. He’s leaning against the driver’s side door of his car talking to Bergy and Pasta when I get there.
“There he is!” Bergy exclaims. “Never thought I’d see the day Holden fights, holy shit.”
I smile sheepishly, shrugging a single shoulder.
“Still can’t believe he traded,” Pasta pipes up.
“Yeah, seriously, the reasons they gave were all bullshit,” Bergy agrees. “What’s up with that?”
“It’s…really complicated, but it’s better of this way. I’ll miss you guys, Marchy too, but don’t tell him that, but the rest of the team barely even tolerated me.”
“That’s not true,” Chara argues.
“It is,” I insist. “It’s okay, though. The Pens guys are a good bunch, I can already tell.” Chara squints at me, assessing my words, because this entire situation is already suspicious to him. He’s the only person beside Jace who’s known that I’ve wanted to be in Pittsburgh all along. This entire trade was far too convenient for him to ignore.
“Keep your head up kid, huh?” Bergy says, patting me on the shoulder as he and Pasta pass me to head to their own cars.
I walk around to the passenger side of Chara’s car and get in. Chara doesn’t say anything for half of the drive, and I brace myself when he finally opens the mouth.
“Your trade was very weird,” he says quietly, eyes on the road.
“Yeah,” I agree, not bothering with a fight.
“You asked for the trade, didn’t you?”
“I found myself with a bargaining chip too good to let go,” I reply, twisting my fingers together in my lap, “I wasn’t gonna just not try.”
“What kind of bargaining chip?”
“The best kind,” I say. “Basically blackmail.”
“Does it have to do with Volkov?” he asks, ever perceptive as always.
I don’t say anything in reply, but the silence speaks for itself, anyway.
The kids are thankfully asleep when we get back to the house. We said our goodbyes yesterday and I don’t want to pick at the fresh wound so soon.
I pack a bag full of the essentials in my room. I only need enough to get me by for however long it takes me to figure out my living situation in Pittsburgh. I toss a couple Bruins clothes in, as well, t-shirts and sweatpants, but leave everything else. Chara already offered to ship everything for me, so I don’t have to worry about it for now, thankfully.
“I’ll drop you at the hotel,” he says, appearing in the doorway to my room.
“You don’t have to,” I reply. “I can catch an Uber.”
“I’ll drive,” he insists, and I nod, zipping up my suitcase and yanking it onto its wheels.
The drive is quiet for a while. I’ve never been particularly talkative with this team out of self-preservation, but Chara’s always tried to make conversation. He’s dragged me partially out of my shell, at least when it’s just us and his family.
“I never thought I’d like it here, which sounds terrible, but. Boston was pretty low on my list of favorite teams, but the NHL is the NHL, so I was ready to start making a life here. You guys, you and Bergy and Pasta and Marchy, you all made it really great.”
“I honestly hoped you’d be here after me,” he says, sighing a little to himself. “First an A, then a C. Your value went from nobody low to Gretzky high in hardly a month, never thought they’d willingly trade you.”
“You were right,” I say with a little huff. “I didn’t give them much choice, but, they didn’t really me one, either.”
“I really wish you’d tell me what happened.”
“I…want to, I do, but it’s the kind of thing that the fewer people who know, the better,” I say quietly.
“Does anyone know?” he asks, a hint of instinctive dad worry making its appearance.
He nods silently. He likes Jace.
He hugs me in the parking lot to the hotel for longer than he ever has before. I won’t lie about the fact that he kind of acted like a total dad with me this whole time. I won’t see him again for months with eh way our playing schedules are, and it’s not like my own parents are in contact with me these days. Not having him and his family around is going to totally suck.
“Thanks for everything, Z,” I mumble just before we step apart.
I knock on the door with the room number Sid sent me. He opens the door pretty quickly, stepping aside to let me in.
I’m putting a lot of trust into this man by staying in his room, and it’s not lost on me. Boston had me in a single room on my own the second they knew I wasn’t a man. The only people I’ve let into my room since everything with Volkov was Jace and Chara, two people I’d gotten to know quite well prior. This is a risk, no matter how down-to-earth I believe Sidney Crosby to be. I don’t expect him to do or try anything, he’s probably the last person I would, really, but the fear of something like it happening, no matter the person, will probably always linger.
“I brought back some steak and veggies,” he informs me, handing me a to-go container presumably from his team dinner.
“Oh, wow, thanks,” I say, taking the box from him, “I forgot all about dinner.”
I sit down on the end of the clearly unclaimed bed, crisscrossing my legs like a little kid and tuning into the Family Guy episode on the TV. I pop open the to-go container.
“I’m gonna be real with you, Sid,” I say, swallowing my first piece of steak. “I wanna play for the Pens for as long as literally possible. I always wanted to play for Pittsburgh, and now I get to. So, yeah. Don’t worry about me being heartbroken over Boston too much.”
He looks a little stunned at my admission, but I stuff my face with some cauliflower and say nothing. It had to be said eventually. They might try to trade me down the line if I’m not clear about my true intentions from the get-go.
“What a very fortunate trade then, huh?” he says finally.
I hum in response. The topic drops there.
I pull off my jacket after I’m done eating. My phone starts to vibrate and I hesitate over answering it when I see Jace’s contact photo. I eventually say fuck it and press the green answer button, slumping over onto my side along the length of the bed.
“What’s up?” I murmur into the phone.
“What’s up? You just scored your first Gordie Howe and destroyed Volkov in your first fight literally a day after your trade and that’s how you answer the phone?” he exclaims.
“It’s hockey, Jay,” I reply, rolling my eyes.
“So…Volkov, the guy you fought….was he, you know, him?” he says quietly, changing subjects.
“Yeah, it was.”
“Jesus,” he breathes. “Chara freak out?”
“Not really. He just dropped me off at the hotel.”
“Hotel? You’re flying out with them tomorrow?”
“I’m not a Bruin anymore, Jace,” I mumble, aware that I’m not alone in this hotel room.
“I know, just. Wow,” he says with a sigh. “They managed to get you a room?”
“Actually, no,” I reply, snorting quietly. “Rooming with Crosby for now.”
“Yup,” I reply. “Listen, I’m really tired.”
“I’ll let you go, then,” he says.
“Just…leave your phone with the sound on? You know, in case.” In case there’s more than one guy like Volkov in the league.
“In case of what? Oh. Okay. I will. I’ll answer no matter what, okay?” He realizes what I mean mid-sentence, thankfully.
“Bonne nuit, petite manchote,” he says softly, a tone of voice he uses sometimes that makes my insides turn gooey.
“What’s that last part mean? Little what?” I say tiredly, suddenly struggling to keep my eyes open.
“Little penguin,” he replies, a smile in his voice.
“Oh, shut up,” I murmur. “Just you wait til I learn how to say devil in French, you won’t be able to shut me up.”
“I’ll be waiting eagerly.”
“Night,” he parrots. We hang up.
I have just enough sense left in me to plug in my phone to charge and set an alarm for breakfast tomorrow. Crosby is already curled up under his covers, snug as a bug as he scrolls through whatever on his phone.
“Diable,” he says without looking up.
“Huh?” I say.
“Devil in French,” he replies, shrugging his shoulders.
“Oh,” I say stupidly, slow from the exhaustion. “Thanks.”
I should maybe be worried or even annoyed that he was listening, but it’s not like I gave him much choice in hearing me. He’s doing me a favor by letting me share his room, anyway.
I roll back over onto my side after flicking the lamp off. I’m out cold only a few breaths later.