I can't wait for the game tonight and I bet neither can you.
Scott Oake, long time rink side commentator for the CBC looks up from his notes at his entrance. Perhaps he heard his footsteps or felt the change in the mood of the room from expectant to charged at the young phenom’s appearance, but the veteran reporter meets his eyes, smiles warmly and extends his hand.
“Thanks for taking the time to do this Sid,” he says sincerely.
“No problem.” The right answer might have been that it was his pleasure but right now his nerves are literally tingling, like pop rocks mixed with Coke on your tongue. He settles into the vacant leather chair opposite the man with the thinning grey hair and the glasses. The room is overflowing with men in jeans and Mac jackets adjusting lights, cables, cameras and one woman who approaches him with a make-up bag.
He sits still while she drapes his shoulders and chest with paper towel before she begins to dab at his face with her cool, expert fingers, working quickly to cover the pimple on his chin and dust his face with powder. He’s been through this countless times. It doesn’t faze him, not even when she aims an eyeliner pencil towards him. He rolls his eyes skyward and takes a breath.
“Big day eh?” Scott says conversationally. Sid is careful not to nod, though it’s his first instinct.
“Yep,” he replies succinctly.
“Nervous?” The butterflies in his stomach answer by rising up and beating their wings.
“A little, yeah,” he smiles and blinks rapidly as she pulls back and surveys her work. Seeming satisfied she begins to pack up her bag. “Uh…what about my wife?” he asks quietly, his voice pitched low as if for her ears only but the entire room falls silent.
“She’s done an excellent job on her own but hair’s with her now,” the woman replies brightly, snapping her case shut and turning to go.
“Thanks,” he breathes and twists the still unfamiliar gold band on his finger.
“I still do that,” Scott says, mimicking his movements, twisting the thin band on his own long fingers. Sid gives him a grateful smile and tries to still his hands, pressing his palms down on his knees. “Are we ready?” Scott asks to no one in particular, looking around at the crew. A man with a headset and a clip board gives him a thumbs-up signal and Scott raises an eyebrow at Sid who nods, once. “Okay, so, how’s it feel to be back…again?”
“I’m excited, obviously,” he replies, feeling a grin tugging at the corners of his full mouth. “It’s good to back.”
“Was there ever a point in the last few months when you thought, this might be it, I might never play again?”
“No,” he replies immediately. “There were some setbacks that were…frustrating to say the least but no, I always knew this day would come.” The reporter raises a thoughtful finger towards his lips and sits further back in his chair. Sid recognizes the signal and feels those butterflies beating their wings harder. The easy questions are over.
“Have you made any changes in anticipation of your return? Any changes to your routine?” It’s a smoke signal, an opportunity to spill his guts without having to be prodded.
“I’ve had to,” he replies and right on cue there is a noise in the background. He looks up and sees her and feels a grin spread across his face. She is wearing a simple black fitted sheath dress, dark hose and sturdy, matronly heels. Her being deliberately unremarkable is a deliberate choice, but to him she looks like a supermodel with her hair falling softly down around her shoulders and her dark rimmed glasses highlighting her chocolate brown eyes. She smiles at him and then drops a kiss onto the top of their son’s head. Every pair of eyes in the room has swiveled towards her and as they all watch, she waits for his signal. “I’ve had some changes in my life that, fortunately, have made it easier for me not to focus so much on hockey.”
“Some pretty big changes,” Scott agrees with a smirk and a twinkle in his eye. Sid nods and pats the arm of the leather chair. Fern carefully winds her way between the light stands and the cameras, picking her way through and over the cables. He watches her the entire way. Their gazes locked, she hands him his son and then perches lightly on the arm of the chair..
“Hey buddy,” he coos, adjusting Simon’s weight in his arms. The bundle of blue cotton kicks and squirms and makes a happy sound. He tickles Simon’s plump little belly and is rewarded by a throaty giggle. Turning, he offers his lips to Fern and she presses a quick peck to his mouth.
“Sid, would you like to introduce everyone?” Scott prompts and Sid blinks at him, dragged back to reality from the warm cocoon of his family’s presence.
“This is my wife, Fern and our son…Simon.” He knows the camera will come in tight on the rosy cheeks of his son and tips his arm up to make it easier. Fern reaches across him to adjust the blanket. Her fingers linger on Simon’s chest and then retreat.
“So you did more than just off -ice training in your time away from the rink,” Scott smiles encouragingly at Sid.
“It was good to have a little time for my family,” he replies without going into detail which is exactly how he, his agent and the CBC had agreed to leave it. The details of his personal life were just that, personal and if they wanted to go into detail about the side trip to Vegas from California for a quickie wedding, they could, at a later date; just not today.
“I bet they’ve helped you to focus on your health and not dwell so much on a return date.”
“My focus has definitely shifted,” he agrees, looking down at the still tiny bundle in his arms. “This little guy has helped me to prioritize. I could maybe have gotten back on the ice sooner but I think having Si has helped me realize that my health has to be a priority, not only for myself but that I can’t give a hundred percent to my team unless I’m feeling a hundred percent.”
“But you are back on the ice today. Are you looking forward to it?”
“I am,” he replies without hesitation. “I love playing. I love this game and there’s absolutely nothing like getting out on the ice with your team in front of the fans. I’ve missed it. It will be great to get out there.” He feels her hand on his shoulder and glances up at her and smiles. She holds her hands out and he reluctantly gives up his son and slides him carefully into her arms. Simon goes without a sound and he watches them go, watches her wind her way through the cameras and crew with a heavy heart.
“Will you make any changes to your game this time?” Scott asks and Sid nods, returning his attention to the man across from him.
“I think I’ll be more reluctant to get involved in the after the whistle stuff. I think last time I wanted to prove to my team and to myself that I was back a hundred per cent. I think now I have a reason…two reasons to be more selfish and try and avoid getting injured again.”
“Are you worried about that? Will you worry about it on the ice?” He thinks about his answer for a long moment and then nods.
“I don’t want to, but I think I’d be lying if I said it won’t enter into my mind. I think I have to be smart out there and know where I am on the ice but at the same time, I think that the entire league is doing its best to try and avoid these kinds of injuries from occurring.” Scott sets his cards aside and Sid presses his hands flat on his thighs.
“Do you expect to get hit tonight?”
“I don’t expect not to get hit, let’s put it that way,” he grins and then laughs at the memory of meeting Rupper in the halls of MSG earlier in the day. All his old friend had said was ‘keep your head up kid’. Oh he was going to get hit alright.
“How about this then, you scored two goals and had two assists back in November in a game against the Islanders. Do you expect a similar game tonight?” Sid shrugs. He knew this question would come and he knows that those who have never been on the ice in front of thousands of fans don’t know what it’s like.
“That was a really emotional game for me and obviously I had fun out there that night but I don’t go into any game thinking that I’m going to have a big game. I mean, I hope so, obviously, but what you really think when you step on the ice is that you want to have a good game, you want to play well but you want everyone to play well. I guess that’s really what I’ll be hoping for tonight; that we do well as a team.” Scott smirks and Sid knows exactly what the veteran reporter is thinking; that he’s just given one of those answers he’s always accused of giving, the scripted politically correct answer. He can’t help that, even if it sounds that way, it also happens to be true.
“Does it matter to you what line Dan Bylsma puts you on tonight? If it’s Cookie and Kennedy or if it’s Malkin and Neal?” Sid shakes his head.
“I’m comfortable with whatever Coach asks me to do. I don’t think, right now, that I’ve earned the right to break up what’s been working with Gino and Nealer but I’m happy to work with anyone on this team. I think we’ve got a great depth of talent and everyone’s happy to work with everyone else.” Again Scott gives him that look that says he’d hoped for more but Sid presses his lips together. Like it or not, it’s the only answer he’ll give.
“Well good luck out there tonight. I know everyone’s happy to see you back.” Scott leans forward and offers his hand. Sid does the same.
“I’m happy to be back,” he replies and just like that it’s over. The lights go off and the cameras stop rolling and he feels like he can breathe for the first time today. Blowing out a long breath he gets to his feet.
“Are you happy with that?” Pat, his agent, steps from behind one of the cameras.
“I think so,” he replies quietly. “You?”
“I think you did well,” Pat replies and pats his shoulder. “I’ll see you after the game, okay?” Sid smiles at him and then holds his hand out to Scott Oake again.
“Thanks for agreeing to this,” he says sincerely.
“It was our pleasure,” Scott says and then he too is gone, leaving Sid standing in the middle of an empty set that the strangers around him have begun to dismantle. He looks at the empty chairs and then he looks up between the cameras and she is there, like a Baroque Madonna and Child. A slow smile spreads across his face and an answering smile spreads across her lips. She lifts Simon’s hand to make him wave and Sid grins and laughs.
“Coming?” she calls. He nods and shucks his sport jacket. Tossing it over his shoulder he weaves through the film crew until he is at her side where he bends to press a fatherly kiss on his son’s forehead and then leans in a captures his wife’s mouth with his own. “My mom said she’d have him while you go down for your afternoon nap,” she whispers her voice breathy against his cheek.
“Yeah?” he grins as she nods, her dark eyes sparkling. “Better get going then.” He reaches for her free hand and enfolds it in his own. One of the guys on the crew gives him a knowing wink as they head out of the meeting room of the hotel, heading towards the elevators. He smiles back at them wondering how he could have ever thought that the saucy minx wearing his ring would ever have been just a plain Jane.