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A Beautiful Mess

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1.

Beautiful hockey means different things to a lot of different people, but Jack Zimmermann, No. 1, was absolutely sure the Falconers were playing damn beautiful hockey. For every breakaway by the Oilers, the Falconers defense stepped up. There are more blocked shots than possible to count on two hands; for every goal the oilers scored the Falcs answered, and then some.

It felt like the ice underneath them was alive. Jack felt the satisfying aura of success seep into his bones, could feel the energy emanating from his teammates. It wasn’t a feeling he had very often, and he was struck between the mental flow of celebration and focus; for every minute he was on the ice - his eyes doing nothing but tracking the puck, his muscles working beyond normal exertion to move just a little bit faster - there was a minute spent on the bench with his heart in his throat over the thrill of the game.

Jack Zimmermann doesn’t quit until the buzzer sounds or there’s nowhere else to go, and he’s got the focus to match his drive. He’s not about to flub a shot or miss any kind of interesting opportunity because he got a little cocky. Still, it was hard not to get caught up in the team’s cellys, to feel his blood rush with every roar of the crowd. By the end of the second period, the time in between his shifts on the ice felt like it was shrinking exponentially. His legs ached and he was breathing fast more often than not, but damn, if he wasn’t having fun.

Snowy was on fire in the crease, well protected by the defense. The Oilers weren’t making the game easy - the number of bruises Jack had accumulated on his ribcage alone spoke for that - but the Falconers were still playing great. He’d be proud of his team if he had the mental capacity to focus on something that wasn’t strictly: find the puck, don’t get hit, score.

With four minutes remaining in the third, the team was up by two; Jack had landed his second hat-trick of the season solidifying his 12th consecutive game in a point scoring streak.The Oilers had just taken a penalty for high sticking, and were down a man when Jack came out onto the ice.

“Feeling alright so far, Zimms? Daddy watching tonight?”

Chirps about his dad hadn’t aged well, it’d been three years - the same guys likely to say something about his dad were the same guys staring awkwardly when Bad Bob did put in an appearance at a game.

He won the faceoff, faster than Jacobs by, well, by a lot, passed back to Thirdy, who then moved to Guy in the slot, who swept the puck neatly on the backhand to Poots. While Jack skated behind him, Poots managed to wrap around a pass to a Jack who was wide open for a shot off towards the Oilers goalie, glove side. It’s blocked, rebounded, and was picked up by an oilers D-man.

Jack Zimmermann is known for being a fast skater; he’s smaller than a lot of other players, though he has a wide reach. He used that to his advantage to wrap his stick around number 84 to steal the puck and pass back and forth with Thirdy.

Skating over the blue line with the puck, looking over his left shoulder to find Tater open near the net, he didn’t hear the Oiler D-man skate up behind him. When we turned to pass, all he saw was a bright orange flash too close to him and then he went down.

Jack Zimmerman is no stranger to checking. In fact, as a rookie, he was targeted more often than might be considered normal in regular play. He’d gotten dirty hits; he’d been hit in the face with pucks; and he’d been the victim of high sticking, spearing, slashing, hooking, and just plain rough hits. He’d been hit because players wanted to see how tough Bad Bob’s son really was. He’d been hit because people wanted to prove that a “coked-up washed-up legacy” wouldn’t survive in the league. All of that and still, Jack Zimmermann had never been hit quite like this before.

In a perfect world he would have been paying more attention. But he wasn’t prepared to be boarded so late in the game, especially when the score wasn’t even close. Number 28 hit him low on the left side with no other Falconers near.

Jack felt an intense sense of wrongness; some bodily-kinesthetic alarm that his body shifted a way it is definitely not meant to. His ears started ringing first as everything else fell silent; he slid down to the ice, feeling as if everything was happening in slow motion. He saw the fall happening in front of him, as if it wasn’t his body that just got hit but an ordinary bystander, or a mannequin dressed out in hockey pads who’s knee bends wildly out of line with his ankle. His breath was knocked out of him as he fell to the ice hard. By the time the whistle blows he already instinctively knew the truth: the game was over for him.

 

....

 

He opened his eyes to Thirdy standing over him, eyes wide with worry.

“Hey Jack, take it slow. Can you move?” The tremor in Thirdy’s voice incongruent with Jack’s state of mind. Of course he can move.

The rest of the team filter into his awareness, and he suddenly found himself surrounded by 10 huge hockey players. Marty helped him sit up, and he gasped as the sudden movement rocks his knee. A thought flickered through his mind.. this just might be something he can’t skate off.

A trainer, Spencer, Jack remembered, knelt next to him and started firing off rapid questions that Jack answered only as a stunned reflex.

“Do you know what happened? Where does it hurt? Can you move? Did you hit your head? How's your vision? Breathing ok?”

He was checked. His left knee. Probably not. No. Fine. Fine.

But is he ok? He's too stunned to really process events. He's hurt, and he knows it's bad. But there wasn’t any rising panic. Yet.

“I'm ok I think. Let's get me off the ice, please.”

It's only the second time in his life he ever asked to leave a rink.

He braced his arms around the necks of Tater and Poots who help maneuver him over to a recently appeared stretcher.

He's carried off the ice, and as he entered the tunnel he managed a quick wave in response to the fans’ cheers before he squeezed his eyes tight to stop any tears.

 

...

 

“Grade III Medial Co-lateral ligament injury.”

Jack squinted through the haze of his pain at the doctor standing next to him. Spencer had escorted him off the ice and directly to the hospital. Over the past three hours Jack was pinched, poked, prodded at, and stuffed into claustrophobia inducing machines.

“What does that mean?”

“To put colloquially son, you banged the bejeezus out of your knee there.”

“But nothing’s broken?”

 

“You got lucky Mr. Zimmermann. Nothing’s broken and we can’t find any other ligament damage.”

“What the fuck exactly happened then? Can I play? Do I need surgery?” Jack didn’t mean the rudeness, but he’s in tired, in pain, and a little spooked. “I'm sorry I… I didn't mean it to come out like that. Just…” he trailed off, desperation shining bright through his eyes.

“Well, the MCL is the ligament that stretches across the inside of the knee. When you got hit, your knee buckled inwards and the ligament tore. Surgery isn’t usually the best course of action for an MCL tear. You’re young and healthy. There’s some minor damage to the ACL and meniscus, but nothing that time and rest won’t take care of.”

“Can. I. Skate.” The sentence came out less like a question and more of a plea.

“Two weeks rest and recovery to reduce the inflammation. Then 8 weeks rehab, and you’ll be in top shape. We’ll look at skating after 5 weeks.”

“People have… played through these injuries though. It’s playoffs, I have to be on the ice.”

“Well, Mr. Zimmermann.” The doctor paused, and Jack felt an intense need to look away, to be on the defensive. “Jack. I can’t order you off the ice. But you will not be playing well with this injury. Your career could end if you play injured like this.”

“But-”

“But that’s a choice you have to make.”

5 weeks off the ice.

8 weeks away from the game.

1 month of post-season remaining.

The numbers don’t add up.

 

...

 

Once everyone left him alone in his small recovery room - with a medical assistant who promised to return with a brace, more pain medication, and an informational pamphlet on his injury - Jack pawed through his bag for his phone. He pressed the button on the side and waited for it to turn on.

Immediately his phone started buzzing; text messages, missed calls, and voicemails flickered across the screen. As his phone updated with notifications, he only vaguely registered the multiple: “Jack are you ok?” and “bad luck buddy, hope everything’s ok” messages multiple people sent. When the onslaught stopped, he swiped over to the favorites menu, and pressed dial on the number at the top.
“Jack! Are you ok? That was a dirty hit, completely uncalled for. He’ll be hearing from the commissioner by tomorrow - at least a 2 game suspension. Hell, I’d cut him for 2 weeks.”

“Papa-” Jack tried to interrupt.

“You didn’t have the puck! He just went for you I can’t believe… and then to make you leave on the stretcher… Where are you? Did you make it home OK?”

“Papa, please.” His voice managed to cut through. “I’m at the hospital.”

His dad’s intake of breath was audible over the phone. Jack imagined his father straightening his shoulders and rolling his neck in an attempt to calm himself down. If there’s anything that Jack had always appreciated about his father, it was his ability to stay calm under pressure. Short of a love for Hockey, Jack wished he'd inherited that above almost anything else.

«What are they saying?»

«I’m out.» Jack tried to push the words past his lips. He was ready to explain what happened, what his injury means, how we won’t be on the ice for more than a month. Instead his voice betrayed him, and what few words he did manage to croak out are clipped and shaky. A sigh escaped, leaving him just as shaky as his hands. He clenched the hand not holding the phone into a fist, and squeezed his eyes shut. His bottom lip wobbled dangerously.

He hates this. Hates how weak he is. Hates that he put himself into a position to be injured like this. Hates that he can’t manage to spit out the words.

It’s silent on the other line. Then, «what do you mean, Jack?»

A deep breath, and the words poured out of him.

 

...

 

The Falcs lost in game seven of the first round, and Jack spent the evening trying not to feel like it was all his fault. Logically, he knows he’s not the only player on the team. Logically, he knows that everyone who could play was playing their hardest. Statistically, he knows the Leafs were likely the better team this year.

Still, it was a loss.

In a roundabout way, Jack was grateful; with the Falcs knocked out, he has to spend fewer games watching on the couch with his face in his hands-- it meant fewer games that leave every muscle in his body tensed up until the final few seconds. Would he even have made a difference had he been on the ice?

Almost an hour after the final buzzer, his phone pinged four times, each quick in succession:

 

Parse: that game seven sucks. Hope ur back on the ice soon.

Papa: the team had a good run. Next year, I think.

Tater: sad not to have you on ice ((( we do better for you later

Sebastien: The team really wanted to pull for you. Don’t be sorry and don’t beat yourself up about it... it could have been any or none of us and who knows what might have happened. Rest up and get back on the ice soon. Let us know if you need anything. We’re here for you.

Chapter Text

Zimmermann Out For Season, Out of Stanley Race?
ESPN News Services | 9:41CT

Jack Zimmermann, Providence Falconer’s No. 1, left the ice on Friday with 5 minutes of play remaining after a hard check from Oiler’s No. 83 Benning. Zimmermann was assisted off the ice, and in post-game interviews Alternate Captain St. Martin said Zimmermann’s status was unclear and refused to comment any further. As of this morning, Zimmermann has been placed on the Injured Reserve List with an unspecified knee injury. Falconer AGM Georgia Martin says coaches and management are working closely with Zimmermann to determine how this may affect later playoff games, in which the Falconer’s clinched their spot in with their defeat of the Oilers.

Zimmermann and Captain of the Las Vegas Aces Kent Parson are currently tied as Leading Scorers in the League. In the past 2 years on the Falconer’s Roster, Zimmermann has brought much needed energy and skill to the game leading the Falconers to an impressive Game 7 Stanley Cup showdown last year versus The Pittsburgh Penguins. It remains to be seen if the Falconer’s will be able to carry over their momentum if Zimmermann is out.

 

....

SB Nation: justfalconaround.com

Zimmerman Confirmed Out For Season
Jack Zimmermann once played with a cracked jaw, so you know it’s real
By Adrian Glass | April 16 4:03pm EST

Jack Zimmermann has been noted in several interviews that he doesn’t take any breaks, so what exactly has him out for the rest of the season?

Everyone’s favorite hockey wunderkind was escorted off the ice during the third period of Friday’s game after taking a (beastly, dirty, completely unprovoked) check from no. 84 on the Oilers. Since then he has been placed on IR and now management has announced that they do not expect him to return for the remainder of the season.

Zimmermann is arguably the hockey player that put Providence on the Map (sorry Mashkov, we still love you). Given that he won the Calder 2 years ago, and was projected to win the Art Ross for a second time in the row, we’re a little nervous to see him leaving the ice for ANY period of time.

Here’s what we know:
It’s an indeterminate knee injury, and Zimmermann will be out for the rest of the season. No kind of surgery has been scheduled. No statement has been made from the Zimmermann camp. With any luck, Zimms will be back in top shape for pre-season and is only leaving us to nervously bite out nails down to the quick while we watch our favorite east coast expansion team possible flounder with the loss of one of the NHL’s top players.

Get well soon Jack. We’ll be missing you.

 

Displaying Comments

Well that was disappointing. And...
Horrible? Awful? No good dirty rotten? Can’t believe this had to happen to us now.
And we were doing SO WELL.
What will the lines look like now.
Generally, any one of those things can lead to a loss, so we really stacked the deck against us.
Best of luck to thirdy and st martin i guess. Theyre gonna need it.
Posted by Karate in the Garage on Apr 16 | 11:09 PM

Well isn’t that just
Kick-you-in-the-crotch-spit-on-your-neck-fantastic….
Posted by MarryMeSnowy on Apr 16 | 11:21 PM

That was not good at all.
But if it makes you feel any better, it was worse to see it in person.
You’ve gotta be feeling for the dude though, an injury that bad at a time like this?
Posted by cwhterrapin on Apr 17 | 11:48 PM

 

....

 


Injury at Mikraeva Cup Will Affect Olympic Team
Eric Bittle to leave competition
Associated Press

Drama over which men will be selected for the US Men’s Figure Skating Olympic Team reignited this week as a favorite has been forced to withdraw from competitions due to injuries. Eric Bittle, who placed second in the Mikraeva Cup in Moscow has withdrawn from the Grand Prix as well as any chance of attending the Olympics in Oslo.

Bittle finished second, just under four points below champion Nathan Chen on Friday night. He had reported being injured earlier this year, but chose not to withdraw from any competitions until now.

“I’m absolutely devastated, but I know how important it is to take care of my body. I’m proud of my scores tonight, and so, so happy for Nathan. I wish the best for him.” said Bittle after the event.

This was Bittle’s first appearance in the Grand Prix. He received a score of 94.85 in the short program with high marks for artistry, and a score of 192.27 for his final performance of the year.

“Of course this isn’t what I ever imagined happening, I’m heart broken. I will definitely be working hard to be back.”

Though never official, with Bittle out there now remains an unfilled spot on the Olympic team. Other US competitors, likely Adam Rippon, Ross Minor and Jason Brown, are now in heated contention for a ticket to Oslo.

Chapter Text

“You’re going to do amazing today, you know?”

 

Eric Bittle looked up from his stretching position on the floor to see his skating coach hovering over him. His music blared through his headphones and he had to yank them out to be sure he’d heard her correctly.

“Katya, no offence, but what the heck does that mean?”

Katya was silent for a moment, and while he waited for a response Eric pushed his hips back and leaned over, carefully and slowly pushing his knees to the ground while keeping the bottom of his feet pushed together.

“It’s OK to be nervous Bittle. I am too.”

“I’m not nervous Katya. Well.. I mean, I AM.” He paused to collect his thoughts and changed his position so that he was sitting upright hugging one knee tightly to his chest.

“But it’s not the bad kind of nerves, ya know? What happens today is gonna happen, and I just wanna be here for it. Yesterday went really well I thought! And dear lord, did you see how shaky Grant has been looking all morning? He bobbled his exits twice.”

He switched legs.

“I think I’m in a good place right now. I know I’m gonna do well. I know what I need to focus on, and it just so happens that somewhere in the back of my brain I can be nervous about everything too.

Eric lapsed into silence as he spread his legs wide. He tended to chatter when nervous, and well, he was nervous. Thankfully Katya had been his coach long enough to know his nervous tics and habits.

“I feel good Katya, I really do.” He didn’t want Katya to worry more than she probably already was. Truthfully, last night, Eric had curled up in a ball in his bed and sobbed because his ankle hurt so badly after the short program. It would take a miracle to get through the entirety of his program.. A miracle that only needed to hold out for another month - when he’ll finally have the time to devote to rehab. If he can’t… then today will be his last performance, and Eric Bittle has never been good at letting go.

“Is good Bittle. Important. Now come, we warm up with plyometrics.” Her hand on his lower back was warm and supporting, and it centered Eric in a way praise and empty words never would.

 

….

 

Eric Bittle knows his free skate music forwards and backwards. Sideways too, as Katya always insisted on picking up his routine from any random point in the song.

It’s spanish guitar, and while it’s not necessarily his style, the song had such an evocative emotional component that he simply loved skating to. He could hear the song playing in his head, though he’d traded in his headphones for earplugs 10 minutes ago. He was waiting quietly just behind the stands, centering himself and visualizing his performance. During the short program, he was weak on his jump exits, and he very nearly under rotated his second triple flip. His spins could always be tighter, but he felt confident that no other skater present would match him in speed or flexibility.

When his name was finally called, and the attendants had finished scooping up the handful of stuffed animals that littered the ice, Eric stepped out onto the rink. It was always a peculiar sensation - the lull between performances, the switch between hard flooring and ice, the hush that took the crowd over as a new skater took the ice.

Several quick loops around the rink helped him to get used to the texture and surface of the ice. He’s ready. He had this. His inner mantra had a spiky Russian accent.

It began with a melancholy but fast intro, where he gained speed in increasingly large loops around the ice. A layback Ina Bauer and a besti squat at the beginning for flexibility elements got him loose and warmed up his confidence. The music built up suddenly and he’d timed his first jump -- a clean and sharp triple axel -- to hit right at the down beat. His next jump followed closely after: a combination jump, quad toe loop, double axel, triple loop, matching the triplet musical pattern.

2 loops around the rink and a quad flip round out the first half of his free skate.

As the music hit a crescendo, Eric’s speed increased. A flying camel to twisted air spin; 12 revolutions. He doesn’t count them anymore, hasn’t since he was in Novice competitions. Pulling out of the spin, he regained his equilibrium with cross overs to the opposite side of the rink.

The first step sequence was choreographed to be fun and bright. Salsa and latin fusion dance lessons helped build the steps just right, though the movement is never quite the same in skates. Everyone watching him here - well, everyone who knew him - knows Eric had always the majority of his points in three categories: height of his jumps, speed of his spins, and his step sequences. He smiled as his feet fly across the ice. He’s dancing - free and simple.

Then the pain started.

Squaring up for his next jump, an ache blossomed from the inside of his right ankle. The next Lutz should have been ok, catching the outside blade won’t make anything worse. With the spin however, and the switch to his right foot, his ankle was at the mercy of the insole of his boot.

Gritting his teeth, Eric threw himself across the ice. A mantra of “Not now!” echoed through his mind pushing him forward, harder. Faster.

A sharp pain pierced through his left heel.

The music reaches its crescendo and Eric nearly cried out as he digs in his toe pick for a triple flip. He bobbled the landing, but managed all three rotations and didn’t step out or put a hand down.

He winced through another spin as he fought tears threatening to spill. A final triple salchow double axel combination, plus a short cannonball spin left him gasping with pain.

He exited the spin, and skated slowly to center ice. He managed to throw his hands up in conclusion, but then fell to his knees, chest heaving from both exertion and pain. Somehow, he managed to force himself to rise up and skate off the ice.

Katya was waiting for him, as worry shone through her large golden eyes. Eric grabbed his jacket from her and slipped it over his blue sequined shirt.

They walked slowly to the Kiss and Tell; Eric ignoring the overwhelming urge to favor his left leg, Katya gracefully ignoring his soft whimpers of pain. He’d always liked that about Katya, maybe it was the Russian in her: always good in a tight situation. At the bench she silently reached over and dabbed at his face with a tissue. Eric sat closely beside her and tightly gripped his coach’s hand.

They said nothing, but they almost never did; the silence between them more comforting than any empty chatter ever could be.

It didn’tt take long for his scores to go up. It was a clean skate, no major errors. Eric expects, or rather hopes, the decision was easy for the panel. He’s obviously a fan favorite, has been for a while, and he’s known for delivering solid, powerful performances.

192.27.

It’s a damn shame. Eric Bittle, at the height of his career, placed second for the Mikraeva cup. A favorite for the US olympic team, out for the remained of the season with injuries to both feet.