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Lights Down Low

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January 2020

 

“How does it feel being at your first NHL game and in your hometown?” The interviewer asked with the microphone perched in front of Matthew to capture his response. 

“I’m so excited,” Matthew said, “It’s a great honor to be here and to be invited and it’s even better that Brady and I are here together as well, I couldn’t be more excited.”

“We all know that your brother is also here with you this weekend, but what some people might not know is that one of your old college teammates is here as well, Leon Draisaitl,” the interviewer continued, “I know you played together at Notre Dame and we’ve seen you as rivals playing for your respective teams, but what is it going to be like reunited playing for the Pacific Division?”

“It’ll be good to play with him again,” Matthew said. 

“We have a clip to play for you from your time at Notre Dame, let’s take a look,” the interviewer said and Matthew tried to maintain his poker face as he looked down at the monitor and saw an old video clip from one of their NCAA games. He was on a line with Leon centering him and watched as the puck was fed from Leon to his own stick. It was one of many similar memories as he sank the puck in the back of the net. He watched as Leon collided with him, pressing him against the boards and burrowing his face into Matthew’s neck in celebration. Matthew grimaced at the video and all the painful memories that were attached to it and felt relief wash over him when the clip ended.

“It’s quite a departure from what we’ve seen of you two during the Battle of Alberta,” the interviewer pressed on and all Matthew wanted was to get back to the topic of Brady or the All-Star weekend or even Keith Tkachuk’s glory days with the St. Louis Blues instead of Leon. 

“I think we all get caught up in the rivalry during the season, but for this weekend we all just want to play some good hockey and have a fun time,” Matthew said concilitorily. 

“Well that was certainly good hockey and the clip is promising about what we can expect out of the Pacific Division in the All-Stars Game this weekend, but we all want to know what your experience was like at Notre Dame? Were you two good friends?” 

“Well, he’s two years older than me and I was only at Notre Dame a year,” Matthew said, “So we didn’t really know each other that well.” The lie felt acrid on his tongue, but he didn’t want people digging into their extracurriculars at Notre Dame, besides he and Leon hadn’t been friends for a while and they certainly hadn’t been more than friends for just as long. 

“Hopefully, you both will be put on a line together and we can see that on-ice magic again,” the interviewer said. 

“Maybe,” Matthew said noncommittally.

“Thanks for your time, Matthew, and good luck tomorrow,” the interviewer concluded and Matthew thanked him for his time and left the set, unclipping the microphone and reconvening with his family in a break between media sessions.

“How did it go?” his father asked.

Matthew shrugged, “Okay, they brought up Notre Dame.”

“Okay,” his father said, “You knew this was bound to come up.”

“Yeah, I just didn’t want all of the memories to come back either,” Matthew said.

“Have you seen him?” his father asked.

Matthew shook his head, “Not personally.”

“Well maybe you should talk to him this weekend,” his father said.

“I don’t think there’s much to say,” Matthew said and picked at a stain on the sleeve of his shirt, “Not anymore.” There was a finality in his voice that closed the door on the conversation. His father looked like he wanted to say something more and press the issue, but he just raised his eyebrows and shrugged in the way that Matthew had seen and grown to hate over the years. It was the look that his father always had on his face when he thought Matthew was making a terrible mistake but that he wouldn’t spend more energy trying to talk him out of it. 

“Fine, that’s your choice to make,” his father said and shrugged, “NBCSN wants to do an interview with all of us later today.”

“Any idea about what they are going to ask?” Matthew asked hoping that he wouldn’t have to keep remembering his time at university almost four years ago.

“The usual,” his father said, “Probably asking about family rivalries and what it’s like to have several generations in the NHL.”

For as much as his father and mother purported that the All-Stars game was his and Brady’s weekend, it was just as much about sharing the spotlight with his father. Keith Tkachuk had been certain to put his stamp on the St. Louis Blues and it was an easy spin on the weekend. Three members of the same family all closely connected to St. Louis and the hockey scene.

“Okay,” Matthew said. 

He headed to grab some food and refreshments from the table they had set up for the players to snack on in between interviews and media. The least painful of all the media that he’d done so far was for the NHLPA which had just been a series of rapid fire questions about his favorite cheat meal, least favorite music, what his goal song would be, easy things like that. They were hardly groundbreaking journalistic questions, but they also steered clear of anything deep and personal so Matthew was grateful for. 

Matthew was preoccupied with slicing a piece of brie from the charcuterie board when he noticed someone approach him. He glanced up and was anticipating greeting whoever had stopped by and maybe introduce himself if they hadn’t spoken before, but he wasn’t expecting to see Leon there.

“Hey,” Matthew said. He looked Leon up and down. It had been awhile since he’d seen him and even longer since he’d seen him out of hockey gear, but Leon was still as attractive as Matthew had remembered him. He’d grown into his body a little more than in college, packed on more muscle, and gotten better style, but he was still the same guy from Notre Dame. 

“Hi,” Leon rolled his eyes and frowned, he picked up a plate and started grabbing some fruit and a few pieces of bread. 

“Congratulations on making the All-Stars game,” Matthew said.

“Are you really doing this?” Leon snapped, not even bothering to look at Matthew, “That’s a lot of effort for someone you didn’t really know,” Leon mimicked, throwing Matthew’s words back at his face and causing him to flinch.

“You know what I meant by that,” Matthew said, “I-”

“I know exactly what you meant by that,” Leon said, “Enjoy the weekend and stay away from me.”

And fuck, Matthew wasn’t sure how he’d imagined that conversation would go, but it wasn’t like that. He’d watched as Leon walked away from him, without sparing him a second thought or a glance and that hurt. It hurt more than Matthew would like to admit, but he wasn’t surprised. Instead, he grabbed a small bundle of grapes and added it to his heaping plate, even though his appetite had vanished. 

He found Brady, “I guess we have an interview with Dad later.”

“Yeah, he told me,” Brady said and grabbed a piece of cheese off of Matthew’s plate, “Saw you and Draisaitl talking.” It was clearly an opening to the conversation that Matthew didn’t want to have. 

“We just ran into each other,” Matthew said.

“How’d it go?” Brady asked. 

“Fine,” Matthew said in between bites of a baguette.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Brady asked.

“Nope,” Matthew replied. 

Their father found them shortly thereafter and all three of them were ushered over to the NBCSN booth where they were posed around a table with the interviewer.

It started off as expected asking about what it was like to share the weekend with his brother, if they knew what events they were going to do during the actual weekend, if there were any favorite St. Louis places that they would try and visit during their weekend, and it was all fun and safe and predictable until the conversation pivoted. 

“What do you think about rising star, Leon Draisaitl?” And there it was yet another question that would segway into talking about his former teammate-turned-rival that Matthew was dreading.

“Leon’s had a phenomenal year,” Brady interceded, “he’s the type of guy that everyone wants on their team and who you don’t want to see standing across from you on a faceoff. 

“He was asked earlier about playing on a line with you, Matthew, and he said he’d probably get off the ice,” the interviewer said. 

Matthew froze. He felt the intense scrutiny of the camera on him, waiting to capture his reaction, but he couldn’t think. He knew that he’d hurt Leon, and he knew that over time that hurt had turned into anger and resentment, but he didn’t think that Leon had hated him. 

“Well, you know how Matthew can get under opponents skin,” his father said and for once Matthew was grateful to be sharing the interview space with his father. It was easy to brush off the rivalry as an extension of the Battle of Alberta instead of exposing the personal conflict that had been gnawing away at them for the past four years. Matthew blanked out of the rest of the interview, letting Brady and his father take the reins and only really talking when a question was directly posed to him. He was grateful to not be doing this alone, and felt Brady’s reassuring nudge as his leg brushed up against his own, grounding him along the way.

“That was really shitty what the interviewer did; it was probably a misquote anyways,” Brady said after they had thanked the interviewer and walked off the set. 

But Matthew knew it wasn’t or at least not to the extent that Brady was pretending it to be. 

“He really hates me, doesn’t he?” Matthew asked and Brady didn’t have a response so he just pulled his brother into a hug. 

“Come on, we’re meeting mom and Taryn for dinner and then we have that party tonight,” Brady reminded him, taking his mind off of Leon if only for a moment.