Cambridge fans were weird. Or at least, this one was.
“Yes! Use those soft, filthy hands! Slam him right in there, YEAH! Give it to him—HEY! THAT WAS SLASHING! PENALTY!!”
The man was several rows back in the stands, but his voice was loud enough that Maggie could hear him all the way out on the ice. He had brown hair and a creepy mustache but he didn’t look too much older than some of the guys on the team. The ref blew his whistle and Maggie skated back to the bench to wait for the officials to make their call.
“Is that guy always here?” she asked Tony, gesturing back to the stands
“Uh,” Tony said, squinting at the audience. “You mean the Mustache Guy?”
“He went to a few games last year I think.”
Maggie frowned. “Is he always this loud?”
“Yep,” Keller butted in. “The guy got kicked out once for swearing just before playoffs. He kept screaming that we were all ‘Beautiful Motherfuckers’ and shit like that.”
“Huh,” Maggie said. “He’s not, like, some weird fetishist is he?”
“We wondered about that at first,” Tony said, “but I think we determined that he’s just a guy who really, really likes hockey.”
“And sounds like he’s narrating a porno when he yells about it?” Maggie asked skeptically.
Tony and Keller shrugged.
She was about to ask more questions, but then the ref blew his whistle and announced a 2 minute penalty against the other team for slashing. Mackenzie called her and Tony back on the ice and then the game was back in motion. They had a powerplay to take advantage of.
She didn’t think about Mustache Guy again until after they’d made their first score of the game. Maggie made a hard check on one of the other team’s lead offensive players, which allowed Keller and Funakoshi to score a really kick-ass breakaway goal. As soon as the puck hit the back of the net they both charged towards her and smothered her against the boards, whooping and hollering loud enough to make her ears ring.
“My first assist of the season!” Keller crowed. “Holy shit! Thanks Cole!”
“Yeah, you betcha,” Maggie said.
“You betcha? You sure are from Minnesoooh ta, dontcha know,” Funakoshi chirped. Maggie shoved his shoulder.
“Holy fucking shit! That was filthy! You made that goalie look naked—fuck!” yelled a voice from the stands. Maggie turned her head to see Mustache Guy through the glass, on his feet and looking at them like they’d personally led him into heaven. “Cole, you're a goddess—a motherfucking goddess. You’re all such beauts.”
And then Maggie was laughing, despite herself, because he might be loud, but she could see how this guy’s crazy cheering could be a little charming. She sent him a mock salute before they broke the celly and headed back into the game.
Mustache Guy quickly became a fixture at Cambridge Knights games. Even the guys working the jumbotron had gotten into the habit of featuring him on the big screen at least once a game. Sometimes, he was accompanied by a small woman with short black hair who seemed to be torn between laughing at Mustache Guy and joining him in his overzealous cheering. It was like the team had their own personal cheering squad. Home games were always that much better because of it.
More and more, Maggie noticed that although Mustache Guy cheered for every player on the team, he seemed to pay special attention to her and the plays she made. She was pretty sure he was responsible for the stadium adopting the chant “QUEEN NINETEEN” whenever she took the ice. One time, Mustache Guy and the short lady had seats near the entrance to the Knights locker room and Maggie made a point of giving them both high-fives.
“Thanks for your support,” she said.
“You’re welcome, you beautiful patriarchy-crushing defensewoman you,” the guy said. The woman next to him just grinned.
None of the Knights had ever discussed Mustache Guy outside of games aside from the occasional joke during practice. Every now and then Keller would call them all “beautiful motherfuckers” because he thought it was funny, but that was as far as things went. It wasn’t until they were nearing the end of the regular season that they started to wonder.
It was supposed to be a pretty difficult home game. They were playing against one of the top teams in the league, the Tri-City Storm, and whether or not they won this game would affect their chances of getting into the playoffs. Everyone was on edge.
And so it definitely didn’t help cool their nerves when Martinez pointed up to the stands and said, “Is that—is that Jack Zimmermann? ”
They all turned up to look and sure enough, there he was: Jack Zimmermann. Jack Zimmermann. NHL star Jack Zimmermann, wearing a nondescript gray sweatshirt and sitting next to—
“He knows Mustache Guy?!” Maggie blurted out. “Jack Zimmermann knows Mustache Guy?”
“What?!” Keller exclaimed. “Holy shit, that’s him! He does. He totally does! What the hell?”
Funakoshi looked ready to explode. “Why is Jack Zimmermann at a USHL game? Why is he at our game?”
“It was Mustache Guy. Mustache Guy brought him,” Maggie said simply, because that had to be it. Somehow she knew she was right.
There was a big group of people with Mustache Guy and Jack Zimmermann sitting next to them in the stands. Maggie recognized the short black-haired woman, but the rest were all new faces. They were sitting close together and talking loud enough that she could hear the sound of their conversations even if she couldn't make out the words. She wondered if Mustache Guy’s friends were as loud as he was. Yeah, she figured. Probably.
As soon as the game started, it turned out that she definitely wasn’t wrong. The area of the stands with Mustache Guy and Jack Zimmermann practically exploded every time a Knight so much as touched the puck. She could have sworn half the sound in the arena was coming from those guys alone. She pitied all the people in the surrounding seats. Or, maybe she didn’t—all those people got to see Jack Zimmermann up close and personal, which was probably worth all the screaming.
After almost three periods of rough, intense play, the game was tied three to three. Mustache Guy’s voice had gone hoarse and raspy. There was still 0:17 left on the clock, which was enough time to make a play, but only if Keller won this faceoff. There was a palpable tension in the stands as the linesman skated out with the puck to officiate the faceoff. Keller and the other player were hunched over, their sticks ready. Maggie crouched a ways behind them. Tony was hovering across the ice to her right. They were in the offensive zone already, all she and Tony had to do as defense was keep the puck from crossing over the centerline—
The whistle blew. The puck dropped.
Keller’s stick got there first, and he tried to sweep it back where Martinez was waiting to start the play they’d planned out, but the puck didn’t make it to Martinez. All it took was a light tap from the other player’s stick and the puck was ricocheting off of Keller’s skate and flying across the ice, right towards Maggie.
Okay, scrap the play. It was time to improvise.
Most of the players on the ice were still trying to figure out where the puck had gone, so Maggie took advantage of the confusion and charged forward. She had an opening, straight down the center, right in front of the goal. She raced for it, weaving in front of the other team’s center, trying to carry it as far as she could. If she went quick enough, maybe the goalie wouldn’t be ready for her.
“Cole!” Tony called. She glanced behind her.
She registered three things very quickly. First, Tony was in the perfect position to shoot from the goalie’s blindspot. Second, the game clock was ticking down, slipping just past ten seconds remaining in regulation. Third, one of the other team’s defensemen, a huge mountain of a guy with hands bigger than Maggie’s head, was headed straight for her.
She passed the puck to Tony and braced for the check.
The next thing she knew, she was on her back on the ice, struggling to breathe with the wind knocked out of her, and the crowd was exploding. The buzzer sounded.
Maggie tilted her head to the side on the ice, looking towards the net. The puck. The puck was in the net. She rested her head back on the ice and grinned.
They’d won the game.
“Cole!” Tony called. She heard rather than saw him skate towards her. “You okay? That asshole hit you way harder than necessary—”
“I’m fine,” she insisted, taking a breath. “Just… give me a sec.”
He held out a hand and she accepted, letting him help pull her to her feet.
“You won the game,” she said to Tony.
“No,” Tony grinned, tilting his head towards the stands, ”you did.”
She looked around the arena. Everyone was standing. “QUEEN NINETEEN! QUEEN NINETEEN! QUEEN NINETEEN!” the crowd shouted. A few rows back in his usual spot, Mustache Guy was on his feet, his fist in the air. She definitely wasn’t going to cry.
“WE FUCKING WON!” Keller yelled, jumping on both of them in what was supposed to be a hug but felt like a tackle. The rest of the team quickly came crashing in. Everything was a blur until they finally got to the locker room. The team medic insisted on checking Maggie out before she changed to make sure she hadn’t gotten a mild concussion from the fall. She answered some seemingly pointless questions and let the guy point a flashlight in her eyes.
“It looks like you’re fine,” he concluded. “Just take it easy for a couple days. You probably have some bruised ribs.”
“Thanks, doc,” she grinned.
When she finally left the locker room, the rest of the team was waiting for her. After she assured them all that she was fine, no really, just some bruises, they all headed for the player parking lot where they would carpool to someone’s apartment and celebrate their win properly.
Just as they were about to open the doors to the parking lot, a few of the guys at the front of the pack stopped in their tracks. There was a brief moment of confusion. She almost ran into Keller from behind when he froze and said, “Jack Zimmermann?”
Next to the door, Jack Zimmermann and Mustache Guy were waiting. Jack Zimmermann’s hands were shoved in his pockets and he was shifting from foot to foot.
“Hi,” he said awkwardly.
There was a pause.
“Hi,” Tony said finally, stepping forward hurriedly as though he only just realized that as the captain of the team it was probably his job to act as ambassador here. “Um, thanks for watching our game. Your support really meant a lot.” They shook hands.
“Of course,” Jack Zimmermann said, then gestured towards Mustache Guy. “My friend Shitty here wouldn’t stop talking about all of you so I knew I had to come see a game.”
“Shitty?” Maggie said, because she didn’t know how to watch her mouth, even in front of NHL stars. “Mustache Guy’s name is Shitty?”
“It’s a nickname,” Mustache Guy—Shitty—said, smiling wide. “I’m Shitty—Shitty Knight, actually. Sick, huh?”
“Your last name is really Knight?” Maggie asked.
“Yep,” he said. “I was pretty much destined to be a Knights fan. And by the way—you killed it out there, brah. You okay after that check, though? Looked pretty bad.”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Maggie said. “Just some bruises.”
“That was a really good play,” Jack Zimmermann said. “I really enjoyed watching that game. You guys are a really talented team.”
Next to her, Martinez and Funakoshi looked like they were dying. “Thank you,” Tony said “That means a lot to us, coming from you.”
“Of course,” he said. “I’m sure you guys have some celebrating to do, so, uh. I won’t keep you here. I just wanted to congratulate you on the win—it was a really tough game. If you keep playing like that, though, I think you all could easily make it to the NHL, if you wanted.”
“Thanks,” Tony said.
“See you later, kids,” Shitty said, slinging an arm around Jack Zimmermann’s shoulder and pulling him back down the VIP hall. “Have fun partying. Be safe and responsible and all that shit, alright?”
And then they were gone.
“Holy shit,” Funakoshi said.
“Dude, are you crying?” Keller asked him.
“No, I’m not crying,” Funakoshi said, wiping at his eyes furiously.
“He said we played well,” Martinez said. He looked like someone had just shown him the face of God. “He said we could go to the NHL.”
“Let’s get out of here,” Maggie laughed, rolling her eyes. “Don’t worry—I have a feeling we’ll see him again.”
They all left for the parking lot, exhausted, bruised, and battered, but somehow still able to laugh and joke with an energy only obtained through the high of victory. As they piled into the cars, knocking shoulders and tossing around chirps, Maggie couldn’t stop herself from grinning. This was where she belonged. She was a defensewoman. It didn’t matter that she was a girl—this was her team. This was her family. And she was going to do her best to make sure they kept winning for as long as they could.