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Shot-blocking for Fun and Profit

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1.

Zach's a trendsetter. That's one way of putting it. He takes a puck to the foot in Saint Louis. Ryan worries when it happens, and doesn't believe Zach for a minute when Zach says he's fine. But if Zach feels good enough to play, Ryan won't stop him. He can't, and doesn't really want to. He wants Zach to be happy, and that means playing without pain, but that isn't happening. Instead December happens.

December is terrible, and just seems to get worse. Zach stops saying he's fine just before Christmas. They take another scan of his foot and find a fracture that hadn't shown up before. Zach's put on IR, stuck at home while the team goes off to lose without him. Ryan doesn't really know what to do.

Zach still says he's fine — like, he's hurt, and that sucks, but he's still fine, seriously, so Ryan shouldn't worry about him. Ryan's trying. It's hard.

Zach asks how Ryan is. Ryan says he's fine. That's true. He's playing. He misses having Zach with him on the ice, and on the road, but really, he's fine. They both are.

2.

Spurg blocks a lot of shots. He leads the team in this statistic. If Marco worried about every shot Spurg blocked he'd worry too much. Spurg has been playing banged up lately. He hasn't been in practice, kept off the ice to heal up. Spurg is mostly fine. He's been good enough to play, which is all that really matters.

Marco doesn't see the shot block that finally lands Spurg on IR, not when it happens. He's paying attention to something else. They aren't playing together, there's a lot going on in the game. He sees it later on video replay, and it doesn't even look all that bad. They block shots like that routinely, but this time it works out wrong. Spurg is going to miss weeks. He'll miss this road trip, maybe the next. Marco will have to sit next to someone else on the plane and bother someone else during dinner. He doesn't like it.

They both used to wear shot blockers, but they were heavy and got in the way. The puck would hit Marco's skate and bounce off at weird angles, which made his job harder. So he stopped wearing them. They never talked about it, but he thinks Spurg stopped for the same reasons. Spurg missed a handful of games last season with a bone bruise on his foot. Then he got better and went out and blocked more shots. That's just what they do. That's normal.

And it's normal for Spurg to be there to sit next to him on the plane and bother at dinner, to tease and complain to. Only Spurg won't be around for the next stretch of games, which will disrupt the rhythms of Marco's life on the road. He'll be fine though.

3.

Zach's in the press box when Mikko goes down. It looks bad, really bad. Zach can hear Spurg swearing under his breath. This could be terrible.

Or not. Mikko's out there again right away, winning a big face off on the 5-3, assisting on Sutes’ first goal, then his second goal. Zach's smiling so hard, so proud of Ryan, so happy for him. It's beautifully distracting. Zach forgets to worry for a while. By the end, after Ryan's scored again to get a hat trick, it's hard to think about Mikko's injury. Zach wants to be happy. But his teammate is hurt, perhaps badly, which gets in the way of that. But right now, for this minute, Zach doesn't know how hurt Mikko is. He does know that Ryan scored a hat trick. For now, for just this moment, Zach will focus on the thing that's sure.

4.

Jared is watching the game on TV when he sees Marco block a shot and limp to the bench. "Shit." This is the last thing this team needs. At this point it would be almost comically sad if there's another shot blocking injury. Marco keeps playing, another shift before the end of regulation, plus more in overtime. Jared never really doubted that he would. These things never feel that bad at first.

They text after the game, exchanging pictures of their bruises. Marco's are fresh, the colors still coming in, but already it looks like they should be impressive. Jared's own bruises are fading, an ugly green hinting at the deeper damage below. Marco says he should be fine. Jared believes him. They do this all the time, they know what things feel like, know the limits of their bodies. If Marco thinks he'll be able to play, he'll probably be able to play, and that's what fine means in this context. Fine doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. The number of complaining texts that Jared gets over the next day and a half are evidence of that. Marco whines about being bored because Jared isn't there, and brags about the nice weather. He's annoying, and Jared misses him, and not just because it's still freezing in Minnesota. This is frustrating for both of them, but they'll be fine.

5.

Darcy doesn't even know what to do when he sees Jason go down. Jason blocked a shot, Darcy can't see where, the bench is at a bad angle from the ice. Jason tries to get up on his own, but he can't. Play stops so he can get helped off the ice and down the tunnel. He goes right past Darcy, but there's no time to say anything, nothing Darcy can do other than take in the pain on Jason's face. There are still minutes left in the game, which Darcy tries to pay attention to. It's hard, but they're winning. That helps. It gets him through the next few minutes until he can find out how Jason is, or at least stop pretending he isn't worried out of his mind.

Darcy makes it through congratulating Backs, and getting off the ice and into the locker room. Jason is already there. He's walking around, not limping at all. He has stitches on his kneecap, four of them in a neat little row. It's so much better than it could have been, so much better than it looked. Jason's smiling, congratulating Fonzie. He says he's fine. Darcy'd like to think that's true.

Fucking shot blocking. Darcy's a goalie. All he does is block shots, and people call him crazy for it, but he has goalie pads. Everyone else blocks shots too, and they aren't nearly as well protected. They're not even as protected as they could be. It wouldn't help with Jason's knee, but if this is team going to keep taking pucks to the feet, they need to start wearing shot blockers. Maybe they're clumsy, but that's better than breaking yourself. Goalie gear is pretty cumbersome too, but Darcy knows how to work with it. They can just get over themselves and deal with the damn things on their skates. Or at least Jason needs to, for his own good, and for Darcy's mental health.

Darcy wonders how it would go over to say, start wearing shot blockers, and I'll blow you. It would probably help if Jason didn't know Darcy'd do that anyway. Still, it's worth trying. That's what Darcy's thinking about, trying not to get caught up in what-ifs of Jason's injury being as bad as it first seemed.

Darcy doesn't know why Sutes comes over to talk to him. Sutes has been trying to do more captain-stuff this trip, but Darcy doesn't think he needs a captain-talk right now. But he has been sitting here for a while, only half out of his pads, tuned out from the celebratory atmosphere.

"So, well..." Ryan stops, like he doesn't know how to put together his words. "When someone tells you that they're fine you don't have to believe them. Sometimes that doesn't help." Sutes stops. "Or maybe it does. Sometimes. I'm not sure."

"Uh-huh." Darcy isn't really sure what this is about.

"I'm not really...qualified? But I know this. Sometimes someone tries to tell you that they're fine, and it doesn't matter if they're fine or not, or whether you believe them. They're trying to make you feel better, which is..." Ryan pauses again, exhales. "They're not fine, but they want you to be fine, which can be...frustrating. And sweet?" Ryan sounds uncertain of himself, but also determined, like this is something Darcy really needs to hear. "So don't argue about whether or not they're fine, that's not the point. Agree, then try to make it be true. At least, that's the best way I've found to handle it." Sutes stops, takes a moment to run through his words, then asks, "You got it?"

"Yeah, I got it," Darcy says. Then he asks, "Are you alright?" He doesn't know why he asks. Sutes doesn't look as happy as he should be. He seems tired, maybe lonely, Darcy isn't sure.

"Yeah," Sutes says, smiling now. "I'll be fine."

Darcy smiles back. He doesn't question whether it's just true or not, just nods. Sutes is fine. Or he will be. Darcy's fine. Close enough. Jason might be fine. Jason says he is. Everyone's fine.