Name From a Hat Trick - L.A. Witt by L.A. Witt

Chapter 1





Jase





The second I hit the puck, I swore; there was no way that shot was going in. There were too many players from both teams between me and the goal.

Hoping for a rebound, I skated to the right and—

The goal horn sounded. The entire stadium roared.

I whipped around, and my jaw dropped. The glass behind the goal lit up red. Driving the point home were the flashing red letters on the reader board that ringed the entire stadium between the top and middle levels: GOAL!

It went in? Holy shit—it went in!

It was my third goal of the game, so hats immediately started raining down on the ice as the reader board alternately flashed GOAL and HAT TRICK. A baseball cap hit my shoulder and bounced off, and I gave the cheering fans a wave as I skated toward the bench to high-five my team.

“Good one, Kelly!” Maddox smacked my glove. “Think you can get in another before the end?”

“Me?” I laughed. “How about you pull some weight?”

“Fuck you!”

I chuckled. Maddox had scored the Snow Bears’ other goal tonight. The Ice Foxes only had two, and we were almost to the end of the second period. As long as we kept our shit together (something we were kind of notorious for not doing in the third period) we’d have this game in the bag.

I still couldn’t believe the puck had even gone in. Were the officials sure that was a goal? And that no one else had touched it? Because that would suck, having my hat trick yanked after the fact when, on review, someone realized what had looked like my goal had actually been an assist.

While stadium staff collected the hats littering the ice, I craned my neck to watch the Jumbotron for the replay. On the screen, I hit the puck, and in slow motion, it passed between the skates of a distracted defenseman, just missed someone else’s stick, and—in a split second where the goalie was anticipating the shot from his left—it slid under his leg and into the net.

No one else had touched it. The goal was mine, and so was the hat trick.

“Man, I can’t believe that went in,” Kuznetsov said as we skated toward center ice.

“I didn’t think it was going to.” I shook my head. “Guess I was lucky no one was paying attention.”

“Yeah, well,” Maddox said, “they’re probably gonna be paying attention now.”

He had a point. The Ice Foxes were one of those teams that was well-known for making stupid mistakes, but only making them once (per game, anyway). By now, they all knew damn well how they’d let that goal go, and they’d have their guard up for the rest of the game.

Fine by me.

We’d beaten them on their A-game before, and we’d do it again.





“Special delivery for tonight’s MVP.” Scott, one of our trainers, plunked the third of three huge cardboard boxes in front of me as I unlaced my skates, and a few hats tumbled onto the floor. “When you’re done with them…” He waved a hand. “Eh, I don’t care. They’re not my problem anymore.”

I laughed as he walked away, and I glanced at the mountain of hats overflowing the boxes. The stadium would hang on to most of them for a couple of weeks in case a fan wanted to reclaim a lost favorite, but that happened so rarely, they usually went ahead and let us paw through them first. Some of the guys liked taking them all home. Some just wanted any that were unique or weird. My tradition was to take exactly one and add it to my collection (this would be the fourth hat on that shelf). Of course if someone called the stadium and it turned out they wanted their hat back, then we’d give it back, but that had literally never happened in the eight seasons I’d been playing professional hockey. Whatever hats were left would be donated to one charity or another.

First things first, I needed to strip out of my gear and shower. Partly because I was sweaty as hell, partly because I needed that post-game ritual to bring myself down. In the hours leading up to a game, I was always a jittery, nauseated wreck, and only the adrenaline of the game itself kept that jitteriness from fucking me up on the ice. Once the game was over and the adrenaline was gone, I had to take some time to pull myself together before I crashed. Lesson learned the hard way.

Once I’d showered, calmed down, and changed into something that didn’t smell like tonight’s game, and once the reporters had cleared out of the locker room, I sat down on the bench to start going through the hats.

“Anything good?” Andersson dropped onto the bench beside me. “Anybody send you panties this time?”