"When's that going to be, Father?" muttered a voice from the corner.
"I hope to God it's this year," said Gadsby. "I'll be too old to stand up before long."
Brian Cullen, still in street clothes, balanced a hockey stick in his hand, sensed a subtle irregularity and sent for a saw to take a quarter inch off the end of the blade. "What are you going to do with that puck they gave you the other night?" Cullen asked Don Johns, as he got to work. In an exhibition game with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Defenseman Johns, a rookie, had scored a goal, his first in major league play. "I don't know. I guess I'll have it mounted on a trophy of some kind," said Johns, showing boyish embarrassment at having to admit his pride.
Across the hall, Goalie Gump Worsley sat musing, stark naked, a cigarette in his fist. "Hey, Alf," he said to Pike, who was lacing his skates. "Ya know my kid's playing right wing up in Montreal?"
"Why the hell ain't he a goalie like his old man?" asked Tubby Ensign, the Ranger skate manager. "Yeah, he ought to try that," said Worsley. "And he'll try it just once, I'll tell you." As if to illustrate, Worsley slipped his tongue under his lip, still stitched together where a puck had slit it in two five days before.
While the men dressed, Frank Paice, their trainer, passed among them—as he did each morning—dropping clean socks and underwear at their feet, parceling out Aspergum to those with colds, friction tape to those with drooping woolen hose. Finally, he took a dozen pucks from the ice-tray compartment of the dressing-room refrigerator (frozen pucks, being harder, have less bounce to the ounce) and scattered them on the rink. A half dozen players were already on the ice, circling slowly, stretching their sticks over their heads to unkink themselves. Occasionally one of them caught a puck on his stick blade and slammed it viciously at the rinkside boards or the untended goals. Bathgate, an unassuming but quietly confident young man, was idly executing a series of figure eights.
Alf Pike appeared on the ice, muffled in a Ranger jacket, and blew his whistle. As the coach huskily began to call directions, the men skated fast, then slowly, then reversed and repeated the exercise. Presently Pike split the team into groups of forwards and defensemen, and they scrimmaged.
"I don't like those passes," Pike shouted in unexpected irritation at one point. "I want to hear zippy-zip-zip."
To the lay ear, zippy-zip-zip is hard to distinguish amid the uproar of shouts, the crack of sticks and the ripping sounds of the skate blades, but Pike must have heard it, for he dropped the subject in seeming satisfaction. A moment later he found a new worry. "Damn it, Sullivan," he yelled, and Red Sullivan, the Ranger captain, looked up with the schoolboy's standard "who, me?" expression. "You know how to stop a shot on your knees?" asked Pike, skating into center ice. Sullivan nodded, but Pike demonstrated anyhow, just to make sure, while Sullivan copied him before a circle of snickering smiles. "O.K., Sully, that's better," said Pike with more compassion than a tough nut like Sullivan needs. Sully grinned back at him foolishly but amiably and the scrimmage resumed.
A few minutes later, the play centered around Worsley's goal, and Pike skated to the other end to say something to Jack McCartan. The only native-born American in the NHL, 25-year-old McCartan, hero of the Winter Olympics, made the astonishing leap from amateur to the major league in one jump, and is so promising that the Rangers may carry him on the squad along with Worsley. This would be an innovation in pro hockey, which generally gets along with only one goalie per team. By sparing him the minor leagues, however, Pike hopes to keep him from "picking up any more bad habits." After a moment with the new goalie, Pike skated away, then suddenly turned to fire an unexpected puck. McCartan caught it in his glove, and Pike looked pleased. Later he sent Worsley down to McCartan's goal, and the oldtimer cheerfully gave pointers to the rookie who may someday take his job.