- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
They'd bundle up in long johns, extra socks, sweatpants, snow pants, sweatshirts, winter jackets, bomber hats, two pairs of gloves and sometimes, at 20 or 30 below, when the prairie winds hurled a mix of snow and dirt that locals called snirt, in wool face masks that made them look like frosted fiends. They'd stuff their pockets with pucks from the bin Dad kept filled in the garage—a dozen a day might be lost in the cattails and snowbanks till the spring thaw—and join the Tweten and Howe and Delisle boys. They'd shovel off any snow that had gathered since Dwight Howe, the neighborhood's Keeper of the Coulee, had run his snowplow across it and filled in any cracks or valleys by flooding it with a garden hose and letting it freeze overnight.
If the Howes' or Twetens' nets weren't there, two shoes would mark a goal. The kids would launch practice shots at Phil, who'd begun goaltending in his diapers using a rubber stick and, for a net, his playpen turned on its side. Then they'd play free-for-all, a cacophony of chirps over big saves and takeaways, until someone shouted, "Sticks in the middle!" At that they'd fling their sticks into a heap, one boy wading into the pile with his wool hat pulled over his eyes, blindly grabbing two at a time and tossing one to either side again and again till none remained, divvying up the group into two teams. All but the twins, who'd always be assigned to opposing squads once they joined the fray at age five; c'mon, there couldn't be two girls on the same side!
When they raced along the railroad ties girding the embankment on the Howes' side, they were flying along the boards at the Montreal Forum. It was their Forum, no adult eyes on them, emboldening Phil to call out, "I'm Richter!" and Jacques to yelp, "I'm Messier!" and Pierre-Paul and Mario to turn into Leetch and Lemieux, and all of them to try the wriggles and whirls and between-the-legs sorcery they saw on TV. The first layer of the heart—that's what the twins' coach in high school, Gordie Stafford, would call that deep-down-in-the-tissue love for the game that was being implanted at the coulee. That's what no organized version of a sport could implant in the chest of a child, what no dynasty dad or minivanning mom could ever arrange. That's what made the Lamoureuxes lucky.
They'd play right through hunger and frostbite till someone slashed someone's fingers or tripped someone so egregiously that the game disintegrated in tears, accusations and howls for penalty shots. No hitting was permitted, but who could resist burying an opponent face-first in a big snowbank and eliciting the laughter of all? Not Jacques or Pierre-Paul, for damn sure.
The other kids would begin to peel away—the Delisles when their parents called them to dinner, the Howes when their dad rang his cowbell—but the Lamoureuxes would often slog on, three-on-three, right past Mom's first blast on her whistle ... then her second blast ... then five minutes more and O.K., let's go before she sends down Dad! If their hands were too frozen to pull on their skate guards, they crawled home.
By golly, the coulee needed a locker room befitting Gretzky and Lemieux, so Phil and Pierre-Paul made one, taking the shelves from the garage and placing them vertically in the basement: stalls, each with a bench and hooks to hang clothing and racks to stow sticks. The scented candles Mom lit down there had no prayer against all the testosterone, armpits, sweat-soaked hand-me-downs, iron-pumping and Ping-Pong wars in the locker room, which commingled to buckle Grandma Edith's knees every time she descended and make her gasp, "Whooo, I'm going to pass out!"
"Aw, Grandma," the boys retorted, "that's what gets us going!" Where? Back to the coulee at ungodly hours. One night, after their three-hour bus ride home from a night game at Jamestown, Phil, in 10th grade, and Jacques, in eighth, looked at each other. It was 1:30 a.m. They had to be up at 7:30 for school. The house was silent. Dad and Mom would never know. "Wanna go to the coulee?" Phil asked. Yep.
Full moon. Cloudless night. One-on-one, best of seven, gotta hit both posts and the crossbar to win a game. Jacques, the family's most gifted player, already possessed astonishing vision, uncanny hands, holy-crap creativity. Phil, a goalie whose short, slender physique Jacques had already surpassed, would have to pester, pokecheck and detonate his short-fused brother to have a chance against him on open ice. They began playing, battering each other under the stars, each game growing grimmer. Jacques took a high stick to his nose, which spurted blood and would've sent anyone but a Lamoureux home. Tied at three games apiece, they grunted and bitched more fiercely, bodies diving to block shots, nets shoved out of the way to prevent game winners.
They trudged home at 4 a.m.—game finally called on account of blood—collapsed onto their mattresses down in the basement locker room and awoke a few hours later with the perfect alibi for the scar that remains on Jacques's mug a decade later. Took a stick in last night's game at Jamestown, of course.
Okay, so Daddy Lam hit the jackpot. Four sons dominating rec teams, travel teams, school teams, state-championship games and the Grand Forks Herald's sports section, and now those two little dynamo daughters coming right on their heels, the two best players on every boys' team they played on. But Pierre wasn't crazy enough, Grand Forkers muttered, to think those two could keep playing with boys once checking was permitted in Pee Wees and puberty kicked in at Bantams ... was he? They'd get chewed up!