Seven billion dollars and 20-plus years in the making, and when those 220 billion protons meet, the chances of two particular protons directly hitting are one in one sextillion.
It's rare, but it ain't no accident.
Here in Minnesota, our scales are smaller, our measurements less precise. The ice itself is usually the NHL standard 85 feet by 200 feet. At full speed the average high school player skates at 20 mph—not quite the speed of light. Our kids go out in shifts of two or three, not 110 billion. There are no magnets to keep them rushing at each other.
But there is a force field.
For 10 years it has set my nerves on edge. It is generated by parents who bang their hands on the glass and yell at their sons to Take him out! and by coaches who scream at their players to Take the body! and by everyone who shouts at the refs to Let them play the game! It is generated by refs who are so fed up with the madness that they lose control of the game, allowing teenage boys pumped up with adrenaline to get away with what they can: slashing, throwing elbows, taking runs from behind. The first time I heard a dad scream, "Kill that kid!" in reference to Cade, he was a Mite. Six years old. I turned to look at the man and said to him, "That kid's my son." He rolled his eyes and walked away.
The message was clear: You don't get it.
It's true; I am a stranger in this land. All I understand is how much Cade loves this game. So I drive him to practice, I wash his gear, I run out when his stick breaks in the middle of a tournament to get him a replacement—the right flex, the right grip, the right lie. What the hell is a lie? This is his life, and if I am not in, I am out. Still, sometimes, when a kid hits the boards really hard, I can't help myself: I turn to whoever is sitting next to me and say, "I hate this game."
By his second week in the hospital, Jack is doing better. There is a steady stream of friends who come by to hang out. One day a girl is popping Reese's Pieces into Jack's mouth. Another day he and his good buddy Keegan Iverson, also a Storm alum, reminisce about the time shortly before Jack's injury when, says Keegan, "We took the keys to my mom's car and drove to a friend's house." At 6'2" and 215 pounds, Keegan, 15, made varsity last year as an eighth-grader at Breck, a small private school famous in the city for its hockey prowess. He was placed on the protected list of the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks last May. If all goes well, the NHL is more than a dream for him. But he is still a kid. Both Leslie and Keegan's mom, Amy, laugh about the unlicensed joyride. "Leslie just wanted to know who drove," Amy says. "She said, 'Thank goodness it wasn't Jack. I let him drive in the garage once and he hit a wall.'"
The injury broke Jack's neck, not his spirit; Leslie is relieved just to see her son happy. But after the adrenaline overdrive of the first week dies down, her own despair and exhaustion show. "I love hockey," she says. "I loved watching Jack's skill on the ice. I loved the friendships. I loved how much he loved it."