Fleury was in front of us for the second period. (It seemed natural for me to refer to the players by their last names while they were on the ice—even the ones I knew on a first-name basis out of the rink.) I hoped the action would stay out of his end of the ice, even though it was hard to follow the game at the other end.
During a shift of momentum, the Leafs were bearing down on Fleury on a two-on-one with Mark Eaton. I couldn't see who the opposing players were, but that didn't matter since they were in white and blue jerseys. The one on the left took a shot, and it deflected off the crossbar. I clapped as Eaton cleared the puck from their zone by passing it to Letang and laughed as Fleury rubbed and patted the crossbar, in appreciation of the save it made. Tanger carried the puck into the offensive zone and assisted to Crosby, who shot and scored!
The crowd was on their feet, and the man beside me hugged me, and we slapped high-fives all around. The rest of the period was scoreless.
My stomach was growling. I hadn't eaten since I took my lunch break at twelve thirty.
"Are you making that noise?" Max asked.
"You could hear that over the roar of the crowd?" He nodded and I laughed. "Yeah, I skipped dinner."
"Well, we can get something after the second."
At a stoppage of play, I noticed a kiss cam on the jumbotron. I asked Max, "I didn't know they did a kissing cam at hockey games."
He laughed. "Sometimes, they train the camera on some of the players, and then they pretend to ignore it."
We watched as an older couple appeared on the jumbotron and kissed, and then a teenage couple, and then... wait, was that me? And Max?
He nudged me to make sure I was still watching. He pointed and laughed, but I blushed and hid my head in my hands, refusing to take part. After a few seconds, when whoever was in charge realized I wasn't going to play along, they focused the camera elsewhere and I looked at Max. He was still laughing.
"Am I that hideous?" He asked. "Not even a peck on the cheek?"
"After everything you just said to me, you want me to kiss you?"
He shrugged. "Why not? I'm usually on the ice, and I don't get to enjoy this part of the game. Plus I can rub it in to Sidney that I got a real kiss from you."
"Well, you're sober, right? Didn't you say that's what make it count?"
"Okay, point taken," I said, knowing that he was trying to get under my skin and make me realize that just because we were intoxicated, the kiss wasn't meaningless. "But still, you'd be plastered on the jumbotron, and everyone will see the Superstar Max Talbot sitting with the fans. Weren't you worried about that?" I teased.
"Look." He pointed back to the big screen over the ice. "Here's our chance."
There we were again, Max and I, surrounded by the big frame a red heart. I made a mental note to ask Sid who was in charge of the kiss cam, in case that person had some kind of personal vendetta against me. Finally, I caved. "What the hell, why not?" I leaned to my side and kissed Max's scruffy cheek. He smiled and laughed, and the crowd clapped and cheered—although I wasn't sure if it was for our kiss or that the stoppage of play was over and the teams lined up for a faceoff.
As the players skated off the ice for the second intermission, Max jumped out of his seat and started for the aisle. "Pizza and beer?" he asked, not waiting for my answer. He took the stairs three at a time, leaping to the concession stand to beat everyone else.
During this intermission, I sat and watched the Zamboni alone. I pulled out my cell phone, and I saw a text from Eva, apologizing again for not being able to go to the game but wishing that I have fun nonetheless. I sent a message back, telling her the night's been a blast and suggesting we get together soon.
The players were making their way back out for the third when Max rejoined me. I didn't notice he had returned until I felt something on my head. I jumped, and looked up and to my right. "Hey, what's this?" I asked, pulling the baseball cap off my head to look at it. "Thanks for the hat, but I think I'm sporting enough Penguins merchandise."
"I think you might need it, tonight," he said. I knew what he was getting at, but I didn't say anything since that might jinx it. Laughing to myself, I thought that hanging around a bunch of hockey players was starting to make me superstitious. I took the proffered plastic cup of beer and greasy slice of pizza, scarfing them down to sate my hunger.
Staal was out to take the faceoff, and I was sitting on the edge of my seat. Anything can happen with twenty minutes on the clock. Jordan won the faceoff, and I watched as Cooke took control of the puck. I knew that this was the preseason, and the players weren't going to kill themselves for the sake of winning a preseason game; however, so many of the guys had insatiably competitive spirits, and since every team would be gunning for a win against the 2009 champs, they'd be giving their all for the duration of the season.
Toronto scored five minutes in the period, tying the game at two each, but not for long. The Leafs took a penalty, and the power play special team was on the ice. I was on the edge of my seat at Gonchar, Letang, Malkin, Crosby, and Guerin were raining shots on the goalie on our end of the ice. One minute into the PP, and we still hadn't scored.
"Let's go, Pens!" I shouted, and as if on cue, the puck came to Crosby's stick on the rebound. He shot a farside backhander that made the twine in the net flutter. "Yes!" I was on my feet as the siren blared, ripping off my brand new hat and throwing it over the glass. Sidney skated over, picked up the hat I had just thrown over, waved it in the air as a thanks to the fans, and made his way back to the bench.
"Why did he take my hat?" I asked Max.
"Sometimes guys take a hat as a souvenir after their hat trick."
"Wouldn't that mean he has a lot of souvenirs?" I joked.
The game ended with Jordan scoring a shorty after Orpik took a hooking penalty. We cheered and celebrated as if it were a win in May or June. Max and I waited until the arena started to empty before trying to fight our way back to the player's lounge. I was anxious to get back there and congratulate the guys, but Max said everyone would first do some interviews, and then they'd have to shower and change.
Véro, Kelsey, and the girls were waiting in the lounge as well as some other people that I didn't know. A TV in the lounge was tuned into FSN Pittsburgh, and I watched as Stan Savran was interviewing Sidney. He was sweaty and still in his long-sleeved compression shirt. Why didn't he do shirtless interviews? I wondered. I was in awe thinking that this interview was taking place on the opposite side of those doors, and I thought of all the games I watched at home or at a sports bar—and here I was.
Max was right; it was a half an hour before the first player trickled through the dressing room door into the lounge, and we had to wait even longer for Sidney. I knew he was going to be bombarded with questions, because not only did every reporter want a quote from the captain, but he had a three-point game, too.
As the players came out, I offered my congratulations. Billy G walked over and thanked me for coming, saying "We're guaranteed a good season as long as you're around." The teammates who knew me, or at least knew this was my first real Pens game, asked me how my experience was.
"There are no words to describe it," I told Kris. "Absolutely incredible."
"Are you hooked? Maybe we will see you more often here," he said in his delicious accent.
"I hope so! I mean, I'll have to see what my schedule allows, but this definitely beats screaming at the television at home."
"Are you coming to the after party?" Tyler asked, wandering over to listen to my answer.
"I don't know," I replied. "Everyone's only eluded to it, I don't know anything about it. Are you guys going out, or what?"
Tyler shrugged, but I saw the truth in his eyes. Why wasn't anyone telling me anything? "I think it's just a small thing at someone's house. I'm sure I'll see you there, though." He and Kris walked away before I could get any other response from him.
"This is getting old," I said, to no one in particular. Most of the room had cleared out, and only Max, Véro, and I remained waiting for Sidney and Marc-André. When he appeared through those doors, he was freshly showered and dressed in a black suit, white dress shirt, and a pink, white, and black striped tie. He was looking pretty dapper.
Before I could eke out another round of congratulations to the boys, Sid grabbed me around my thighs and swept me into the air. "Here's my good luck charm! Can I bring you to all my games? I'll get the scoring title, for sure."
I laughed and hollered for him to put me down. "So you've set your sights on the Art Ross this year, huh?" I asked.
He set me down and gave me a proud look. "Oh, was Max teaching you a few things during the game?" he teased.
Max interrupted. "Man, Sid, you'd be surprised at some of the things coming out of this girl's mouth. I never thought I'd meet such a pretty girl with this much hockey knowledge."
"I guess I'm pretty lucky like that," he said, and I blushed. "Just remember, Talbo, I found her first."
My Favorite Five (2015)
2 years ago