Home > The Heart (Ice Dragons Hockey #2)

The Heart (Ice Dragons Hockey #2)
Author: R.J. Scott

Chapter 1

 


November

“Are you sure you want a closed-door meeting about this, Simba?” Coach looked equally pissed and worried. “No coaches? Not even me?”

Alexandre Simard nodded confidently even though the tightness in his chest warned him that he wasn’t really sure at all. Half of his job seemed to be fronting confidence when inside he felt like everything was going wrong. But he’d run every scenario, and nothing else made sense. He needed to get the entire team in one room, and they had to talk openly and honestly about what the hell was going wrong.

This was the nuclear option, and inevitably news outlets would find out what the Dragons had done. The fact that the team had locked themselves in a room to talk would be page one news on all the blogs and lead to all kinds of questions.

Rumors would begin to spiral out of control—of potential trades to fix the mess they were in, of a team tanking even though the talent was there. They could lose sponsorship deals and key players. But hell, what he wanted to do here with the team couldn’t be worse than the playing-like-crap they’d been managing. Closing the room to everyone but the players, talking this shit out, was a calculated risk, but one he had to take. A 6–1 loss to the Sabres was the nail in the coffin; the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Dragons were exposing their forwards, fucking up their defense, and leaving Drago in the net looking like he couldn’t save for shit.

“I have to do something; this is my responsibility,” Alex said. He realized he sounded on the edge of defeat, and drew his shoulders back. It wasn’t about feeling beaten—it was about getting the team, his team, to pull their heads out of their asses before they were completely screwed. “I have to do something,” he repeated in a firmer, more purposeful manner.

“I’ll be in my office,” Coach said, and patted Alex’s shoulder in reassurance or relief; Alex didn’t know which. Coach’s job was on the line as much as any team member out there; a badly performing hockey team wasn’t just about the players, but the coach, the rink, the owners. Any single part of it could be wrong; the men were Alex’s responsibility.

He stepped inside the locker room and closed the door behind him, turning the lock and seeing all the expectant faces. Forwards, defense, goalies. Not a single man who’d dressed for tonight was missing.

For a second, Alex looked around the room, inhaling the familiar post-match funk of sweat. Drago had removed his pads, but Alex didn’t blame him for wanting to be free of the weight of it all. After tonight’s shitty performance, Drago had to be beyond angry, but the big Swede wasn’t showing it; if anything he looked impassive. Icy, even.

“We owe Drago a huge apology,” Alex began, and waited for a response. The room was quiet. Their captain telling them they were having a closed-door meeting was enough to have everyone looking anxious.

The rookie, Thomas Arkin, in only his third game with the Dragons, was wide-eyed, his gaze flicking from his captain to Drago and back. He’d fallen straight into a team on the edge, and slap-bang into the middle of them falling down the rankings.

“Where do we start?” Alex said, although he wasn’t expecting any answers or comments, and he didn’t get any. “We were a fucking mess out there.”

He realized he was still standing, and he walked to his place in the team, right under his name and the number 25. The team relaxed a little at the action.

“I’ll start,” he began, and scanned the room.

His best friends, Ryan and Loki, nodded. They’d tried, Ryan taking so many hits in front of the net that he’d be black and blue by tomorrow. He was holding an ice pack to his ribs, a hit late in the game that could have been worse had his partner, Max Karlsson, not dropped his gloves and stopped the focused hits dead in their tracks. Ryan and Karly were solid, but that was where Alex knew to begin. Ryan nodded again, knowing that was where everything needed to start.

“Ryan, Karly, you can’t do it all,” Alex began. “You’re our best D-pair, but you’re spending too much time watching everyone’s backs to be effective.”

He glanced at Rafferty, their newest defenseman and the most unpredictable player on the entire team, watching the man’s reaction to that statement. He was new to the team, but he wasn’t stupid. Rafferty knew he was good, but he had to accept that he wasn’t carrying enough of the defense along with Ryan.

“Rafferty?”

“What?” Rafferty asked with hostility.

Alex kept his cool. “Do you have anything you want to add to the defense summary?”

“No.”

“Nothing at all?”

Rafferty looked mutinous for a moment, then sighed noisily. “I can’t work on my team game when Coach doesn’t even put me on the freaking ice.”

“You’re already pulling nearly thirty minutes a game,” Alex pointed out.

“I’m riding the bench and I see the team make mistakes—” Rafferty began. Then he stopped. “Never mind.”

Alex inclined his head in understanding, and was impressed that Rafferty hadn’t lost it there and then and ranted about how the team was complete shit. Which was how Rafferty had worded it, loudly, after a particularly bad turnover in the neutral zone. Alex wanted to say that Rafferty needed to keep his summary to the locker room, but he didn’t. He wasn’t standing there pulling up everyone’s mistakes; he wanted an honest and open discussion.

“Our power play sucks,” Loki murmured when no one else spoke.

“I agree,” Alex said, taking responsibility for his part in the first special team. “We’re a mess—chaotic, undisciplined—and the power play is all about structure. Our special teams aren’t cohesive, so what can we do about that? How can we fix this?”

No one answered, and he guessed no one wanted to challenge the captain’s perspective. Alex opened his mouth to encourage them to talk, but Rafferty interjected before he could get a word out.

“Not sure it can be fixed,” he said.

A couple of the guys stared at Rafferty in shock. “Fuck you,” Ryan muttered.

“No, fuck you,” Rafferty snapped, “I can’t believe I was traded from a good team with an actual fucking chance to make the playoffs to this one. Seems to me, you should offload me to free cap space and get some kids who actually want to play on this shitty team.”

“Asshole,” Loki said.

There was a lot of muttering at that point, and some very pointed curses; Rafferty wasn’t endearing himself to the team with talk like that.

“Okay Raff, you tell me, what do we change, and how do we do it?” he asked Rafferty directly. “Team building?”

Rafferty shook his head and let out a sharp laugh. “Team building? What? Where we fall backward and hope our team catches us? That’s bullshit. Just fucking cut me loose.”

He sounded resigned, sad almost, and everyone else was looking at him like he was dirt on their shoes.

How the fuck do I handle this?

Inspiration hit him. Rafferty made these off-hand jokes about contracts and how he’d be off as soon as the Dragons needed the money for someone else. Maybe that was the key to solving the Rafferty issue? Was that one of the things he could fix right here and now?

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