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Andrew Cochrane

It Is Sweet and Proper to Die for One’s Hockey Team

Triumph by Alexey Akindinov

Matt Rempe is a kid. A massive kid, yes—he stands at a hair over 6’8 when he’s upright on his skates. But, nevertheless, a kid. He’s 21, he was fresh-faced a couple of weeks ago when he had his picture taken by the NHL. Tonight, he’s on the ice in Toronto. His friends around him are warming up, taking some soft, floating shots towards the net, hoping not to strain anything before this critical matchup against one of the league’s premier teams. Matt is taking a knee, catching his breath. He’s staring off into space, chewing gum as the camera pans to him, zooms in, and highlights a statistic:

MATT REMPE (C, 73): 3 FIGHTING MAJORS IN HIS FIRST 6 NHL GAMES

After these first six games, Matt Rempe is no longer fresh-faced. His nose is askew, his eyes are bloodshot. Around his eyes, he is bruised. His face is swollen, and his lip is cut. If this were boxing, he would not be allowed to fight—professionals would look at this kid and say, “you’ve had enough. Not a good idea tonight.” This is not boxing, though. This is hockey. And he is going to play tonight because this is not boxing. Matt will go out, lumbering, limping on his two skates, and do his best to swipe at the puck when it passes by him. This, of course, will not happen frequently. He only averages about four minutes and thirty seconds on the ice, about seven-and-a-half percent of the total game. The rest of the time he will spend either sitting on his bench with his teammates, none of whom have black eyes or broken noses, or sitting in the penalty box for five minutes at a time, staring vacantly up at the high-hat lights in the rafters. He will be sitting there with a timekeeper, but he’ll be effectively alone, in an arena of 21,000 people. The light will be piercing his skull, the crowd will make his ears pound. It doesn’t matter, though. To anyone. Dulce et decorum est.

In the box, his hands will be a shade of red he will not recognize, sores bleeding from his knuckles, re-opened from the last time he punched a combatant in the helmet with his bare fists. He will sit in this box for longer than he’ll get to skate on the ice with his teammates. Matt is not a skilled fighter. He was born with the sin of being big and interested in hockey, though, so he must play the part. He won’t feel the wind rushing over his face as he cuts through a defense, he won’t take pin-point accurate shots from the blue line, shots that sneak their way past the goaltender’s glove. No, that is not the way Matt will make the crowd roar. It is not the way he’ll stay on his team.

Matt’s teammates will cheer him on for fighting, again. They’ll see Matt ball up his opponent’s jersey in his hands and take wild, uncoordinated swings at him. They’ll see Matt miss spectacular haymakers and take multiple jabs to the chin, the nose, the side of his head. It’s incredible anyone can reach him, but they do. There are others who have been cast into this role too. Yes, there were other massive, lumbering men, with broken noses and bleeding knuckles, names the crowds used to roar. Matt cannot lean on them for advice. They did not grow old and become veterans. The crowd tonight won’t be thinking about them, when this 21-year-old fights. They’ll be on their feet, throwing their fists in the air, forgetting the gladiators of old. They’ll welcome the 21-year-old for being a good soldier.

About the writer:
Andrew Cochrane is a senior at Augustana College, soon graduating with a degree in English Education. He is from the Chicago suburbs and hopes to give back to his community through teaching. He has always loved reading and writing, and draws inspiration from George Saunders, Brett Biebel, and Jon Bois. Andrew grew up watching hockey with his parents and misses the glory days of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Image: Triumph by Alexey Akindinov (1977- Contemporary). Oil on canvas. 50 x 40 cm. 1998. By free license.

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