Common Goal (Game Changers #4)- Rachel Reid
“I’m going to be thinking about that all night,” Eric Bennett confessed. “Should’ve had that one.”
His goal posts, as always, didn’t reply.
Eric grabbed his bottle off the top of the net, then squirted some water into his mouth before glancing up at the scoreboard screen, where they were showing the goal that had just sailed past him. It looked even worse in slow motion.
“We’ll get the next one, right, guys?” Eric tapped each of the goal posts with his stick, then shook out his shoulders. It was now 3-1 for the opposing team and still only the first period. This game was a disaster. Eric could imagine what the commentators were saying on television about him right now. That Eric Bennett couldn’t keep up with the pace of the NHL these days. That he was past his prime, and ready for retirement.
Fuck them. They’d been saying that about Eric for almost ten years now. Every time he had an off game, or a minor injury, it was time to put him out to pasture. As if Eric hadn’t had off games when he’d been twenty-six and winning every goaltending award. As if he hadn’t, at the tender age of thirty-eight, played a major part in winning the Stanley Cup with the New York Admirals two seasons ago.
The Admirals’ captain, Scott Hunter, skated up to him and tapped his pads. “Tough one, Benny. You good?”
“I’m good. I’m shutting the door now. Think you’ve got a couple of goals in you?”
Eric crouched forward, ready for play to resume. “Nothing else is getting past me tonight,” he promised himself.
The promise lasted exactly one minute and forty-three seconds. That was when Shane Hollander, the stupid goddamned superstar forward for Montreal, fired a textbook perfect shot that flew over Eric’s left shoulder.
Eric glanced at the bench and was not at all surprised to see Coach Murdock gesturing at him to come to the bench. He could also see New York’s other goaltender, Tommy Andersson, putting on his mask.
“Sorry, guys,” Eric told his posts. “I guess I’m watching the rest of this one. Be nice to Tommy.”
He skated toward the bench with his head down. He could hear the crowd’s weak applause, which was maybe a showing of support for Eric, or maybe relief that he was being replaced.
Tommy tapped Eric’s pads as he passed him. “Don’t worry about it, Benny.”
Eric didn’t reply, because of course he was going to worry about it. Not just this game, but the whole rest of this season.
Which could very well be the whole rest of Eric’s career. Eric’s teammates greeted him with cautious words of support as he plopped down on the bench. He hauled his mask off and gave it to the equipment manager, who handed Eric an Admirals ball cap to wear instead. Eric hated wearing ball caps. They looked weird on his head.
Play resumed, and Tommy, barely warmed up, had to stop two quick shots. He stopped both, which earned him a roar of approval from the crowd. Tommy was a good goalie. Too good to be Eric’s backup, and everyone knew it. Eric was sure Tommy had only stuck with the Admirals this long because he was waiting for Eric to retire. Maybe this entire team was waiting for Eric to retire.
His wife hadn’t waited.
Eric frowned. It wasn’t a fair thing to say or even think. Holly had had plenty of reasons for ending their marriage, and he understood all of them. He had known for years that their marriage hadn’t been working; the spark that had been there in their youth had died a long time ago. Eric had told himself that his schedule was to blame, and that he and Holly would have a chance to fall back in love once he retired. Maybe she had hoped for that too for a while, but the truth they both eventually acknowledged was that they probably never were going to fall back in love. Their best years as a couple were behind them, and it was time to move on. Eric knew their divorce was the best thing for them both. Knowing it didn’t make him feel any less lonely, though.
His teammates didn’t talk to him much for the rest of the game, even during the intermissions in the locker room. They knew he preferred to be left alone for now. Tommy played a hell of a game, stopping all but one of Montreal’s shots on goal, but the Admirals still lost by two goals