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Abby's Fabulous Season
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Hockey Then and Now

At the time that Abby Hoffman played a season in the Little Toronto Hockey League, the game was quite different. Players in the 1950s didn’t wear helmets or face shields or face cages, and being a good hockey player almost automatically meant being aggressive on the ice. Even body checking was legal then, and often encouraged. Today’s young players are not allowed to body check the way the players in Abby’s league did, so don’t try it! And now helmets, face guards, and goalie masks are mandatory, making the game safer for today’s players. But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed—kids still love to play hockey!

Little Toronto Hockey League Resumes November 19 at Varsity

The Toronto Hockey League will again foster the Little Toronto Hockey League series at Varsity. Purpose of this league is to teach boys how to play hockey. The series is open to boys 9, 10 and 11 years of age as of August 1, 1955, living in the Metropolitan area, who are not playing or members of any organized hockey team other than their own school.

Registration for participation in the Little Toronto Hockey League will take place on Saturday, November 19, from 5 until 7 p.m. at Varsity Arena (Bloor at Bedford Rd.). Boys are asked to bring skates, hockey stick and birth certificate. They will be allowed to skate until 7:15 p.m. after being registered.

Admission fee is 25 cents per night and will remain the same all season. For any further information, please get in touch with the chairman of the league, Earl Graham.

(from Toronto Daily Star, Saturday November 12, 1955; page 24)

Chapter 1

As soon as I step into the room filled with young people, most of them with their parents, I can see I’m already the exception.

Only boys! Hundreds of them! All here for the information session about the Little Toronto Hockey League’s upcoming season. Boys of all ages—from young kids holding their parents’ hands to teenagers who have come alone on this cold November evening of 1955.

My mother—slim in her long, beige winter coat—spots three empty chairs toward the back. With her chin, she indicates two more chairs in the center of the room for my big brothers, Paul and Muni. They rush to take the seats, happy they won’t be seen with their mother, a two-year-old toddler and, worst of all, their little sister.

I sit at the back between my parents and take off my coat. The crowd is enough to warm up the place. I can’t imagine what a summer meeting like this, in the middle of June for baseball registration, would be like. Phew! I would die from the heat.

But tonight, for reasons of my own, I pull my hat all the way down to my ears, and keep my hair tucked inside.

No matter how hard I look, I can’t find a single girl. Yes! There’s my best friend Susie Read, a few rows in front of us. But she’s not here for hockey. She’s here with her younger brother. Susie’s sport is figure skating—which is closer to ballet than to a real sport, if you ask me.

I’ve tried it—figure skating, not ballet—and I hated it right off the bat! A skating rink is not supposed to be for dancing. It’s for skating, stick in hand, while chasing a frozen rubber puck at crazy speed and jostling boys. Now we’re talking!

Next to us a man lights a cigarette, takes a big puff, and blows the smoke toward the ceiling. My father—like my mother—believes in sports because of the health benefits. He gives the man a disapproving look and says, “You think smoking like a chimney in a closed room is good for children?” My youngest brother, Little Benny, is sitting on his lap.

The man, cigarette hanging from his lips, blows a cloud of smoke in my father’s face. What a creep!

“Hah! As long as the meeting doesn’t last too long…. A little smoke has never hurt anyone. If your baby has an ear infection, I can cure it by blowing in his ear.”

I can tell my father is fighting the urge to rip the cigarette from the man’s mouth and crush it under his heel. Or better yet, put it out on the guy’s forehead.

Lots of the adults here tonight smoke. My parents don’t. But right now they’re second-hand smoking, just like Benny and me. A cloud hangs above us and partly hides the overhead banner that reads: SPORT IS HEALTH! Not in this room!

The crowd is growing impatient. The meeting should have started fifteen minutes ago. Those are precious minutes subtracted from the skating session that is to follow the registration—the reason so many boys, and one girl, have brought sticks and skates.

Now there’s some movement up front—a man climbing onto the podium and walking toward the microphone. It’s enough to create silence.

Earl Graham, whose shiny, bald head makes him look older than my father, introduces himself. He’s the chairman of the Little Toronto Hockey League. He’s not very tall and rather pudgy, and he seems a bit nervous. His huge glasses rest on chubby cheeks.

“Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen, and hello boys!” he exclaims in a cheerful voice.

Boys…. Quite a beginning!

After a boring introduction, Mr. Graham explains, mostly for the parents’ benefit, the general rules of the 1955-56 season.

“The most important thing is not to win, but to play. The youngest players, regardless of their abilities, will spend the same amount of time on the ice as their teammates,” assures the chairman.

After tonight’s registration, the players will be categorized by age, then divided into teams. The boys—it’s an obsession!—will be informed by phone about their team’s first game. There will be a dozen games in the season, including the playoffs.

“Those of you who were with us in previous years know all of this already. However, we have something new this year,” he continues. “Toward the end of the season, we’ll gather the best players in each age category into an all-star team. The team will then compete in an inter-league game here in Toronto.”

This news is received with wild applause. Some parents can already see their sons on the team, even though they haven’t stepped onto the ice yet.

“Questions?” asks Mr. Graham.

As he seems to expect, several hands shoot up. A lady with a funny hat that looks like an ashtray shares her concerns. “Last year, my son didn’t like his coach. How do you intend to address similar situations this year?”

Embarrassed by his mother’s question, the son, sitting next to her, buries his face in his coat.

A man standing two rows behind her pipes up. “Last year, my son didn’t play enough. It decreased his chances of being recruited in the National League. What assurance do I have that he’ll play regularly this year?”

And another…

“My son has to be in the same team as his best friend!” says an adult with an impressive white beard worthy of a fake Santa Claus.

There are no general questions, or very few; only individual cases calling for individual answers. Mr. Graham patiently invites these people to come and talk to him afterwards.

Actually, one of the rare good questions is asked by—my father.

“Are there girls’ teams this season, Mr. Graham?”

Finally, an interesting subject! About time. I’m squirming with excitement. But my enthusiasm is short-lived.

“No. For now, nothing justifies the creation of a league for little girls,” he answers in a flat voice.

Little girls…. Ugh!

“Girls can’t play hockey anyway,” says a boy in front of me. Other boys—all idiots—approve noisily. My mother puts a hand on my shoulder to stop me from getting up and replying to that stupid comment. If this boy was my opponent on the ice, I’d show him!

Mr. Graham informs us that the registration for figure skating will be next week.

I’m in shock. Does this mean I won’t be able to play hockey? Because I’m certainly capable of it! I throw a fierce glance at my parents while Mr. Graham announces that registration for the kids’ hockey season is now open.

All of a sudden, there’s chaos. The organizers do their best to maintain some kind of order, but they’re clearly overwhelmed as everyone rushes to sign up.

My mother follows my two big brothers to register them in a higher age category. I envy them! It’s so unfair. I feel like crying. I put my coat on, ready to leave.

My father puts his arm around my shoulders. It barely comforts me.

“You know, Abby,” he says with a mischievous smile, “I didn’t hear anything tonight that forbids girls from playing hockey.” He stands up, lifting Little Benny onto his shoulders. “Come with me.”

My father pulls me toward the registration table for my age group, the eight-to-ten year-olds. Several parents are clustered around the table, anxious to get this over with. The two people facing the impatient mob—a man and a woman with gray hair—manage the crowd as best they can.

The organizers regularly remind people to stay calm. As soon as a volunteer completes a registration, the next parents rudely shove their son’s birth certificate under his nose.

My parents have always encouraged us to be proactive. A new registration table is being set up to try to deal with the crowd. Without telling my father, who is talking to another parent, I head to the new table and suddenly find myself first in line. Doubt creeps in. What if they turn me away? What if…It’s getting hotter and hotter in here. I’m sweating in my winter coat and my hat.

“Go ahead,” says a man with a pen in his hand. “We don’t have all night.” I show him my birth certificate, but without giving it to him. My thumb hides the letter F—for Female.

“Abigail Golda Hoffman? That’s a funny name for a boy,” he remarks.

I give him a half-smile. “It’s true. I don’t know any boy named Golda,” I say.

“There aren’t enough boxes for all the letters in your name,” he observes. “How about we settle for Ab Hoffman—is that okay with you?”

He writes my name in abbreviated form along with my age, address, and phone number. “What position do you play, son?” the man asks me.

Son? Normally I would be insulted. But not now. If I must be transformed into a boy to play hockey, then so be it.

“Defense…I’m a defenseMAN,” I say nervously.

I sign at the bottom of the form. He keeps the original and gives me a copy.

“Thank you very much,” I say. “And good luck with the rest of the evening.” I fold the form and put it in my coat pocket. I can’t see my father anywhere, so I decide to get on the ice of Varsity Arena while I still have a little time.

Dozens of boys are already handling the puck and outsmarting invisible opponents. This is no different than the games at the outdoor rink in front of my house. And I’m solid on my skates; I don’t turn over on my ankles like the boys who hold onto the boards. I can easily keep up with those who have the wind in their hair. I hit the puck as hard as most. I feel great!

Suddenly, I see my parents and my two big brothers near the boards. I approach, a grin of satisfaction on my face.

“Hey! It’s done!” I say.

“What?” asks Paul. “You’re going to play hockey?”

“With boys?” adds Muni.

I show them the registration form.

“Who’s Ab Hoffman?” asks Paul. “I didn’t know you had another brother at home.”

“Yeah, he even has the same birthday as you!” notes Muni.

My father fakes surprise when he looks at the form.“They must have made a mistake…”

“We don’t have to correct it, right, Dad?” I ask.

My father is amused. “Only if you insist.”

On the drive home I sit between my two big brothers, trying to ignore their sarcastic remarks about the place of girls on an ice rink.

“Girls do figure skating,” declares Paul.

“Yeah! They don’t play hockey,” adds Muni.

“Guys!” says Dad.

Ab Hoffman…Yes, I can live with that!

Chapter 2

I’m so excited at the idea of playing in the Little Toronto Hockey League that I can’t fall asleep. I twist and turn for about an hour until I’m so exasperated that I get up. I try to keep the noise down so I don’t wake up Little Benny or my parents who are snoring in the next room. There’s only one way to relax at such a late hour.

As quiet as a mouse, I get dressed, put on my coat and slip out of the house.

The cold November air is invigorating. No trace of snow yet, but the ground has been frozen since Halloween. The late autumn has been marked by cold weather. To my brothers’ great relief, the lawn mower was confined to the garage as soon as the grass stopped growing and turned to dull yellow.

Although every season has its charm in Canada, the winter is by far my favorite, because of hockey.

With my skates slung over my shoulder and my hockey stick in my hand, I cross the street and head for the neighborhood rink outside of Humberside Collegiate. My brothers and I are lucky to live just a few steps away. Given how cold it’s been over the last several days, the people in charge have decided to open the rink two weeks early. For me, Christmas arrived in mid-November this year. Every time I have a few minutes, I put on my skates and come here.

I started skating at this rink when I was three and a half years old. That’s already way in the past, but I remember the first time I showed up with a hockey stick—I was just past five. I had such a good time. Unlike many kids my age, boys included, I used the stick to hit the puck, not to prop myself up!

Even though my brothers are sometimes—not often, but sometimes—real pains, they showed me how. I wasn’t allowed to play with the older kids because it was too dangerous. But I enjoyed handling the puck and skating without losing it. I would shoot against the boards and the sound of the puck hitting the wood made the most beautiful sound: THOCK!

Since last year, I’ve been allowed to play with the older kids. All guys. Girls are happy to do figure skating in the other half of the huge rink, which is divided in two by a large gate. My friend, Susie Read, is a champion figure skater. She comes to the rink too, and does figures. She jumps off one foot and lands on the other. She spins around without ever losing her balance.

Without my stick, I feel naked. And what about those teeth they put in the front of “girl” skates? As for skating style, girls don’t glide to go forward, they push.

Spinning around by myself with my arms stuck out doesn’t interest me. Being graceful and delicate, wearing a pretty dress and a fancy hat, and probably even perfume and make-up? No, thank you!

I would rather skate at top speed, brake and stop on a dime, take off in the opposite direction to protect my goalie, and knock an opponent against the boards—that’s what I love! After the THOCK!, the Hnghk! the player makes when I crush him is music to my ear.

Tonight there will be no Hnghk! because I’m alone at the moonlit rink. It’s magical. I should be sound asleep, but instead, I’m dreaming with my eyes wide open! This whole space is just for me.

I hurry to put on my skates. My fingers are cold. I should have put on my skates in the warm house, as usual. But I was afraid the noise might wake up someone and put an end to my plans. So I can suffer a little—nothing will beat the joy I’m about to feel.

There! My coat is off. I’m wearing my Canadiens jersey, the one my brothers wore before me. Now I’m ready…

The game is on, Abby Hoffman!

The night is so still that every time I hit the puck the sound seems amplified tenfold. I don’t dare shoot the puck against the boards. The noise might wake up the entire neighborhood.

I just love the sound of the blade digging into the ice to propel me forward…

In my head, I’m no longer alone—two teams are facing each other. I’m defending the colors of the Detroit Red Wings against the Montreal Canadiens. My coach, Jimmy Skinner, sends me into the game with less than a minute to play. The score is tied 4-4.

“The outcome is in your gloves, my boy!”

My boy! That’s a good one!

After the faceoff, the puck flies into my zone. I grab it. Positioned behind the net, I watch my teammates spread in front of me. No one is able to break free from his opponent.

“Quick, Ab! Time’s running out!” shouts Coach Skinner.

I have no choice. I charge ahead and come out of my protective bubble. Immediately, an opponent rushes toward me. With a skillful deke I slide the puck between his skates. A second opponent shows up. I try to pass the puck to a teammate, but he falls down. I turn my head to the left and trick my opponent.

I cross the red line. Huh! I didn’t know someone had painted zone lines on the ice of the Humberside rink….

I skate at full speed and easily overtake two opponents. Where are my teammates? They’re watching me and encouraging me to keep going.

“All the way to the end, Ab!”

The coach uses both hands to indicate there are only ten seconds left. I skate around the defenseman while protecting the puck.

“…5!…4!…3!…” count thousands of spectators sitting in the bleachers.

Once I reach the goalie, I let loose a backhand. The puck bounces off the crossbar and falls behind the goal line.The red light comes on a second before the end of the game.

We won! We won!

The announcer’s voice explodes through the microphone while my teammates and a crowd of fans who have invaded the rink surround me and congratulate me.

“The winning goal of the Detroit Red Wings was scored by Ab Hoffman!”

The standing ovation that follows gives me goose bumps. Among the fans, I see my parents waving at me. My mother approaches. Instead of congratulating me, she gently takes me by the shoulders.

“Abby! Abby! Girl…”

“Shhh! Mom, it’s a secret. They don’t know…”

My mother lightly shakes me. “Abby! Abby. You’re late for school. Wake up! Time to get out of bed!”

Wh…what? School?

Oh, no!

Chapter 3

I feel like someone who has pulled off a good prank. It must show on my face because Susie brings it up in the schoolyard during recess.

“Abby, you have that mischievous smile again, like your father. What are you hiding?” she whispers before jumping rope and singing: “Ice cream soda, lemonade, punch. Spell the initials of your honey bunch. A-B-C-D…”

I’m holding one end of the rope and turning without much enthusiasm. I would rather play dodge ball with the boys. Susie is all smiles. She’s spinning around, an obvious reminder of her talent as a figure skater.

I can’t spin around like that. But I can skate forward, turn on a dime, and go backwards. I know for a lot of boys my age, that’s nearly impossible. I see them at my neighborhood rink—instead of skating backwards, they go sideways. They think they can hide their lack of skill that way. For someone playing defense, it’s ridiculous.

Susie trips on the rope at the letter R—for Ronald, her class neighbor. I think she does it on purpose because it’s not the first time she has stopped jumping at the letter R. She’s a jump rope expert so she stops exactly where and when she wants. She’s clever, that Susie! She’d love it if Ronnie were her ice-cream-soda-lemonade honey bunch. But no chance of that today. After a girl tells him that Susie called his name, Ronald flees to the other side of the schoolyard.

For me, boys are only interesting when they have skates on their feet, a stick in their hands, and they’re chasing a puck.

Susie abandons the jump rope and drags me over to play hopscotch. “So?” she says, while hopping happily toward the word HEAVEN.

“So what?”

Susie stops on the numbers 7 and 8 and, looking indignant, puts her hands on her hips. “You’re keeping secrets from me!” she scolds.

I shrug. Why not tell her after all? “I’m going to play hockey, Susie—”

She makes a face, irritated. “That’s not a secret. You already play hockey, Abby Hoffman!”

“You don’t understand, Susie Read!” I say, lowering my voice to make sure no one else hears me. “I’m going to play hockey with boys in—”

“I know!” she interrupts, annoyed.

“With boys…in the Little Toronto Hockey League.”

WHAT?” she exclaims.

So much for being discreet. If there were snow on the ground, I’d rub her face in it to shut her up. That would teach her!

Seeing my angry expression, Susie apologizes. She’s embarrassed by her outburst. “You…you registered? How did you do that?”

I tell her the story of the previous evening.

“Ab Hoffman?” she repeats, incredulous. “Is that a boy’s name?”

“Well, more so than Abby or Abigail.”

She looks around to make sure no one is eavesdropping. “Boys are not idiots, or at least some of them aren’t. They’ll figure out that you’re not one of them pretty fast.”

I have my argument ready. “My mother promised to cut my hair very short tonight.”

“You think they’ll fall for it? It’s obvious that you’re a girl.”

“Yes, but that’s because you know me, Susie. I’ll be in a league where no one knows who I am.”

“Or what you are,” she adds. “A girl who plays hockey in a boys’ league!” My friend covers her mouth. She blushes as if she’s just had a shameful thought. I can guess what it is.

“The players in our age group don’t get dressed in the locker room—they get dressed at home. That’s how it was for my brothers. I’ll only have my skates and my jersey to put on. As for showering after the game, most players take showers at home.”

For reasons of her own, Susie seems disappointed. She tries again.

“Yes, but what happens if a boy does decide to take a shower?”

Are showers an obsession with her? I smile. “Well…I’ll bury my face in my hands, like this.” I can see Susie’s face through my fingers. She scolds me again and laughs.

“You’re looking through your fingers, you bad girl! Hey, do you need help taking off your skates after the game?”

“I have a better idea. Why don’t you give up figure skating and play hockey with me?”

My friend turns her back to me. “Out of the question! It’s a sport for bullies!”

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“Guys,” warns Mom, “stop teasing your sister!”

When it comes to annoying me, Paul and Muni usually show no restraint. We’re in the kitchen. My mother is cutting my hair, as promised. And my brothers are circling me like vultures ready to swoop down on their prey. But this time, they’re outdoing themselves!

My mother trims the hair around my ears and on my forehead.

“Aren’t you afraid of being bodychecked by an opponent?” says Paul.

“It won’t be the time to cry and ask for your mommy,” adds Muni, making a face.

“It’s those guys who’ll cry for their mommies after I knock them against the boards!”

My brothers snicker. My father, who is changing Little Benny’s diaper, orders his sons to finish doing the dishes.

“Girls who play hockey…” Muni begins.

“…and guys who do the dishes. The world is upside down,” concludes Paul.

“Welcome to the twentieth century,” says Dad.

My mother doesn’t usually fear for her only daughter. I’m no fragile doll. But her expression tells me that she’s worried. “If a boy wants to fight with you, Abby, what will you do?”

Without hesitating, I raise a fist. “After this, he’ll run home crying!”

Paul jumps in. “If you want, we’ll teach you, Ab.”

My mother corrects him right away. “In this house, it’s Abby! Don’t you forget it, you two.”

Muni steps forward, his right hand closed into a fist.

“You hit between the eyes, Ab…”

My mother interrupts the hair cutting and glares at him.

“…ee,” he finishes. “Ab-ee!”

With a nod of the head, my mother sends him back to his brother, and to their pots and pans.

“The players are forbidden to fight, Abby,” Dad remarks, more for Mom’s benefit than for mine.

My mother presses my head forward so she can shave my neck. She’s very skilled. I hear my brothers whisper. What evil plan are they concocting?

Even though she’s absorbed in her task, my mother calls them to order. “Finish the dishes before you go outside to play hockey.”

“We’ll be right back, Mom,” promises Paul.

My head is down but I can guess from the sound of their footsteps that they’re going to their bedroom. The noises that follow tell me they’re looking for something. What they’re in such a hurry to find, I don’t know.

“I have it!” shouts Muni.

“Me too!” says Paul.

They come running back to the kitchen. My mother lifts up my head—the haircut is finished. My brothers are impressed.

“For a girl, you look like a boy!” says Paul, surprised.

“No. You look like Curious Georgette!” says Muni with a burst of laughter shared by our older brother. He means my favorite comic book character, the monkey Curious George.

My father is still busy with the diaper changing. He wrinkles his nose at the smell. “Well!” exclaims Dad, after taking a look at me. “Dorothy, we now have three boys who play hockey!”

“But one who plays like a girl!” adds Paul.

My mother hands me a mirror. My hair has never been this short.

“Thank you, Mom! I’m sure it’s going to work.” I will easily blend into the crowd of male players.

“You’re only missing one thing,” observes Paul.

“Yeah,” Muni continues. “Any boy who plays hockey must have one…otherwise…”

“One what?” I ask.

A few inches from my nose, they dangle…a jock!

“It’s to protect your privates during the games,” says Paul, trying to hide a smile.

“It’s part of the normal equipment for a boy who plays hockey. If you don’t wear a jock, you can’t call yourself a boy,” insists Muni.

“Guys!” says Mom, pretending to be offended.

My father, who has finished changing Benny’s diaper, steps in. “Your brothers are right, Abby. It’s an item that…uh…shows, even under hockey pants.”

Happy and surprised to get their father’s support, my brothers let loose. “You have to understand, Abby,” begins Paul. “If the puck hits it, we have to hear the sound.”

“The sound? What sound?”

My parents are amused by the turn of the conversation.

Muni answers: “The sound…POCK! Not as in a hockey puck. POCK! Like when the puck hits the jock.”

“Yes, you need a POCK!” says Paul, hitting the jock with his knuckles. POCK! POCK! POCK!

“Because if there’s no POCK!” continues Muni, “it won’t be believable. No POCK! It’s SCHLOCK! like the boys say.”

“The boys say that?” asks Mom.

“I believe it,” interjects Dad. “The jock is as important a piece of equipment as shoulder pads or leg pads.”

“It’s true, I almost forgot,” says Mom, with a touch of irony. “It’s essential protection! Yet no helmet for the head. It’s not hard to figure out where male priorities are.”

“It doesn’t take much to get injured, Mom,” remarks Paul.

“No, it doesn’t take much,” she repeats, turning up her nose at her sons’ jocks.

Then she addresses me. “Abby, make sure you don’t neglect to wear this highly specialized piece of equipment.”

I get up from my chair and ruffle my hair. “Okay, Mom.”

POCK! POCK! POCK! my brothers keep repeating in my ear.

The ringing of the phone drowns out the POCKs. Paul shoves Muni aside. At the Hoffmans, there are two subjects of discord: whether the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, or Red Wings have the best team, and who will answer the phone.

However, as soon as someone puts a hand on the receiver, the fight is over. Just like when a referee calls an offside and the players stop skating.

“Hello?” says Paul.

“Uh? There’s no Ab here. You have the wrong number.” He hangs up. “It was for someone named Ab!”

It’s a good thing my father held me back, otherwise I would have shoved my stupid brother’s jock down his throat.

“That was for me! For my hockey registration!” I say, my voice breaking.

My mother points a threatening finger at Paul—not a good sign at all. “You. I don’t want you touching the phone for the rest of the week, is that clear?”

Muni applauds the punishment imposed on his older brother. “It’s simple: A plus B equals AB! Like our sister Abby!”

“If he doesn’t call back, I will have missed my only chance to play hockey in a real league,” I say with tears in my eyes.

My brother lowers his head. “I’m sorry.”

The ringing of the phone resonates throughout the house again. Muni is about to pick up but my father slaps his fingers.

“Ow!” he moans, quickly withdrawing his hand.

“Hands off!” orders Dad. “Your voice sounds almost the same as Paul’s. The person might think he’s dialled the wrong number again. Abby will get it.”

“It’s not fair!” complains Muni.

“Oh yes, it is!” gloats Paul.

I pick up. “Hello?” I immediately regret opening my mouth. I’m nervous, so my voice is high-pitched and clear—like a girl’s. “Yes, this is Ab Hoffman…ahem…ahem…” I try to make my voice deeper.

The man, whose name is Al Grossi, if I understood correctly, is the coach of the St. Catharines Tee Pees. He tells me that I’m part of his team, and that the first game will be Saturday at 8:00 a.m. at Varsity Arena.

“Will I be there? Of course, I’ll be there!”

I try to contain my excitement but under the circumstances, it’s very difficult. My dream to play hockey in a league is becoming reality.

“My position? Defense…left…okay…. I’ll be number 6? Oh—”

My father gives me the thumbs up: That’s Floyd Curry’s number, his favorite Canadiens player. No Red Wings player wears that number.

My mother comes out of the bedroom with my brothers trailing behind her. Their ears are red! I raise a fist to the ceiling as a sign of victory. My mother applauds silently, without her hands touching, and gives me a huge grin. Even Paul and Muni are happy for me.

Mr. Grossi also explains that, as I expected, we have to put on our equipment at home. Except for the skates, which we can put on in the locker room. The jerseys will be given to the players at the first game.

“Don’t forget to say thank you,” whispers Dad.

“Thank you,” I repeat like a robot. “See you on Saturday.” I hang up.

It’s as if a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I suddenly feel as light as a feather. I’m so happy I could almost kiss my brothers. Ew, no—I can live without that.

I grab a pen and note Saturday’s game on our activity board. The bulletin board on the other wall is used to pin newspaper clippings that capture the attention of the Hoffman family.

I write on the Toronto Maple Leafs calendar: Ab…8:00 a.m., Varsity Arena. On the photo, forward George Armstrong seems to be looking me in the eye and smiling from the corner of his mouth as if to say: “Well done, Ab!”

“The Tee Pees?” repeats Paul. “Do you know, Abby, that the name of your team comes from the initials of the company Thompson Products?”

“I thought you were only interested in rocks, Paul,” remarks Muni.

“It was a research project in one of my classes last year,” my older brother explains.

I rush to my room to put on my pajamas and read a Curious George story before going to bed. Following his adventures relaxes me.

“In bed so early?” says Mom, surprised. “It’s only 7:30.”

“I want to be in shape for the game.”

“It’s in three days,” Dad reminds me. “Today is Wednesday.”

Still all this time to wait. It’ll be unbearable….

Chapter 4

At school, my short hair is a big hit. Some students confuse me for a boy, which is very good news.

“Aren’t you insulted, Abby?” worries Susie Read.

“No! This is exactly what I want to hear!”

When Ms. Morley asks about my new haircut, I stress the practical aspect. “It dries faster after swimming classes.” My answer seems to satisfy the teacher and my classmates. The subject is quickly forgotten.

Ms. Morley draws our attention to a strange drawing on the blackboard done by a student—Eve Lismer. It shows someone with a big head and a messy scrawl in the middle of it.

“That,” says Eve, indicating the scribble “is the brain. It helps us to think. When you don’t have one, like boys, you can’t tell the difference between a salamander and a chameleon.”

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Saturday seems so far away. I’ve never found it so hard to wait for a special day—and I include Christmas along with my birthday, February 11th. But there’s no better way to kill time when you’re waiting for a hockey game than to play hockey! My parents are understanding and respect their kids’ interests. Once our homework is done, they allow us to go to the ice rink across the street, before and after dinner.

During the meal, my brothers shower me with conflicting advice.

“When a player charges at you, don’t pay attention to the puck,” declares Paul.

“What are you talking about?” interjects Muni. “Forget about the player! You have to pay attention to the puck!”

My father suggests a compromise—deal with the player first, and then with the puck.

“That’s what I said, Dad!” exclaim both my brothers together.

The night before my first game, I’m so excited I can’t sleep. The tic-toc of the alarm clock drives me crazy. The fact that I can’t get comfortable doesn’t help either; to save precious minutes, I didn’t put on my pajamas. I wore my hockey stuff instead—all of it except the skates.

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