Behind his mahogany desk, Bill Braddock offers me another smile. Reassuring. “Relax, Canning. This is just a yearly review, not an execution.”

Just a yearly review? Nuh-uh. This is the meeting where I find out if I got the promotion I applied for.

Assistant Coach. The big AC. Sure, it doesn’t sound like the most glamorous job title, but it’s a step up from my current position of Associate Coach, and it’s one step closer to my ultimate goal—Head Coach.

Don’t get me wrong, I love working one-on-one with my team’s goalie and defensemen. And I know my efforts definitely contributed to us winning the Memorial Cup tournament last year. The jury’s still out on this year, but the boys have been kicking ass this season, so a return to the championship isn’t out of reach.

But just because I was a goalie myself doesn’t mean I don’t have ideas about offensive strategies, or the ability to coach the hot young forwards that enter the league every year. I need a change. I need a broader set of responsibilities.

During our last road trip, Bill all but confirmed I was getting a promotion. It means moving to a different team whose home arena is about forty-five minutes north of Toronto, but I’m not worried about the commute from downtown. And yes, it also means no longer working with Bill, but as much as I like and respect the man, change is good.

Now, as I sit there in the presence of Bill and Ron, I wonder if maybe…maybe I’m getting an even better position? Why else would someone from the CHL be here?

“Let’s get right down to business,” Bill says without preamble. “Ron and I have been singing your praises all season. What you’ve done with Chambers is truly something.”

Ron nods enthusiastically. “The way you turned that kid around? Very impressive.”

“He turned himself around,” I argue, although I can’t deny that Dale Chambers was an absolute nightmare at the start of the season. Chip on his shoulder, not to mention a God complex. Kid earned his teammates’ dislike from day one, and it took many, many team-building attempts to create some camaraderie between him and everyone else. If a team doesn’t like or trust their goalie, it could tank an entire season.

But all it took was a few conversations with Chambers for me to realize he was crying out for help. His father abandoned the family when Dale was six, and the parade of male “role models” courtesy of his mother’s awful taste in boyfriends created a hostile home environment that had Dale acting out in school and hockey practice. His sheer talent as a goaltender caught the attention of his youth league coaches, who encouraged him to keep playing.

“I just listened to him,” I tell my bosses.

“You’re good with them,” Bill says seriously. “The boys. You have a real talent for nurturing these kids, Canning.”

My cheeks heat up, and damned if my chest doesn’t puff up with pride. I am good with kids. I know I am. And the praise being poured on to me feels great, not gonna deny that.

“You’re an excellent role model,” Ron agrees.

The balloon of pride grows bigger, filling up my entire chest.

“With that said…” Bill starts.

Here it is. I almost rub my palms in glee. Promotion time.

“I know you were hoping to land as the AC for the Barrie team, but that position was offered to Hannigan this morning.”

Pop! goes the balloon in my chest. Replaced with a rush of cold air.

“Hannigan?” I echo stupidly. Percy Hannigan? But he’s the most recent hire for Toronto. I pretty much trained the guy.

What the fuck.

“Um.” I swallow, then force myself to maintain a neutral tone. “With all due respect, sir, but…do you think Hannigan is qualified? He only recently joined the staff.”

“He already has an existing relationship with Coach Shay,” Ron Farham reveals. “Percy played for him in high school.”

What. The. Fuck.

“We decided they’d make a good team,” Bill says gently, clearly catching the dumbfounded expression I was trying to mask. “And we believe your talents lie elsewhere.”

I frown. “Okay. Am I being sent somewhere else then?”

He shakes his head. “Not yet. We’d like to keep you here in Toronto until we find the right position for you.”

Excuses excuses excuses! When he was a kid, my brother Brady used to stomp his foot and shout a litany of “Excuses!” whenever our dad told him he couldn’t go surfing that day for whatever (valid) reason. And now here I am, shouting my older brother’s ancient tantrum mantra in my head, trying hard not to let the words inadvertently slip out of my mouth.

But I know they’re just feeding me bullshit excuses. Uh-huh, I’m sure they’re really hunting for some super-awesome “right position” for me. Meanwhile, Percy fucking Hannigan got the promotion I wanted, because he’s buds with the Barrie head coach.

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