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As Shark's hockey game improves and he becomes a puck-hog, he alienates himself from his teammates and discovers that a nickname must be earned, not taken for granted.
I am an ice hockey player. I go by the name of Shark.
Pretty easy to remember, isn't it? Pretty cool image to carry around. A twisting torpedo of writhing muscle. Keen with that alertness that makes intelligence seem slow. Roaming relentlessly, sharptoothed, fight-ready, eager to slash at the slightest opening, with no conscience, no mercy— leaving no remains.
Shark. Kind of says a lot about a guy, especially when that name is chosen for him, by a bunch of tough, gritty, hardass ice hockey players who don't hand out favors to anybody.
Shark. It's a name I earned for one reason, then lost, then earned again for another. That's hard. That's work.
How did I earn it first, this name of speed and death and grace? It was easy. I earned it by being the fattest, slowest, most confused hockey player on my team, the Wolfbay Wings Squirt A's. When I tried to stickhandle, I often lost the puck and my stick as well. At least twice a game I would get spun around and my "ice sense" would tell me my team was supposed to head in the direction that was actually reserved for our opponents. I once shot on my own goalie (missed the net, but I worried him for a minute). My idea of defense was managing to drag an opponent to the ice with me as I frequently fell; my idea of playing team offense was managing to skate at least three strides (without the puck, of course) in the right direction, without going offside. I was awesome.
So the nickname was a kind of joke, as was the general name for the four or five of us who had been recruited to fill empty roster spots, and had no business on skates holding hard sticks with which we very wellmight injure ourselves: we were the Spazzes, or sometimes, the Spaz Line. Yes, it was a joke, but let me tell you, it was also a badge of honor. Because when I took the ice-and all of us Spazzes skated regular shifts, same as the stars-I took it without apology, without resignation, without shame. I took the ice-even in full wobble-with pride, buddy. I was a Wolfbay Wing. I wore the blue and black and white; I was one of the first three on the ice at every practice and one of the last three to leave; I worked my fins off, and if the results didn't show much at first, who cared? I was playing hockey. And one day-who could say?-one day maybe I was going to eat me some people.
But as I said, before then I had my muchtreasured name cruelly taken from me by the same teammates who gave it the first time. Did that hurt? Oh, it hurt all right. But I had to remember the vital thing you hear about sharks: They never stop moving, never, always swimming every second, from birth to death.
Here's the story of all this tough swimmin', and how close one fat fish came to bringing it all to a very bad end and-who knows? -suffering through next year being called something like "Bait."