“Look out! There he comes!”
Leaning far forward, riding a little black object along the ice in the crook of his stick, the blades of his skates throwing a fine spray of ice as he swerved to right and left, Carl Hemmer, Taber High’s great hockey star, was in the midst of one of his famed solo dashes. An amazing individual performer, Carl had twice split Howard Prep’s defense wide open, charging recklessly in on her goalie to smack the puck into the net. There was nothing he relished more than disconcerting the enemy and the entire Howard sextet was certainly frantically bewildered at his maneuvers. No team had, thus far, been able to keep Carl bottled up. Irrepressible in nature, he defied opposing sixes to stop him—combining daring with superb stick handling and dazzling skating. The tougher the going, the more it stimulated him, Carl possessing the ability to rise to all situations.
“We’ll get him this time!” said Bentley, Howard’s right defense, grimly.
He stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Morton, Prep’s left defense, both of whom were smarting under previous assaults.
“Get him if you have to dump him!” answered Morton. “That boy’s been going through us like tissue paper!”
Disdaining an attempt to go around the human bulwark of the two forms huddled to impede his progress, Carl—going at top speed—crouched for the impact. Spectators were up on their feet, thrilled at the spectacle Carl was presenting. He was actually a one-man team. Taber hadn’t lost a game since his advent in school and ice hockey, through his exploits, had become the town’s most popular sport.
“Hit ’em high! Hit ’em low!” sung the Taber rooters, as though they were cheering a football team.
It was the third period of a game in which Taber led, three to one. No necessity for Carl’s tempestuous drive down the ice except that his dynamic nature sent him always on the attack whenever he could get his stick on the puck.
“Worry the enemy every minute of the game,” had been his motto, “and the enemy won’t worry you!”
Howard Prep’s two defense men met the whizzing Carl Hemmer head-on. This time Taber High’s crack hockey player did not go through. Instead his body was catapulted backwards, with pieces of broken sticks flying in air, to land heavily some feet away and go skidding across the ice to bring up with a sickening thud against the sideboards.
“Wow! They certainly stopped him that time!” breathed a spectator. “Looked like dirty work, too! Illegal body-checking and free use of their sticks!... Yes, sir—there’s the referee waving them off the ice ... a major penalty for both of ’em!”
A chorus of boohs followed the two Howard defense men as they skated to the sideboards and clambered into the penalty box to remain out of the game for five minutes which, in this case, meant that the contest would be over before they could return.
“Hello—Carl’s hurt!” discovered the crowd, as the huddled figure sprawled near the sideboards, failed to rise. “He took quite a wallop!”
Knocked unconscious by the impact and suffering a jolting bump on his head, Taber’s hockey star was carried off the ice to the dressing room as the crowd gave him a burst of sympathetic applause. Minus two of her players, Howard Prep’s scoring possibilities were so reduced that she was forced to go strictly on the defensive save for lone attempts to put the puck in from long range. Taber High won the game a few minutes later, three goals to one—the injured Carl’s two goals again providing the margin of victory.
“Wonder how Carl is?” was Lank Broderick’s first question, as the teams left the ice. “I’d like to take a punch at those two Howard guys. Sorry they didn’t get back in play!”
Lank was Carl’s team-mate at left wing, Carl serving as forward on the right wing. They thought much of each other, Lank sacrificing his chances of scoring to feed the puck to Carl because of Carl’s admittedly greater prowess.
“I’m not interested in who makes the scores, just so they’re made,” Lank had often said. “Besides, I’ve got sense enough to know that we’d have just an ordinary hockey team if it wasn’t for Carl ... and we’d be foolish if we didn’t build our six around him ... since he can do so much for us!”
In the locker room, stretched out on a rubbing table, fellow team-mates found their idol, Carl. Taber High’s right wing had just regained consciousness and was staring dazedly at the ceiling. He raised up on his elbows and reached out his hand for an imaginary stick.
“Game’s over!” said Doctor Lawrence, pushing Carl gently back.
“And we won!” informed Lank, stepping to Carl’s side.
The injured star nodded and moistened his lips, still staring.
“How did I get in here?” he asked, and put a shaky hand to his head. “The last I remember I—I was going through...!”
Lank grinned, reassuringly. “Yes, but they gave you the works, Carl, old boy ... and you did a backward flip-flop, landing on your bean. That was ‘lights’ for you.”
“It—it must have been,” said Carl, faintly.
“I’m glad it wasn’t a knee or an ankle,” kidded Lank. “Only your head!”
“Only?” repeated Carl, too stunned to react to kidding.
“I mean—you’ll soon be over this bump. We’ll sure need you week after next when we run into Siddall. You’ll have a chance to give your one rival some real competition then,” Lank went on.
“Whiz Deagen?” spoke Carl, and bit his lips. “Gee—my head! If you don’t mind ... I don’t want to talk hockey now ... I want to get home.... Where’s my clothes?... I want to get home...!”
“We’ll get you home all right,” declared Doctor Lawrence. “Just take it easy.”
Motioning to Taber High’s team-members to ‘clear out’, Doctor saw to it that Carl Hemmer was dressed and sent home in a car. Then, returning to the locker room he called the squad together and said: “Carl’s suffered a slight concussion. Nothing serious but he’ll feel the shock for several days. Better if he doesn’t talk or think hockey. I suggest you let him alone. A fellow usually reacts against an unpleasant experience. A few days’ rest and his old zest for the game will return naturally. Say nothing about this ... and when you see him ... act just as though nothing has happened. Get me?”
Historic was the only word to describe the battles between Siddall and Taber, rivals of long standing. It was generally acknowledged that these two high schools turned out the best ice hockey teams in the country ... best of their class, that is. “We thirst for each other’s blood,” was the way a Siddall rooter expressed it, putting on what he described as a “bloodthirsty” expression. This season both sextets looked forward to their clash with more than ordinary interest because each possessed a hockey player of outstanding ability. Whiz Deagen had been to Siddall what Carl Hemmer had been to Taber and this was the highest compliment that could be paid—practically signalizing that he was all but the whole team.
“When those two boys clash it will be worth coming miles to see,” a Taber supporter had declared.
Concern, however, was now secretly expressed as to the possible extent of injuries Carl Hemmer may have suffered. Had Doctor Lawrence withheld any vital information? The fact that Carl was being kept in bed two days after the game did not sound so good.
“Say, if Carl’s out of that game, we might as well forfeit!” commented a sports authority. “Whiz will skate the rest of our team dizzy!”
Great was the relief when, two days before the Winston game, Carl Hemmer showed up at the locker room, ready to don his togs.
“I feel fine,” he announced, quietly.
“That’s great!” greeted Lank, cordially. “Glad to have you back!”
Coach Corcoran conferred with Doctor Lawrence. The Winston game was not expected to tax Taber seriously.
“Better not scrimmage him yet,” was Doctor’s advice. “I doubt if the team needs another scrimmage session. Just a running through their formations.”
“I think you’re right,” said the Coach.
In practice the presence of Carl Hemmer brought back the old snap in the team. The puck skimmed from player to player as they swept up and down the ice in formation.
“I want to see these plays click in the Winston game,” called Coach Corcoran. “It’ll be our last chance to brush up on ’em before we hit Siddall!”
“They’ll look like a million!” promised Lank.
Thirty cents is as far from a million as the earth is from the moon. That Lank’s enthusiastic prophecy was not fulfilled was due not so much to Winston as to the fellow who had been Taber High’s spark plug. Since most of the plays were built around him, Carl Hemmer absolutely had to be functioning himself if the formations were to be successfully completed. But the game was not five minutes old before players and spectators alike knew that something was radically wrong with the usually dependable and scintillating right wing. Carl started his dashes with the usual fervor but they faded rapidly as he passed center ice and, instead of going through at all costs, he veered to right or left, attempting to evade the Winston defense and slipping into the end zone along the sideboards. His efforts, as a result, were reduced almost to naught with the puck being lost repeatedly and Winston’s starting an offensive of its own.
“This sometimes happens to a fellow who gets a bad bump on the head,” remarked Doctor Lawrence privately to an anxious Coach Corcoran. “That’s why I wanted Carl to take things so easy. It’s just as though he’d been beaned by a baseball. He has a nervous reaction to thoughts of another possible crash. But it’ll wear off!”
“That may be,” conceded the Coach. “But when? That’s the question!”
“He should get better before this game is over,” said the Doctor.
But Carl Hemmer’s improvement was not noticeable. And the falling off in his playing form was making what should have been an easy game look hard. As late as the third quarter, Taber High was leading by only one goal to none, and this goal scored by Lank who’d smacked in the rebound of a long shot which Carl had fired from the blue line.
“What’s the matter, Carl, old warhorse?” Lank finally asked, as team members looked on, wonderingly.
“Nothing!” was Carl’s tight-lipped answer.
And no one had the heart to question him further.
The game ended without a change in the score and sports writers now had something to write about. “Injury Affects Hemmer’s Playing,” one heading said. “Hemmer Shadow of Former Self,” declared another. “Crippling of Hemmer Menaces Chances Against Siddall,” was a third feature title. But it remained for one sport scribe to offer the explanation that “Hemmer played under wraps, apparently by instructions of Coach Corcoran who was running no risks against his not being in shape to meet Siddall next Saturday. There’s little doubt but that Carl will be in his customary great form at that time ... and then we’ll be treated to a whirlwind battle between himself and Whiz Deagen—two of the smartest performers in high school hockey.”
Rated as two evenly matched sextets, Taber and Siddall High Schools drew a capacity crowd at the Taber rink to witness what had been heralded as probably their most spirited encounter. Both rooting sections buzzed with excitement as their respective teams skated on the ice. This excitement reached high tension when Whiz Deagen and Carl Hemmer met up with each other and shook hands near the Siddall bench.
“Hey, Carl,” called a wit, “which one of you’s the better player?”
“We don’t know yet,” Taber’s great star grinned in reply.
“But it won’t be long now,” added Whiz, showing a nice set of teeth.
“Those two could cut each other’s throats,” the bloodthirsty fan confided to the rooter next to him. “They’re just letting on that they’re friends. Wait till you see what they do to each other in a game!”
Slashing sticks, racing forms, skidding slides, bruising falls—all in the pursuit of a mad-traveling puck! The first period of the Taber-Siddall battle was replete with thrills, both teams putting up a frenzied defense, breaking up formations by stiff body-checking and clever poke-checking with their sticks. The puck changed hands in mid-ice with bewildering rapidity as the main fight centered between the blue lines. Long shots were taken when it was found almost impossible to crash through the human defense walls. During this hectic period even Whiz Deagen and Carl Hemmer were swallowed up in swirling action. Occasionally they would get free and the crowd would roar in anticipation of a spectacular dash but their chances didn’t materialize. They were set upon before going far and forced to retreat or surrender the puck.
“Whiz and Carl are killing each other off!” opined one rooter as the period ended, nothing to nothing. “They’re so afraid one or the other is going to break loose that they’re spending their time on each other’s necks! However, the game is young yet!”
Siddall started the second period with a rush. Having sounded out Taber’s system of play the first fifteen minutes, the enemy—led by their redoubtable Whiz Deagen—assailed the Taber net. This time they broke through Taber’s defense for close-in shots and goalie Frank Cary had a man-sized job on his hands warding the fast-flying puck off with stick, pads, gloves, body and head. He elicited cheer after cheer for his marvelous goal-guarding but Siddall’s persistent battering was not to be denied. Whiz Deagen, capturing the puck in mid-ice, whirled and feinted a pass, then zig-zagged past Taber’s two defense men who made desperate attempts to stop him. He rode on his skate runners up to the very mouth of the cage and shoved the puck, lightning fast, past goalie Cary who, even then, threw himself prone in the wild hope of averting a score.
“No soap!” grinned Whiz, fishing the puck out of the net as the referee’s whistle screeched and the red light of the official score blinked on. “You’re licked. It’s just a question of how much!”
“We’ll get that goal back!” rejoined goalie Cary. “You’ll see!”
Whiz Deagen laughed. He was still laughing at the next face-off when the man whom Taber fans had picked to outshine him, got his stick on the puck and started on a lone dash. These kind of dashes were what had made him famous and Siddall who had worked out a special defense against them, massed for the attack. To the consternation of all, however, Carl did not meet the challenge but veered sharply at the last moment and tried to get past without bodily conflict.
“That’s bad,” said Doctor Lawrence who sat beside Coach Corcoran on the bench. “It’s still got him!”
Whiz Deagen, following Carl closely, caught him as he slackened his pace, crossed sticks with him and scraped the puck away as both brought up against the sideboards with a crash, Carl pulling back instinctively to lessen the impact.
“What’s eating you?” fired Lank, skating up as Whiz was off with the puck.
Carl’s usual self-confident manner was gone. His face looked drawn. He was actually trembling. There was no time to question him then with Siddall once more threatening Taber’s goal and goalie Frank Carey doing another magnificent job of standing the invaders off. A mix-up in front of the cage brought a face-off and once again Carl had the puck. Once again his brilliant skating took him out of the pack on a solo dash which swept past mid-rink and beyond the blue line into Siddall’s end zone. Once again, however, with the crowd screaming wildly, expecting a characteristic Carl Hemmer drive through the enemy’s defense, Taber’s right wing swerved to avoid a collision. In doing so he lost his balance and the puck was jostled from the crook of his stick, all his effort going for naught.
“Booh!” shouted an over-zealous fan, but the razz died in his throat as the crowd hushed him.
Chagrined beyond words, Carl skated madly back into play, now chasing the Siddall men with the puck and trying to wrest it from them. Taber’s idol was a hollow husk of himself and Siddall now knew it for a certainty. Whiz Deagen even took to taunting him by slapping the puck his way, confident that Taber’s crack player couldn’t get past Siddall’s blue line.
“I dare you!” he shouted, and a fellow whose face was almost as blue as the line in the ice marking the zones, couldn’t bring himself to accept the challenge.
At the end of the second period the score was—Siddall, 1; Taber, 0.
In the locker room perturbed team-mates gathered about Carl to inquire the cause of his poor play. Carl could only answer them with a hopeless shake of the head. But Lank Broderick, more sympathetic, took him by the arm and led him to one side.
“What is it, Carl? Tell me!”
Taber’s right wing, always the bulwark of the team before, now clutched his running mate’s arm, piteously.
“Lank, I can’t explain it. All I know is ... I can’t make myself go through any more. I think I can when I start out ... but when I’m right there ... I lose my nerve or something!... It’s the most terrible feeling.... It feels like I’m just about to skate into blackness...!”
Lank, watching Carl closely, nodded understandingly.
“Listen, Lank,” begged Carl, tremulously. “We’ve got to win this game. I used to break the defense and get through to take passes from you and shoot the goals. Can’t we reverse things?... You go through and I’ll pass to you!”
Lank hesitated. “I can try,” he promised. “It’s not so easy to get through that bunch. I don’t have your form, you know. You had a system all your own...!”
“I’m sorry,” Carl said. “I feel like a rotter.”
“You’ll snap into it,” Lank encouraged. “Come on—let’s go!”
Siddall skated out for the third and last period a cocky sextet headed by a carefree Whiz Deagen. True, the visitors were only leading by one goal but their defense had been impregnable and they had stopped the mighty Carl Hemmer cold even as Winston, a much lesser team, had done the week before. There was no reason why they could not add to their score or, failing in this, hold a stubbornly defensive Taber to no goals.
Lank Broderick, Taber’s left wing, true to his word, tried to crack Siddall’s defense but was repulsed. He tried again and again, being body-checked out of play. The crowd seemed to sense that he was attempting to make up in a measure for Carl’s strange loss of form and he was cheered each time he took the puck.
“Get going, Carl!” the fans yelled, to no avail.
The much-heralded combat between Whiz Deagen and Carl Hemmer was proving a washout. Whiz was having things much his own way and would probably be credited with winning the game—most certainly should his one goal be the margin of victory.
With eight minutes left to play, Lank skated close to Carl.
“Next time I get the puck,” he said in his ear, “I’m going to crash that defense or know the reason why. You follow right behind me and when I make the hole, you slip through. Watch for the puck because I’ll flip it back to you just as I smack into them!”
“I got you!” Carl replied. “I’ll be there!”
Lank’s opportunity came two minutes later. Carl cut across the ice to join him as Lank started down the ice. He was trailing as Lank skimmed past the blue line and prepared for a body-crashing contact with Siddall’s two defense men. The puck came back to him on a perfect back-handed pass. Lank, having gotten up more momentum than ever before, hit the two defense men with great force ... so much so that all were knocked off their feet. Carl, going fast himself, had to tap the puck to one side and leap their bodies to avoid entanglement. He captured the puck, with the rink a bedlam of sound, and headed for the Siddall net with the goalie crouched in its mouth, broad-bladed stick across his knees.
“There she is!” screamed Taber rooters, going mad as Carl’s close-up shot sent the puck hurtling into the net for the goal which tied the score. “Carl looked like his old self on that one, eh?”
“Sure—after Lank made the way for him!” agreed an observer. “And look at Lank now—he’s stretched out on the ice as cold as a Thanksgiving turkey!”
Cheers died to a breathless silence as Coach Corcoran and Doctor Lawrence hurried on the ice. Taber’s left forward stirred and raised partially up, then writhed in pain.
“Sprained knee,” was the verdict after he had been examined. “Breath knocked out, too ... and a nice little bump on the head!”
Carl’s elation at his having scored was shortlived at seeing that the fellow who had made his score possible was ‘out’ on the play. He reached Lank’s side as Lank was lifted up.
“Good work, Carl!” Lank complimented. “I knew—if I could get you through there...!”
Carl winced. “It’s all my fault,” he blamed. “You were doing what I should have done. I scored on your nerve!”
“You’re welcome to it,” proffered Lank, as they carried him toward the sidelines, Carl skating alongside. “Nerve is such a little thing compared to a fellow who can play hockey like you can!”
Taber’s crack hockey player swallowed. A flash came in his eyes. Turning to fellow team members he cried: “Get me that puck, you guys! That’s all you’ve got to do!... I’ll take it down the ice!”
Whiz Deagen, noting his rival’s change of attitude, turned to his team-mates. “I’ll handle this baby!” he assured.
With the next facing off of the puck at center ice, an electric thrill passed through the crowd as the long-anticipated clash between the two great hockey stars arrived! It was now anybody’s game and very likely that the next goal would decide the victor. Whiz, catching the puck on his stick as it slid along the ice on a pass from Siddall’s center, started a dodging, twisting drive into Taber territory. Carl Hemmer, however, was on his heels, dogging every stride of his journey. The two swooped together in front of Taber’s cage and went down in a heap as the puck upended and rolled to the sideboards.
“Carl prevented a sure score then!” cried a spectator.
Both stars were up in an instant and giving pursuit as team-mates dived in. And now it was Carl who stick-handled the puck out of the mêlée and broke away for a dash, with Whiz frenziedly bringing up the rear.
“Atta boy, Carl! Down the ice!” shouted a familiar voice from the sidelines.
Taber High’s great star passed the Taber bench at mid-ice and heard Lank’s shrill yell as he flashed by. A grim Siddall defense formed to meet him. This time every one in the crowd knew that there would be no flinching ... that Carl was once again the Carl of old ... that he would crash through if it was humanly possible.
Smack! The collision between opposing forces and one lone, speeding figure was violent. All went down in a struggling heap and the puck skidded clear. Carl’s dash had been broken up ... and Whiz Deagen, who had trailed him fiendishly, was now in possession of the puck, spinning around toward the Taber net with Taber’s defense thrown out of position!
“Stop him, somebody!” screamed Taber.
Bobbing to his feet as he slid across the ice after being joltingly bumped, Carl Hemmer put on an amazing burst of speed in an effort to overtake the fast-traveling Whiz Deagen. Siddall’s hockey star evaded Taber defense men as they rushed across the ice in an attempt to cut off his path to the goal. An instant later he was driving in on goalie Frank Carey who looked particularly helpless in the face of this inspired advance. Fifteen feet behind Whiz, and eating up distance with every frantic stroke, was Carl ... but too late to prevent Whiz’s shot. The crowd shrieked its excitement as goalie Carey made a phenomenal stop of a vicious drive—blocking the puck with his chest. The stop, however, pulled him from the mouth of the cage, leaving it totally unprotected as the puck bounded directly in front with Whiz leaping in to take the rebound and finish his job. But, just as his stick was about to make contact with the puck, a figure slid swiftly across the ice and swept the puck to the side. Whiz tripped and fell on Carl and was carried along with him. A terrific mix-up followed with everyone but the goalies involved as the rink became a maelstrom of heart-palpitating, eye-bewildering action.
A minute of play was left as Carl Hemmer, who had suddenly become as a madman on the loose, emerged from a tangle near the sideboards, the puck riding smoothly ahead of his stick. This time the mighty Whiz Deagen was in front of him at center ice, and behind Deagen were Siddall’s two defense men, in position.
“He’ll never get through that pack!” murmured a Taber fan, nervously. “This looks like an overtime tie game!”
Whiz, preparing to dodge whichever direction Carl might dodge, crouched with stick across his knees. The two stars had managed to reduce each other’s brilliant efforts practically to naught thus far.
Approaching his rival at top speed, Carl suddenly turned his skates sidewise and sent up a shower of ice. He veered to the left, then reversed his direction, shot the puck ahead and followed it like a demon. Whiz, lunging to his right, was unprepared for a double shift and a great cry rang out as Carl, outmaneuvering his rival drove on into Siddall’s defense. He was crouching low as the defense men sought to body-check him. There was a resounding impact and both defense men left their feet, bumping jarringly to ice. Carl, brought to his knees, the puck jolted from his stick ahead of him, slid after it toward Siddall’s goal where a wide-eyed goalie braced himself for the onslaught.
“It’s a loose puck!” cried someone. “The goalie’s going to bat it out!”
It seemed the only thing to do ... leaving his cage for the moment since no defense men could reach the scene in time to be of help. The Siddall goalie advanced several feet in front of the cage, jabbing out his stick. As he did so, Carl, still sliding in a half-sitting position, hooked out his stick and contacted the puck. The goalie swung at the black object but his stick landed atop Carl’s and bounced off.
“Shoot!” begged Lank, from the bench.
And Taber’s hockey star, without having time to regain his feet, skidding in close to the goal, punched the puck ahead of him with a sidearm swing, almost under the very feet of a goalie now out of position. The puck turned on edge and rolled into the cage where it snuggled in a corner of the net. The scorer’s red light blazed almost simultaneous with the blazing of the timer’s gun.
“It’s all over!” yelled elated Taber supporters. “What a play!”
It took a moment after that for Taber fans to appreciate that their hockey team had completed an undefeated season ... and that one great hockey star had demonstrated his superiority over another star, almost equally great.
“Awfully sorry you had to get hurt on account of me!” a contrite Carl Hemmer was apologizing the next moment as he clasped Lank’s hand.
“I’m okay now!” grinned Lank, in open admiration. “Boy, the bump I took was worth it to see you stand Siddall on their heads!”
“I felt that bump myself,” said Carl, pointedly, as Taber rooters gathered hilariously about to cheer their hockey idol whose star was once more high in the heavens. “I felt it,” continued Carl a bit huskily, “thanks to you—right where I needed it most!”
Enjoy our collection of Winter Sports Stories.