Clarence the Puck
The room was filled with hockey heroes of the past. Every general manager of every National Hockey League team as well as a horde of media: writers, photographers, television crews representing all major American and Canadian networks including ESPN and TSN were also in attendance. It was the annual “Puck Draft” prior to this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
Clarence had the great honour of representing the Atlantic Region having been the winning puck used in the St. John’s Seadog’s Memorial Cup victory last year. “This boy’s got what it takes to be a winner,” said Blair McMurtrey, head referee for the Atlantic league as he chose Clarence to represent the east. Clarence was a strong healthy lad which belied his very sensitive nature which he managed to keep inside himself. Having been born and raised in Sydney Mines, Cape Breton, he came from a long line of distinguished pucks. He recalls stories of his grandfather, Paul Puck, and great grandfather Patrick Puck the third, how they found their way into the nets on those frozen ponds to bring victory for their various teams against those dreaded mainlanders.
Clarence was lined up on the head table, on his side, with the numerous other pucks representing every region in North America and this was also the first year that European pucks were allowed to be selected. Dmitri Asinoff from Russia and Svend Noordstrom from Sweden were expected to go early in the draft as they were both contenders for the European Puck of the year.
Bill, the Toronto puck, leaned over to Clarence and said, “As far as I’m concerned those jerks shouldn’t be allowed in our league, they’d just disintegrate if they ever got hit with an NHL slap shot. Let them go to the Olympics; we don’t need their type in Canada”
Claude, from Rimouski added in, “Wait until Don Cherry hears about this, they won’t last a minute in this league when he gets into his rant across the country on the CBC. “Tabernac! C’est Tereeble!”
The big moment arrived, and the puck to go first would be the one used for the final game of the Stanley Cup should the series go to seven games and it would only be used if the game went into overtime as this is when the best puck in the league would be needed and would thereby be an automatic hero and be a shoe in to be placed in the Hockey Hall of Fame. The time arrived and the television lights were on; “Jeese, those lights are hot”, said Terrence from Edmonton, “I think I’m going to melt.” It was a live feed to the CBC studios in Toronto and NBC in New York. The event went live on prime time taking precedence over American Idol, and it was estimated that over fifty four million people from around the world would be tuned in to see which puck would be chosen first.
After great debate between the NHL head office, Chief referee, and the general Manager’s “Puck Picking Committee” NHL Commissioner Barry Slippman stepped up to the microphone. The tension in the room was unbearable. Clarence looked to both sides of him and noticed that Bill was shaking and Claude had a very cocky grin on his face. Clarence was inwardly trembling, more out of fear than excitement, because he didn’t know what would lie in store for him should he win.
“It is with great pleasure that I announce: Clarence from Sydney Mines Nova Scotia is the number one puck draft pick of the year,” said the commissioner. Cheers went up all over the room coupled with a multitude of camera flashes. Bill and Claude both rolled over to congratulate Clarence and they happened to overhear Dmitri and Svend commiserating with each other saying that the whole thing was rigged to have a North American win. Clarence was immediately picked up and taken to the press room to meet the various journalists. He was hoping they wouldn’t make fun of his Sydney Mines accent. After that he was marked with a star, and placed in the travelling freezer with all of the other draft picks who would be playing in the various playoff games. Both Bill and Claude were in there, although Terrence didn’t make it. Numerous other pucks were also chosen as they represented teams from Florida, New York, the Mid West, and the west coast. They all welcomed Clarence and gave him a special place in the freezer which was always reserved for the top Puck draft pick. There was always the possibility that the series would never go to seven games and even a more remote chance that it would go into overtime. In such a case, it was in his contract that he would be retired with a multimillion dollar contract and he could marry his long time girlfriend Patti Puck, fish on the Mira and play golf for the rest of his life.
As it turned out it was the seventh and final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs and it was tied 1-1 as they headed into overtime. The Pittsburgh Penguins were playing Toronto in the Legendary Maple Leaf Gardens. Head Referee, Mario Schwartz came over to the penalty box and reached into the puck freezer a grabbed Clarence. “O.K. bud, this is your time to shine” he said to Clarence as they headed out to center ice for the face off. Clarence started to warm up partly from the temperature in the huge arena, but also some pride entered his soul, as he cautiously looked around at the sell out crowd of sixteen thousand screaming fans. He felt great comfort in the warm hands of the referee, but knew that his destiny was to be the best puck a puck could be. The opposing centre men had their sticks firmly planted on the ice waiting for the referee to drop Clarence. One was toothless and pools of sweat were falling on the ice from both their brows directly onto the spot where Clarence was to be dropped.
Clarence hit the ice with a definite thud and the two centre men battled over him. He was being squeezed between their two sticks when he suddenly was able to break himself loose and soon found himself on the stick of a Maple Leaf defenseman having skidded across the freshly Zambonied surface. This was Clarence’s favourite surface to play on because it was so smooth. Later on in the game the ice surface became considerably rougher and with all the skate marks they caused considerable abrasions and redness on his edges and bottom. The defenseman passed Clarence up to his left wing who immediately skated across the blue line, Clarence making sure that he was on side and with a shuddering slap shot Clarence was headed towards the Pittsburgh goalie who immediately steered Clarence away from the goal with his blocker up into the glass and then into the netting. “Phew,” Clarence said to himself. “That was quite the shot but I love this netting. It’s so soft.” The crowd was in a frenzy with that last shot as Clarence trampolined off the netting and found himself back in the faceoff circle to the right of the goalie. Pittsburgh won this one and Clarence was sent on a two on one break away. Thwack, Clarence found himself once more shot into mid air and before he could change direction he was situated squarely in the mouth of the one defender. Teeth and blood were all over the ice, not to mention that Clarence was drenched in blood. He lay on the ice, against the boards, while the trainers came out to help the injured player and while the linesman tried to break up a large fight near the players’ benches. The head referee came over with a towel and wiped the blood off Clarence and put him in his pocket while they were sorting out the penalties.
“This is gross,’ Clarence said to himself as was sharing the confined space with a old piece of chewing gum wrapped up in its original wrapper, a used tissue and a bunch of lint. “I’ve got to get myself out of here.” and with that he moved a bit as the referee started to skate and made the referee very uncomfortable causing the official to wince and remove Clarence from the confines of his pocket. “Phew, fresh air at last,” said Clarence, and continued. “that was worse than being flipped into the penalty box.”
The game went on for another twelve minutes with fast paced hockey, up and down the ice. Clarence was swatted into the glass a number of times, always smiling at the screaming fans who were so excited that they had seen Clarence up so close. If Clarence had a favourite player on the two teams it was Troy Mclean from Sydney. Even though he had signed a non partisan agreement before entering the draft he figured that it was O.K to like a fellow Caper.
The Penguins had just received a penalty and Clarence found himself on the end of Troy’s stick. “O.K. It’s time to end this thing,” Clarence thought, and as Troy gave a quick little wrist shot Clarence put his flat side towards centre ice and caught a wave of air which propelled him over the goalie’s shoulder, into the net, and the game was over. The Toronto Maple Leafs had won their first Stanley Cup in over forty years thanks to Clarence the puck from Sydney Mines. The players and the crowd were going wild; towels, hats, and programs scattered the ice as Clarence sat alone in the empty net, quietly relishing in his glory.
The head referee finally came over and picked him up. “Well done, Bud,” said the Ref, “You’re going to the Hockey Hall of Fame”. Clarence looked up at the ref and said,” Personally, I’d rather be fishing on the Mira.”