Every Thursday Morning from October till April Kenny Switzer got out of bed very early. He followed the same routine. He kissed his wife, went to the bathroom and brushed his teeth, combed his hair, put on deodorant and got dressed.
Kenny went to the garage and grabbed his over sized hockey bag, opened the trunk of his Chevy Blazer threw it in and drove to the arena twelve minutes away.
It was never fun driving when there was a horrendous winter storm, but Kenny was proud that he had missed only a few games over the decade. His team the ''Stars of David'' played in the Oshkosh Industrial League and were perennial champions.
Today's Championship game was against the Stars arch rivals, the Meltdown Brewers. The Meltdowns were a team sponsored by a local brewery and the players were mostly blue collar hard working guys who sometimes liked to play rough.
The game represented the end of the season as both teams had advanced through the playoffs to this finale. The Stars had crushed their opponents, while the Meltdown had won two games in overtime.
The Stars of David were a team that prided themselves on skating and shooting and avoiding penalties. In the last match against the Meltdown, Michael Albin had gotten into a fight which was unheard of in the Industrial league. Michael had been along the boards digging for the puck when a Meltdown player charged him from behind. The fight lasted maybe twenty seconds but Michael had dropped his gloves before being separated. The guy who ran Michael into the boards, Peter Winters was ejected from the game. Michael was also thrown out. Today's game represented the first time they would be back on the ice together since the ejections.
The referees were local guys who got paid thirty dollars a game to officiate, and they took their roles very seriously. One former Industrial League Referee Jeff Shouldide was now working in the American Hockey League, one step below the National Hockey League. He was an inspiration to the guys who were at the lowest rungs of organized hockey.
Kenny had been talking to his wife Carrie about his hockey and he had made a decision. He hadn't told his teammates but this was going to be his last Stars of David game, he was retiring. He had cut family trips to the South short to be back for playoff games, he had worked extra days to make up for going to tournaments, he had played through the flu and assorted minor injuries, and the thrill wasn't the same when it came to playing for the championship. He really liked the guys on his team (he had played with most of the same people for the past ten years) and he would miss them, but he was confident there would still be the occassional poker night with them.
The dressing room was upbeat when he walked in. He slowly changed into his uniform. Today's uniform would be Blue and White indicating the Stars were considered the home team.
Larry Shapiro the team's goalie and Captain made a speech before the guys headed to the ice. ''We are the Stars of David. We play hard and we play fair. We had a great season and it's all about this one game. No matter what happens I've enjoyed and been proud to play with you guys this year. A special shout out to Al Waxman who as a rookie fit right in. I know these Meltdown guys are going to check and hit and try some dirty stuff, but just stay focused and we'll win. Now let's go kick some ass and bring home the Championship one more time.
When the buzzer from the arena sounded both teams headed to the ice and started warming up. Kenny looked over at the Meltdown and saw a bunch of guys who looked determined, when he looked at his team he saw players who were relaxed and confident. It had been their key to success since he started, they never let the pressure get to them.
After stretching and shots at the goalie, the refs blew the whistle and both teams headed to their respective benches. Kenny played centre but he always started after the first shift with his linemates Teddy Applebaum and Josh Morris.
The game began and the intensity levels were high. It was a fast paced first period and after twenty minutes the score was tied. In the locker room during the ten minute break the guys drank orange juice and talked. They were pleased as it had been a clean game so far.
In the second period the Meltdown applied heavy pressure but the Stars were able to withstand it and Michael Albin scored on a breakaway. The end of period two was one nothing for the Stars of David.
During the ten minute break in the locker room, guys nervously went to the bathroom, other guys ate oranges, and others talked about traits of some of the players they had noticed. One defenseman for the Meltdown always drifted from his right defense position to the centre, so coming down the wing was pretty much open.
Larry Shapiro stood in the centre of the room, he was sweating as he yelled ''Twenty minutes boys and we win it all. Let's make it happen.''
The third period was a tight checking game with both sides making some hard body checks. Larry Shapiro came up with some amazing saves. The Stars had a four minute advantage when Peter Winters slashed and then punched at Michael Albin. This time Albin didn't retaliate. The Stars didn't score but they used up a big chunk of time off the clock.
With one minute and thirty seconds left in the game, the Meltdown Brewers pulled their goalie and went on the attack. The shots were flying fast and furious and one of those shots hit Kenny Switzer on the leg. It hurt like crazy but he was able to get his stick on the puck that was laying in front of him and lift it down the ice, where it did a little skip and went into the net.
It was two nothing with twenty seven seconds left. The Meltdown kept their goalie on the bench and got off a couple of shots but Larry Shapiro stoned them and the Stars of David were league Champions one more time.
Both teams lined up for handshakes and there was a nice hug between Michael Albin and Peter Winters. Real sportsmanship was on display.
When the team went back to their locker room there were four cases of Meltdown Brewery beet waiting for them courtesy of their rivals.
The celebration in the dressing room was fun and nobody got out of control, they never did. They talked about the season and what they would be doing for the next few months.
Larry Shapiro told them he would be in touch over the next couple of days. He would be collecting for new uniforms for the following season and for the banquet to celebrate the teams championship. Wives and Girlfriends would be invited.
Just before everyone started to leave Kenny jumped up on one of the benches in the locker room. ''It has been an amazing ten years. I have loved playing with you guys and I look forward to the banquet. I just wanted to let you know I'm hanging up my blades. I'm going out as a champion, I won't be back next season. "
At first there was some kidding, nobody believed that reliable Kenny Switzer would leave the team. He was a consistent guy. He was always there. When the reality hit, they all hugged him and made him promise he would keep in touch with everybody. He told them he would always be around for them and looked forward to the banquet and poker games.
Soft snow was falling as Kenny pulled into his parking lot at work. He had mixed emotions knowing that his industrial league hockey career was now officially over. He called Carrie to tell her the team had won the league championship and that he loved her and that they would have a celebratory dinner that night, just the two of them.
He then walked through the plant he owned and into his office. His secretary didn't even look up when she asked him the score. ''We won two to zero. It was a great game, fast, hard fought. The Stars of David won it but it was close.''
She looked up and smiled, ''Is it okay if I send the production manager in, he just arrived and he told me there was something he wanted to discuss regarding the sorter on line five.''
Kenny stood up and stretched. ''You know I'm glad I'm giving up hockey, my muscles get tight now, they never used to do that. Please send him in.''
Two minutes later the Production manager was standing in front of him with a huge grin on his face. ''Great game boss, you guys played hard. We thought we had you. Anyways, the sorter on line five misses every eighth bottle. They are falling into the foam, but we have to hand pack the missing bottle in every pack and it's a pain in the butt. It's the only line we're having trouble with.''
''Call ProductionX, they look after the maintenance of the lines and everything is still under warranty. Peter Winters listened intently. Kenny grabbed his hand and shook it. ''I thought you and the guys played great this morning and we were lucky to beat you. I always felt weird playing against my own company, but you all never let up and I am grateful. It was hard being the owner of the Meltdown Brewery and competing against my employees. Thanks for being good sports.'' Peter Winters laughed. ''Trust me, we all wanted to beat the boss but now that it's over we can focus on what's really important, brewing the best beer in Oshkosh, and getting ready to beat the Stars of David next year, we want that Championship. Maybe just maybe before next season, you can provide some inside information.'' Kenny Switzer smiled, he knew that wouldn't happen, how could he ever betray his team. Once a Star of David, always a Star of David.