Randy was dead to the Maple Leafs to begin with.
There was no doubt whatsoever in that. His firing was documented in the Toronto Sun, the Toronto Star, and confirmed by Leafs twitter. His death certificate signed well in advance by many blogs on the internet, Brendan Shanahan, and Mike Babcock, whose name was as good as ‘Change’ as anything he put his hand to. Randy was as fired as the leaky coffee mug he made his mother in grade three art class.
Babcock knew he was dead, of course he did. They were in the coaching fraternity for I don’t know how many years together. Randy was so far out of Toronto that he was now coaching on the opposite coast in Anaheim. A distance of over four thousand kilometers separated them.
The mention of the distance Randy is from the Maple Leafs brings me back to the point I was making from the start. Randy Carlyle is fired, and no longer the coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Obi-Wan Kenobi died before the strike on the Death Star, there would be nothing more remarkable in his speaking to Luke in his X-Wing, in the trench of the Death Star, than there would be in any communication made during the fire fight, such as from the aptly named Porkins, or Luke’s childhood pal Wedge Antilles.
Oh! He was a tight-fisted hand at the lineups, Babcock! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old coach! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his features, nipped his pointed nose, soured his lips, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his hoser voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his solid chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree on Game Day.
External heat and cold had little influence on Babcock. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often came down handsomely, and Babcock never did.
Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, ``My dear Babcock, how are you. When will you come to see me." No bloggers implored him to bestow a trifle, no prospects asked him what it was o'clock, no reporter or columnist ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Babcock. Even the mascots appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their handlers into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their gloves as though they said, ``No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master! "
But what did Babcock care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call nuts to Babcock.
Once upon a time -- of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Trade Freeze Eve -- old Babcock sat busy in his coaching office. It was cold, bleak, biting weather: and he could hear the people in Maple Leaf Square outside, go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them.
The door of Babcock's office was open that he might keep his eye upon the young assistant GM, who in a dismal little cubicle beyond, was analyzing spreadsheets. Babcock had kept his laptop plugged in, but the Dubas' battery was so very much smaller that it looked like one percent. But he couldn't replenish it, for Babcock kept the outlets in his own room; and so surely as the Dubas came in with the extension cord, the coach predicted that it would be necessary for them to part.
“I have a defense man, Babsy! Corrado could save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Babcock’s general manager, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.
“Bah!” said Babcock “Humbug!”
“Corrado, a humbug, Mike!” said Lou. “You don't mean that, I am sure.”
“I do,” said Babcock. “Frank Corrado! What right have does he have to play on my team? What reason have you to want him? His play is poor enough.”
“Come, then,” returned the old man gaily. “What right have you to bench him? What reason have you to be petty like this? What about Hunwick and Polak?”
Babcock having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug.”
“Don't be cross,” said Lamoroello
“What else can I be,” returned the coach, “when I live in such a world of fools as this Frank Corrado! Play Frank Corrado! What's Corrado to you but a bottom pairing defense man; a marginal replacement for experienced veterans; a player to add and you spend time balancing your pairings and having every player in 'em through a round scrutiny from the reporters who are only still around because of seniority? If I could work my will,” said Babock indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Frank Corrado’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with the broken shaft of a composite stick through his heart. He should!”
“Mike!” pleaded the manager.
“Lou!” returned the coach, sternly, “play Corrado in your own way, and let me play him in mine.”
“Play him!” repeated Babcock's superior. “But you don't play him!”
“Let me leave it alone, then,” said Babcock. “Much good may he do the team! Much good he has ever done any!”
“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the manager: “Corrado among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Corrado, when he has come round as a good player: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant player: the only player I know of, in the long calendar of the season, when Polak and Hunwick seem by one consent to open the shooting lanes freely, and to think of players opposite them as if they really were fellow teammates, and not another group of players trying to score on our net. The percentages show this, and your deployment can use some tinkering, if I may say so. And therefore, Babcock, though he has never put a scrap of even a loser point into our record, I believe that Corrado has done the Maple Leafs good, and will do you good; and I say, God bless he!”
The child like assistant outside Mike’s office involuntarily applauded. Becoming immediately sensible of the impropriety, he poked the keyboard, and calculated how to trade away their troublesome Sparks for ever.
“I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so resolute. We have never had any quarrel, to which I have been a party. But I have made the trial in homage to Corrado, and I'll keep my Corrado faith to the last. So please, play Corrado, Mike!”
“Good afternoon!” said Babcock
“And don’t forget about Josh Leivo!”
“Good afternoon!” said Babcock.
His GM left the room without an angry word, notwithstanding. He stopped at the outer door to bestow the greeting of the season on the the assistant GM, who, low on the totem pole he was, acknowledged Corrado’s Corsi to Lou with genuine belief in the player.
“There's another thing,” muttered Babcock; who overheard him: “those stats; with fifteen different ones popping up a week, and no one making legible graphs, talking about playing Corrado. I'll retire to Bedlam.”
Dubas, in letting Babcock's GM out, had let two other people in. They were fresh from the basement bloggers, smart phones in hand, and now stood, with their note pads out, in Babcock's office. They had graphs and papers in their hands, and bowed to him.
“Babcock and Randy's, I believe,” said one of the bloggers, referring to his list. “Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr Babcock, or Mr Randy?”
“Randy Carlyle has been fired these past two years,” Babcock replied. “And no insistence from the Toronto Sun, or repeated wailing's of the Maple Leafs place in the standings when he was fired will bring him back.”
“We have no doubt his his knowledge concussions and toasters is well represented by his surviving coach,” said the blogger, presenting his credentials.
“At this crucial season of the rebuild, Mr Babcock,” said the blogger, tweet threading his words as he spoke, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the younger players and the waiver pick ups, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of proper 5/6 defense men; hundreds of thousands are in want of the marginal players to be dressed to game time, sir.”
“Are there no Hunwicks?” asked Babcock.
“Plenty of Hunwicks,” said the blogger, quote tweeting a rival again.
``And the Polaks?" demanded Babcock. ``Are they still out there, performing each game?"
``They are. Still," returned the blogger, `` I wish I could say they were not."
``The Twitter and the comment sections are in full vigor, then?" said Babcock.
``Both very busy, sir."
``Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop me form playing those men in their useful course," said Babcock. ``I'm very glad to hear it."
``Under the impression that they scarcely turn out a positive GF%, D-zone starts and are bad at possession," returned the blogger, ``a few of us are endeavoring to raise a patreon, or an Amazon wish list, to reward ourselves for tweeting other peoples news. We choose this time to see you, because it is the best time, to plead our case for the potential NHL All Star Frank Corrado. Now how many minutes can we tweet he’s down for?”
``Nothing!" Babcock replied.
``You wish to give him no ice time?"
``I wish for him to be left alone," said Babcock. ``Since you ask me what I wish, it is my answer. I don't make time for your nonsense and I can't afford to make idle players worry. I help to support the veterans I have mentioned: they cost enough; though they may seem bad on the ice."
``Many of us don’t want to watch them; and many would rather die."
``If they would rather die," said Babcock, ``they had better do it, and decrease the surplus twitter population.”
``It's not my business," Babcock continued. ``It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!"
Not seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the bloggers continued to barrage Babcock with their words, refusing to sop RTing their own tweets, and flood the time lines of people who couldn’t care less. Babcock muted the bloggers with an improved opinion of himself, and in a more facetious temper than was usual with him.
At length the hour of shutting up the team office arrived. With an ill-will Babcock dismounted from his plush leather chair, and tacitly admitted the fact to the expectant Dubas in the Tank, who instantly closed his laptop, and put on his hat.
``You'll want him to play tomorrow, I suppose?" said Babcock
``If quite convenient, Sir."
``It's not convenient," said Babcock, ``and it's not fair. If I was to not play him, and ignore your advice, you'd think yourself ill-used?"
The AGM smiled faintly.
``And yet," said Babcock, ``you don't think Polak or Hunwick ill-used, when I play them fifteen minutes for no defensive work."
The AGM observed that it was only once a year.
``A poor excuse for benching a long term vet who paid his dues!" said Babcock, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. ``But I suppose he could perhaps play. Just make sure he’s here all the earlier next morning for a bag skate!" Dubas scurried out of the office, rushing home to tell Frankie that his day has come.
Babcock took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern; and having read all the newspapers, and beguiled the rest of the evening with what the hell Twitter is going on about this time, he went back to the office to think up more cliche’s for the assembled media in the morning. He worked in chambers which had once belonged to all former coaches. They were a gloomy suite of rooms, in the lower bowels of the Air Canada Centre. It was old enough now, and dreary enough, for nobody worked in it but Babcock, the other rooms being all occupied by analytics kids and interns. Babcock reached into his coat for his MLSE access card to enter his office.
Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the swipe pad on the door, except that it was very large. It is also a fact, that Babcock had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place; also that Babcock had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the City of Toronto, even including -- which is a bold word -- the corporation, politicians, and bankers. Let it also be borne in mind that Babcock had not bestowed one thought on Randy, since his last mention of his several-year’s fired partner that afternoon. And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Babcock, having his card in hand, saw in the swipe pad, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change: not a swipe pad, but Randy's face.
Randy’s face. It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the hall were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Babcock as Randy used to look those nights they coached opposite each other, the hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot-air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless. That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part of its own expression.
As Babcock looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a swipe pad again.
To say that he was not startled, or that his blood was not conscious of a terrible sensation to which it had been a stranger from infancy, would be untrue. But he put his hand upon the card he had relinquished, swiped it sturdily, walked in, and turned on the lights.
He did pause, with a moment's irresolution, before he shut the door; and he did look cautiously behind it first, as if he half expected to be terrified with the sight of Randy’s pile of broken toasters spilling out into the hall. But there was nothing on the back of the door, except the screws and nuts that held the swipe pad on, so he closed it with a bang.
``Humbug!" said Babcock; and walked across the room.
After several turns, he sat down again. As he threw his head back in the chair, his glance happened to rest upon the fire alarm. It was with great astonishment, and with a strange, inexplicable dread, that as he looked, he heard the alarm begin to sound. It began so softly in the outset that it scarcely made a sound; but soon it rang out loudly, and so did every alarm in the arena.
This might have lasted half a minute, or a minute, but it seemed an hour. The alarms ceased as they had begun, together. They were succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below; as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine-bar's cellar. Babcock then remembered to have heard that ghosts in haunted houses were described as dragging chains.
The office door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.
``It's humbug still!" said Babcock. ``I won't believe it."
His colour changed though, when, without a pause, it came on through the heavy door, and passed into the room before his eyes. Upon its coming in, the dying flame leaped up, as though it cried, ``I know him! Randy's Ghost!" and fell again.
The same face: the very same. Randy with his bald head, usual waistcoat, tights, and boots; the tassels on the latter bristling, and his coat-skirts, and the lack of hair upon his head. The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Babcock observed it closely) of press-boxes, keys, padlocks, line ups, contracts, and heavy no movement clauses wrought in steel. His body was transparent; so that Babcock, observing him, and looking through his head, could see the arms of the clock move behind him.
Babcock had often heard it said that Randy had no brains, but he had never believed it until now.
No, nor did he believe it even now. Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes; and marked the very texture of the folded kerchief bound about its head and chin, which wrapper he had not observed before; he was still incredulous, and fought against his senses.
``How now!" said Babcock, caustic and cold as ever. ``What do you want with me?"
``Much!" -- Randy's voice, no doubt about it.
``Who are you?"
``Ask me who I was."
``Who were you then." said Babcock, raising his voice. ``You're particular, for a shade." He was going to say ``to a shade," but substituted this, as more appropriate.
``In life I was your predecessor, Randy Carlyle. ``You don't believe in me," observed the Ghost.
``I don't," said Babcock.
At this the spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook its chain with such a dismal and appalling noise, that Babcock held on tight to his chair, to save himself from falling in a swoon. But how much greater was his horror, when the phantom taking off the bandage round its head, as if it were too warm to wear in-doors, its lower jaw dropped down upon its breast!
Babcock fell upon his knees, and clasped his hands before his face.
``Mercy!" he said. ``Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?"
Again the specter raised a cry, and shook its chain, and wrung its shadowy hands.
``You are fettered," said Babcock, trembling. ``Tell me why?"
``I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost. ``I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?"
``Randy," he said, imploringly. ``Old Randy Carlyle, tell me more. Speak comfort to me. You were always a good man in the business of coaching Randy" faltered Babcock, who now began to apply this to himself.
``Coaching!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ``Players were my business. The welfare of the team was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"
It held up its chain at arm's length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.
``At this time of the rolling year," the specter said, ``I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of scratched players with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which was sitting, scratched or underused, when it may have been the key to victory! I was a fool relying on my favourite players, on player with experience, rather than developing the young ones or sitting players out of necessity to play those who had the talent to succeed."
Babcock was very much dismayed to hear the specter going on at this rate, and began to quake exceedingly. “I know what I’m doing Randy!” shouted the coach “You can’t tell me with your record here that you know better than I!”
“I have been given the hind sight now, Mike.” The Ghost said. “I can see how wrongly I assigned players in the past. Benching Gardner, misusing Kadri, blaming Reimer! Hear me!" cried the Ghost. ``My time is nearly gone."
``I will," said Babcock.
``I am here tonight to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Mike."
``You were always a good friend to me," said Babcock.
``You will be haunted," resumed the Ghost, ``by Three Spirits."
Babcock's countenance fell almost as low as the Ghost's had done.
``Is that the chance and hope you mentioned, Randy?" he demanded, in a faltering voice.
``I -- I think I'd rather not," said Babcock.
``Without their visits," said the Ghost, ``you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first tomorrow, when the bell tolls One. Expect the second when the clock strikes Two, the third when the last stroke of three has ceased to vibrate. Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us."
The apparition walked backward from him; and at every step it took, the window raised itself a little, so that when the specter reached it, it was wide open.
It beckoned Babcock to approach, which he did. When they were within two paces of each other, Randy's Ghost held up its hand, warning him to come no nearer. Babcock stopped.
Not so much in obedience, as in surprise and fear: for on the raising of the hand, he became sensible of confused noises in the air; incoherent sounds of lamentation and regret; wailing's inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory. The specter, after listening for a moment, joined in the mournful dirge; and floated out upon the bleak, dark night.
Babcock closed the window, and examined the door by which the Ghost had entered. It was double-locked, as he had locked it with his own hands, and the bolts were undisturbed. He tried to say ``Humbug!" but stopped at the first syllable. And being, from the emotion he had undergone, or the fatigues of the day, or his glimpse of the Invisible World, or the dull conversation of the Ghost, or the lateness of the hour, much in need of repose; he sat as his desk, and fell asleep upon the instant.
Babcock woke before the hour bell on his phone sounded, which it now did with a deep, dull, hollow, melancholy ONE. Light flashed up in the room upon the instant, and the door of his office was thrown open.
The door was opened, I tell you, by a hand, and Babcock, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who opened it: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.
It was Jakub Kindl, tanned from the Florida sun and fit from spending an abundance of time on the ice.
``Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to me?" asked Babcock.
``Who, and what are you?" Babcock demanded.
``I am the Ghost of Doghouse Past."
``Long past?" inquired Babcock.
``No. Your past."
Babcock made bold to inquire what business brought him there.
``Your welfare!" said the Ghost.
Babcock expressed himself much obliged, but could not help thinking that a night of unbroken rest would have been more conducive to that end. The Spirit must have heard him thinking, for it said immediately:
``Your reclamation, then. Take heed!"
It put out its strong hand as it spoke, and clasped him gently by the arm.
``Rise! and walk with me!"
He rose: but finding that the Spirit made towards the window, clasped his suit in supplication.
``I am mortal," Babcock remonstrated, ``and liable to fall."
``Bear but a touch of my hand there," said the Spirit, laying it upon his heart, ``and you shall be upheld in more than this!"
As they traveled they settled outside an arena, outside an office, Babcock’s office though it was shrouded in a fog, and as the office door opened; a little GM, much younger than Babcock had ever seen, came darting in, and putting his arms about a young mans neck, addressed him as “Dear, dear Peter Holland”
``I have come to bring you home, dear centre!" said the child GM, clapping his tiny hands, and bending down to laugh. ``To bring you home, home, home!"
``Home, little Fan?" returned Holland
``Yes!" said the child GM, brimful of glee. ``Home, for good and all. Home, for ever and ever. Father Anthony LeBlanc is so much kinder than he used to be, that home's like Heaven! He spoke so gently to me one dear night when I was going to bed, that I was not afraid to ask him once more if I may make a trade; and he said Yes, you should; and sent me off, regaining his trust after blowing the Datsyuk deal. And you're to be a man!" said the child GM, opening his eyes, ``and are never to come back here; but first, we're to be together to play against the Maple Leafs, and have the merriest time in all the world."
``You are quite a GM, little Fan!" exclaimed Peter.
He clapped his hands and laughed, and tried to touch his head; but being too little, laughed again, and stood on tiptoe to embrace him. Then he began to drag him, in his childish eagerness, towards the dressing room door; and he, nothing loth to go, accompanied him.
A terrible voice in the hall cried. “Bring down Master Hollands equipment!” and in the hall appeared the Coyotes coach himself, who glared on Peter Holland with a ferocious condescension, and threw him into a dreadful state of mind by shaking hands with him. He then conveyed him and his GM into the veriest old well of a visiting coaches office that ever was seen, where the game plans upon the wall, “You Peter, my dear boy, will be the man to lead us to glory this night”. The three bent together, began to formulate a plan. They would draw the Leafs into a false sense of superiority, letting them take a lead before the Coyotes strike their devastating blows to lead the game into a shoot out, where, with vicious dangles, and wondrous sight, Holland will score to win the game for the Coyotes, and strike a blow to the old, cantankerous coach who benched him so many nights.
“Such a daring young boy, to take on that role, to trade for that player” said the Ghost. ``But he had much insight into the players!"
``So he had," cried Babcock. ``You're right, I will not gainsay it, Spirit. God forbid!"
“Let us go back, see one game more” said the Spirit.
They glided effortlessly across the province, settling down in the weathered and rusted remains of an arena they called Joe, to where Peter Holland debuted to the Coyotes faithful. Holland passed to McGinn, who scores, and twenty minutes later they do it again. Two assists for Arizona! Twice as many as he had for Toronto!
``Spirit!" said Babcock in a broken voice, ``remove me from this place."
``I told you these were shadows of the things that have been," said the Ghost. ``That they are what they are, do not blame me!"
``Remove me!" Babcock exclaimed, ``I cannot bear it!"
He turned upon the Ghost, and seeing that it looked upon him with a face, in which in some strange way there were fragments of all the highlights it had shown him, wrestled with it.
``Leave me! Take me back. Haunt me no longer!"
He was conscious of being exhausted, and overcome by an irresistible drowsiness; and, further, of being in his own office. He had barely time to reel to bed, before he sank into a heavy sleep.
Awaking in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore, and sitting up in bed to get his thoughts together, Babcock occasion to be told that the phone was upon the strike of two. He felt that he was restored to consciousness in the right nick of time, for the especial purpose of holding a conference with the second messenger dispatched to him through Randy's intervention.
The moment Babcock rose to look out of his office, a strange voice called him by his name, and bade him enter the arena bowl. He obeyed.
It was his own rink. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were hot dogs, hamburgers, sausages, pretzels, great bowls of popcorn, platters of sushi, mounds of french fries, ice cream, pizzas, and frothing pitchers of beer, all the foods one can eat and drink while watching - and not playing - a game. In easy state at centre ice, there sat a jolly man, glorious to see: who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Babcock, as he came peeping round the door.
``Come in!" exclaimed the Ghost. ``Come in. and know me better, man!"
Babcock entered timidly, and hung his head before this Spirit. He was not the dogged Babcock he had been; and though the Spirit's eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.
``I am the Ghost of Doghouse Present," said the Spirit. ``Look upon me!"
Babcock reverently did so. It was clothed in a blue home Maple Leafs jersey, that it obtained for free. Its feet, clad in shoes that were also free; and on its head it wore no other covering than a sideways baseball cap that appeared and disappeared intermittently. Its short brown hair framed it’s maddened face, its sparkling eyes, its open hand, its quiet then randomly loud voice, its unconstrained demeanor, and its joyful air. Pointed at it’s face was a camera, that the spirit always screamed into when it talked.
``WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU?" exclaimed the Spirit.
``Nothing," Babcock made answer to it.
``Have never seen or been tweeted at by the younger members of my navy; or perhaps (for I am very young) my elder followers born in these later years?" pursued the Phantom.
``I don't think I have," said Babcock. ``I am afraid I have not. Have you had many subscribers, Spirit?"
``More than fifty thousand," said the Ghost.
``A tremendous following to provide for" muttered Babcock.
The Ghost of Doghouse Present rose.
``Spirit," said Babcock submissively, ``take me where you will. I went forth this night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which is working now. Tonight, if you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it."
``Touch my Reimer figurine!"
Babcock did as he was told, and held it fast.
hot dogs, hamburgers, sausages, pretzels, great bowls of popcorn, platters of sushi, mounds of french fries, ice cream, pizzas, and frothing pitchers of beer, all vanished instantly. So did the arena, the scoreboard, the ruddy glow, the hour of night, and they stood in the city streets on game day morning.
``Is there a peculiar faith in what you share to other fans from your torch?" asked Babcock.
``There is. My own."
``Would it apply to any kind of team on this day?" asked Babcock.
``To any kindly given. To the Maple Leafs most."
``Why to the Leafs the most?" asked Babcock.
``Because they need it most."
It was a remarkable quality of the Ghost, he could accommodate himself to any place with ease; he could swoop into a dressing room and ask players goofy questions with ease, attend awards shows and host radio shows alike, and be mobbed by young girls at minor league hockey games. Like a supernatural creature, as it was possible he could fit in any place.
And perhaps it was the pleasure the good Spirit had in showing off this power of his, or else it was his own kind, generous, hearty nature, and his sympathy with all poor fans, that led him straight to the home of the Leafs assistant GM; for there he went, and took Babcock with him, holding to his Reimer; and on the threshold of the door the Spirit smiled, and stopped to bless Kyle Dubas’s dwelling with the sprinkling of his torch. Think of that! Kyle was but all of fifteen himself; he pocketed on comes from the Soo, subtweets many online and yet the Ghost of Doghouse Present blessed his four-roomed apartment!
Then up rose the stats tweeters, Dubas’s following, dressed out but poorly in hoodies and sweatpants, but brave in avatars and they laid the foundation for being smarter than you, assisted by Brandon Pridham, assistant TO the General Manager, also brave in sharing opinions; while Master Darryl Metcalf plunged into a detailed explanation about how the Leafs salary cap wasn’t an issue. And now two smaller stats heads, a boy and a noted girlfriend haver, came tearing in, screaming that outside on the waivers they had seen the Griffith, and once upon a time known it as their own, these young stats heads danced about the table, excited to maybe finally see Corrado get into a game.
``What has ever got your precious Dubas" tweeted the tweeters. ``And your defenceman, Frankie Corrado!”
“There's Kyle coming," cried the two young stats heads, who were everywhere at once.
In came little Kyle, the AGM, with at least three feet of extension cord trailing off behind him; and little Frank Corrado behind his shoulder. As for Corrado, he bore a little bag of popcorn, and skates that he’s forgotten how to tie!
``And how did little Frankie behave?" asked Twitter, when they rallied behind Kyle on his cleverness and Kyle had hugged Metcalf to his heart's content.
``As good as gold," said Kyle, Although somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and says the strangest things to sports websites, on the advice of his agent. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him up in the press box, because he was a scratch, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon game day who plays the lame defense men ahead of he.
Kyle's voice was tremulous when he told them this, and trembled more when he said that Frankie was growing more opinionated and angry.
His munching of popcorn was heard beyond the door, and back came Frankie before another word was spoken.
At last the analysis was all done, the whiteboard was cleared, the pizza crusts and moutain dew bottles swept aside, and the lines were made up. Frankie’s name was put in the line up, dreamingly in the first pairing. Then all the young managers drew round the screen, in what Kyle Dubas called a circle, meaning half a one.
Upon the screen were highlights of Corrado’s career, his time in Sudbury and Kitchener, his pre-season games with the Leafs; and Kyle played it with beaming looks, while the stats kids giggled and swooned. Then Kyle proposed:
``A happy Game Day to us all, my dears. May Babcock play us!"
Which all the stats kids re-echoed.
``Babcock bless us every game!" said Frankie Corrado, last of all.
He sat very close to Kyle's side upon his little stool. Kyle held his little hand in his, feeling the atrophied muscles that Frankie suffered from, as if he had never used them, and wished to keep him on the ice, and dreaded that he might be waived one day.
``Spirit," said Babcock, with an interest he had never felt before, ``tell me if Frank Corrado will stay a Leaf"
``I see a vacant seat," replied the Ghost, ``in the press box, and a bag of popcorn without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the player will be gone."
``No, no," said Babcock. ``Oh, no, kind Spirit! say he will be here."
``If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race," returned the Ghost, ``will find him here. What then? If he is waived, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus contracts."
Babcock hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.
``Play him" said the Ghost, ``if players are in your heart, will you decide what men shall dress, what men shall only practice? It may be, that in the sight of line ups, you are more worthless and less fit to pick players like this poor Kyle's player.”
Babcock bent before the Ghost's rebuke, and trembling cast his eyes upon the ground. But he raised them speedily, on hearing his own name.
``To coach Babcock!" said Kyle; ``I'll give you Mr Babcock, the coach of the year!"
``Coach of the year indeed!" cried the Tweeters, furiously typing. ``I wish I had him here. I'd give him a piece of my mind to feast upon, and I hope he'd have a good appetite for it."
``My dear followers" said Kyle, ``the stats kids; Game Day."
``It should be Game Day I am sure," they typed, ``on which one drinks the health of such an odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling man as coach Babcock. You know he is, Kyle! Nobody knows it better than you do, poor fellow!"
``My dear," was Kykes mild answer, ``Game Day
``I'll trust his decisions for your sake and the Day's," typed the tweeters, ``not for his. Long career to him. A happy Game Day to him! He'll be very happy, I have no doubt!"
The others drank the toast after reading the tweets. It was the first of their proceedings which had no heartiness. Frankie drank it last of all, but he didn't care twopence for it. Babcock was the Ogre of the team. The mention of his name cast a dark shadow on the party, which was not dispelled for full five minutes.
After it had passed away, they were ten times merrier than before, from the mere relief of Babcock the Baleful being done with. Kyle Dubas told them how he had a situation in his eye for Darryl Metcalf, which would bring in, if obtained, fully ready and complete players. The two young stats kids laughed tremendously at the idea of Darryl being a man of business; and Darryl himself looked thoughtfully at the screen from between his collars, as if he were deliberating what particular investments he should favour when he came into the receipt of that responsibility. The Tweeters would send messages of how correct they were on all subjects. Also how they had figured out, some days before, how they hoped the Leafs would win the Presidents Trophy, for it was the one true championship to celebrate, and how Brandon Pirri is so underrated he may as well not exist.
The Ghost led Babcock away from these offices and up the street to the Royal York hotel, where Lou Lamoriello was meeting with other general managers, celebrating Game Day,
``Here is a new meeting," said Babcock. ``One half hour, Spirit, only one!"
The GM’s were playing a Game called Yes and No, where Lou had to think of something, and the rest must find out what; he only answering to their questions yes or no, as the case was. The brisk fire of questioning to which he was exposed, elicited from him that he was thinking of a coach, a current coach, rather a disagreeable coach, a savage coach, an coach that growled and grunted sometimes, and talked sometimes, and lived in Toronto, and picked on the players, and wasn't led by anybody, and didn't trust the opinions of any of those around him, and was the coach who sat two players at all times, never letting them see the ice. At every fresh question that was put to him, Lou burst into a fresh roar of laughter; and was so inexpressibly tickled, that he was obliged to get up off the sofa and stamp. At last Ken Holland, falling into a similar state, cried out:
``I have found it out! I know who it is Lou! I know who it is!"
``Who is it?" cried Lou.
``It's your coach Babcoooooooock"
Which it certainly was. Admiration was the universal sentiment, though some objected that the reply to ``Is it a stubborn mule?" ought to have been ``Yes;" inasmuch as an answer in the negative was sufficient to have diverted their thoughts from coach Babcock, supposing they had ever had any tendency that way.
``He has given us plenty of merriment, I am sure," said Lou, ``and it would be ungrateful not to drink his health. Here is a glass of mulled wine ready to our hand at the moment; and I say, ``Mike Babcock!"
``Well! Mike Babcock." they cried.
``A Happy Game Day to the stubborn old man, whatever he is!" said Babcocks GM. ``He wouldn't take it from me, but may he have it, nevertheless. Mike Babcock!"
Babcock had imperceptibly become so gay and light of heart, that he would have pledged the unconscious company in return, and thanked them in an inaudible speech, if the Ghost had given him time. But the whole scene passed off in the breath of the last word spoken by his nephew; and he and the Spirit were again upon their travels.
``Are spirits' lives so short?" asked Babcock.
``My life as a broadcaster, may be very brief," replied the Ghost. ``It could end tonight, if Rogers would have it."
``To-night!" cried Babcock.
``To-night at midnight. Hark! The time is drawing near."
The chimes were ringing the three quarters past eleven at that moment.
``Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask," said Babcock clinging tightly at the Spirit's robe, ``but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts."
``Look here." was the Spirit's sorrowful reply.
From the foldings of its robe, it brought two players; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.
``Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!" exclaimed the Ghost.
They were a Corrado and a Leivo. Atrophied, meager, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but obvious too, in their humility. Where strong muscles should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into weak bodies. Where they should have been playing and exercising regularly, the press box soda and popcorn has filled them instead.
Babcock started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine players, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.
``Spirit! are they yours?" Babcock could say no more.
``They are yours," said the Spirit, looking down upon them. ``And they cling to me, appealing their coaches. This boy is ignored. This one has been shoved aside to be forgotten. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware Corrado, for on his brow I see that written which is out spoken, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!" cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ``Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!"
``Have they no chance to play?" cried Babcock
``Are there no Hunwicks?" said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. ``Are there no Polaks?"
The bell struck twelve.
Babcock looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Randy Carlyle, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.
The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came, Babcock bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.
It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.
He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.
``I am in the presence of the Ghost of Doghouse Yet To Come?" said Babcock.
The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.
``You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us," Babcock pursued. ``Is that so, Spirit?"
The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head. That was the only answer he received.
Although well used to ghostly company by this time, Babcock feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled beneath him, and he found that he could hardly stand when he prepared to follow it. The Spirit paused a moment, as observing his condition, and giving him time to recover.
``Ghost of the Future!" Babcock exclaimed, ``I fear you more than any specter I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another coach from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?"
It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.
``Lead on!" said Babcock. ``Lead on! The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit!"
The Phantom moved away as it had come towards him. Babcock followed in the shadow of its dress, which bore him up, he thought, and carried him along.
The Spirit stopped beside one little knot of reporters, standing outside the arena. Observing that the hand was pointed to them, Babcock advanced to listen to their talk.
``No," said a spectacled man chugging Diet Coke, ``I don't know much about it, either way. I only know he's gone."
``When did he go?" inquired another.
``Last night, I believe."
``Why, what was the matter with him?" asked a third. ``I thought he'd never leave."
``God knows," said the first, with a yawn.
``What has he done to deserve this?" asked a bald headed gentleman as he DM’d for pics.
``I haven't heard," said the man with Diet Coke, biting into a hot dog. ``He’s been scoring as good as any player his age, and has only made mistakes one would expect of a player as new to the league as him. Perhaps he wasn’t gritty enough"
This pleasantry was received with a general laugh.
``It's likely to be some inane reason that didn’t apply to the veterans" said the same speaker; ``for upon my life I don't know the reasoning that is said, and how it’s supposed to apply to everyone."
The speakers and listeners strolled away, and mixed with other groups. Babcock knew the reporters, and looked towards the Spirit for an explanation.
The Phantom glided on into a street. Its finger pointed to two persons meeting. Babcock listened again, thinking that the explanation might lie here.
He knew these men, also, perfectly. They were men of hockey: very knowledgeable, and of great importance. He had made a point always of standing well in their esteem: in a hockey point of view, that is; strictly in a hockey point of view.
``How are you?" said one.
``HEY THERE HOW ARE YOU, EH?" returned the other.
``Well!" said the first. ``Old fourth line centre has got his escape at last"
``YEAH DAT’S WHAT I HEAR," returned the second. ``SENT OUT TO THE COLD”
``Not much of a return either.”
``THEY GOT FLEECED, BUT WHAT CAN I TELLS YA, THIS GUY WANTED TO PLAY A FANCY COLLEGE BOY AHEAD OF HIM!"
Not another word. That was their meeting, their conversation, and their parting.
Babcock was at first inclined to be surprised that the Spirit should attach importance to conversations apparently so trivial; but feeling assured that they must have some hidden purpose, he set himself to consider what it was likely to be. They could scarcely be supposed to have any bearing on the trade of Holland, his old centre, for that was Past, and this Ghost's province was the Future. Nor could he think of any one immediately benched or tossed to Robidas Island to whom he could apply them. But nothing doubting that to whomsoever they applied they had some latent moral for his own improvement, he resolved to treasure up every word he heard, and everything he saw; and especially to observe the shadow of himself when it appeared. For he had an expectation that the conduct of his future self would give him the clue he missed, and would render the solution of these riddles easy.
Quiet and dark, beside him stood the Phantom, with its outstretched hand. When he roused himself from his thoughtful quest, he fancied from the turn of the hand, and its situation in reference to himself, that the Unseen Eyes were looking at him keenly. It made him shudder, and feel very cold.
The Spirit led him to a broadcast studio, where local sports are discussed in heavy rotation. They showed clips of players Babcock recognized, though dressed in different colours, succeeding, even though Babcock thought they never could. Points are scored, games are won, players are lauded as great team mates and are media darlings. Players whom Babcock always said were no good, and demanded be traded away or boarded up in the press box.
``Spirit!" he said, ``this is a fearful place. In leaving it, I shall not leave its lesson, trust me. Let us go!"
Still the Ghost pointed with an unmoved finger to the head.
``I understand you," Babcock returned, ``and I would do it, if I could. But I have not the power, Spirit. I have not the power."
Again it seemed to look upon him.
The Ghost conducted him through several hallways familiar to his feet; and as they went along, Babcock looked here and there to find himself, but nowhere was he to be seen. They entered poor Kyle Dubas’ apartment; the dwelling he had visited before; and found the AGM and the stats kids seated round the screen.
Quiet. Very quiet. The noisy little stats kids were as still as statues in one corner, and sat looking up at Darryl, who had a book before him. The tweeters were engaged in quote tweet wars. But surely they were very quiet!
``The video hurts my eyes," they said.
``Pause it rather," Darryl answered, shutting up his book.."
``I wish you could have gone to the game.” Kyle said. “It would have done you good to see how happy a place it was. But you'll see it often. I have been told they’ll play those highlights hourly. In Pittsburgh! Another one with a cup! We should have seen it coming! The demotions! The calling him out to the media!”
He broke down all at once. He couldn't help it. Again another talented player, though not as multidimensional as others, not as media friendly as some, sent away.
``Spectre," said Babcock, ``something informs me that our parting moment is at hand. I know it, but I know not how. Tell me what player that was whom we heard everyone speak of?"
The Ghost of Doghouse Yet To Come conveyed him, as before, and led him into a news stand. The Spirit pointed to the rack of newspapers, just out of sight.
``Before I draw nearer to that paper to which you point," said Babcock, ``answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?"
Still the Ghost pointed downward to the paper by which it stood.
``Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Babcock. ``But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!"
The Spirit was immovable as ever.
Babcock crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the paper, saw the photo. The wide smile, the happy face on his glove, the Stanley Cup in his hands.
``Is Mitch Marner the player I drove away?" he cried, upon his knees.
The finger pointed from the paper, to him, and back again.
``No, Spirit! Oh no, no!"
The finger still was there.
``Spirit!" he cried, tight clutching at its robe, ``hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?"
For the first time the hand appeared to shake.
``Good Spirit," he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: ``Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!"
The kind hand trembled.
``I will honour Game Days in my heart, and try to keep an open mind all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this paper!"
In his agony, he caught the spectral hand. It sought to free itself, but he was strong in his entreaty, and detained it. The Spirit, stronger yet, repulsed him.
Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have his fate reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom's hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a #29 jersey.
Babcock awoke with a start. Had these visions been a dream? Or were they real? Babcock reflected on all he saw and heard on his journeys with the spirits.
Had he been to rough on players in the past? Was he ignoring talent that was below his very own nose, sacrificing wins and points to keep what could be called established NHLers on the roster?
Was he risking sending away more elite talent by publicly shaming young rookies, and demoting them to play with fringe NHLers? Was he ignoring some of the smartest hockey minds in his own management group?
How long had he been away on these journeys of self education? Babcock threw open his office door, and as chance would have it, gazed upon little Frankie Corrado and shouts 'You! Boy! What day is this?'
The young Frankie looks up at him and replies "Today? Why it's game day!"
Babcock realizes he still has time, he can make things right! He can make the Leafs the best they could be! He reflects on the past night, and thinks of what the spirits have taught him. What lessons they and Randy have pushed on him. He reaches to his desk, and compares the stats of Polak, Hunwick, and Corrado. He delves into the barely readable charts (who have no labeled axis). He looks up. He realizes what he must do.
'Then get your ass into the press box!' he yells, and slams his window shut.