A 2016 Christmas Story

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MIRACLE AT THE ICE ARENA

=== A Christmas Story ====

Starring coach Rob, Dave Francis, Gramps, hockey dads Steve Allen, Tommy Ricketts, Pete Trimboli plus athletic trainer Kendall Galor, teenage skater Ryan Zurfluh, his hockey Sister Leah and introducing Peppers, the Zamboni driver and two premier Las Vegas hockey officials – Wally Lacroix and Adam Hendren handle all of the action in the closing moments of a very dramatic finish.

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There is a dark area over by the north rinkboards at the SoBe Ice Arena in Las Vegas. Fast-skating forwards are told not to go into that neighborhood where danger lurks. When the L.A. Hornets were in town a few years the Thompson Twins trapped and slammed into Ryan of the Las Vegas Mustangs. He went down into a heap and coach Rob left the bench, walked onto the ice and crouched down to look at his fallen goal scorer.

“They got me pretty good, coach. Hurts real bad. Cannot move much,” Ryan said.

Just then coach Rob looked up and saw teardrops streaking down the outside of the cold rink glass. 

The teardrops were from Ryan’s younger sister Leah.

Athletic trainer Kendall Galor was also on the ice saying “coach, we need to help Ryan, like right now.”

And as coach Rob picked up Ryan and carried him off the ice the Thompson Twins were high-fiving with their head coach Jack Black on the Hornets bench.

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By Lee Samuels and Mary Cate Zurfluh

Las Vegas – At last – two years later – the L.A. Hornets were back in town with the Thompson Twins and it was snowing – lightly, but snowing – when Las Vegas coach Rob walked into the Pro Shop at the Sobe Ice Arena during Christmas week.

There, Dave Francis had a blowtorch with a crackling blue-white flame working on a pair of skates, hockey Dad Steve Allen was over by the rack of new hockey sticks and Gramps sat at a small table putting together gift boxes for the UNLV players. Every Rebel player would get a gift for sure.

Coach Rob walked into all of this when his cellular made a brrring sound.

He looked at the lighted message which said “we have a new player. We need to talk.”

It was from GM Pete Trimboli.

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The new player is a She, Pete was saying.

Specifically it is Leah Zurfluh, kid sister of Ryan who was leveled and hurt badly two years ago by the Thompson Twins in the north corner of the rink

“Says she doesn’t need to play in the game tonight but she can win the game,” Pete was saying.

Rob smiled. 

Doesn’t need to play in the game, but she can win the game.

And the winner of the game tonight advances to the Pacific District Regionals.

Dave Francis spoke out first.

“Coach, don’t let her go out there and get hurt. The Thompson Twins are so mean their parents stopped coming to the games,” Dave said.

“Please Rob…don’t let her play,” said Gramps. “I really couldn’t take it if anything happened to her. She’s not that big, Rob.”

“I promise, the Thompson Twins will never get to her on the ice tonight,” said Rob

Just then hockey dad Tommy Ricketts came into the pro shop. His jacket was covered with snow. He had a notebook. Rob knows that Tommy goes to every rink in town looking for the next teenage Gretzky.

“Ever see her on the ice Tommy,” said Rob.

Tommy smiled. “Just saw her last week over on the Swenson rink. The rink manager told me about her. She rents the ice for a couple of hours and get this….

Tommy opened a notebook. 

“She skates in large circles over and over, then she takes off towards a net – if they had one there. She does this over and over. All by herself. No one knows why,” Tommy said.

Rob then asked GM Pete “…is she registered here in the state of Nevada.

“All the paperwork is in. And, she is standing right outside of the pro shop right now,” Pete said.

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Coach Rob left the shop, turned right and spotted her.

“You know you can’t play in the game, not after what the Thompson Twins did to your brother. They are some means cats playing hockey but they are among the worse I’ve seen in a long time,” Rob said.

Leah smiled.

“I don’t need to play in the game. But I can win the game,” she said.

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Back in the pro shop Peppers, the Zamboni driver, said he needed to speak to coach Rob.

“Are you going tell him about the Pepsi Scoreboard,” Gramps said.

Peppers nodded yes.

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“Rob, there were some crew guys on top of our scoreboard about 6 o’clock in the morning. They were messing around with the wiring and stuff. Not sure why,” Peppers said.

Rob asked about the work order, who signed it.

Peppers said it was signed by a L.Z.

“Leah Zurfluh?” asked Rob. “Why her? What does she major in school.”

Tommy Ricketts checked his notes. “Leah majors in science and math, just like older brother Ryan.”

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At last the game got underway that evening. The Thompson Twins were chasing goal scorers around the ice but when regulation play was over the game was tied 2-2.

Which meant the decisive goals would be in a Shootout.

“Give me five numbers – who is going to shoot,” referee Wally Lacroix asked coach Rob. At the other bench linesman Adam Hendren was asking the same question to the coach of the L.A. Hornets

On a small slip of paper coach Rob wrote down the numbers 16, 12, 14, 7 and then stopped.

“What’s her jersey number Pete,” Rob asked.

“Number 9.”

“Didn’t Eddie Samuels wear that number,” said Rob, knowing that he did.

“He sure did,” Pete said.

Rob then added Number 9 and gave the slip of paper to Wally Lacroix.

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No one scored in the Shootout. There was only one shooter left.

“You’re up,” Rob told Leah.

She smiled, then went through gate from the bench to the ice.

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At center ice Leah, wearing her figure skates, leaned down and looked towards the Hornets goalie.

She pressed a small, black button near the top of her hockey stick and out flew streamers – red, green and blue – all Christmas colors.

As she began to skate towards the net the streamers whirled in a circle, a maddening swirl of colors.  The Hornets goalie turned to his bench and said what the …. The referees Wally and Adam stood by the side of the net, arms folded.

Leah burned toward the net and then – with streamers whirling – she veered to her right and circled around the net.

She circled the net several times as the Hornets coach screamed at the two officials.

Leah returned to the blue line and pushed a second small black button on her hockey stick.

There was a loud groaning sound as the Pepsi scoreboard began to rotate and what looked like snow was falling onto center ice.

The Hornets coach screamed, the referees watched with arms folded and on the Las Vegas bench coach Rob smiled.

The scoreboard was now spinning madly, the streamers were swirling out of the top of Leah’s hockey stick when she leaned down and prepared to make her final run at the net.

“MERRY CHRISTMAS, GOALIE. THIS ONE IS FOR MY BROTHER.”

With that Leah skated hard towards the net, she feinted going to her right, then veered left and while crossing past the net used a backhand to tap the the puck into the net.

The red light flicked on.

It was a goal.

Las Vegas won.

A side gate opened and Leah skated off the ice. While her teammates celebrated, piling on each other as snow fell from the scoreboard she went into a small dressing room, lowered her head and wept.  All of the planning, practicing and pressure of scoring her biggest and the only goal she would ever score – finally got to her.

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When the game was over Leah came into the pro shop. A small Christmas tree was lit, Dave Francis was blowtorching one more pair of skates, Gramps was boxing up all of he presents for the UNLV players.

“Got two extra gift boxes, Gramps? Leah asked.

“For you, sure,” he said.

Who are they for someone asked, maybe it was hockey dad Steve Allen over by the rack of sticks. Or maybe it was Peppers.

“For the Thompson Twins,” she said. “I spoke to them after the game. They come a rough part of L.A. They don’t get hardly anything for Christmas. My granddad Lee used to tell me the same when he was growing up back in South Jersey. He said he didn’t care but I know he did. So I just want to share with the Thompson Twins what we do – and what we always should do, all of us – at Christmas Time.”

With that, she took the two wrapped gift boxes and went to track them down.

A few minutes later coach Rob left the pro shop. He turned right, went towards the big Christmas Tree over by Subway and turned right again out the glass rink doors. It was icy cold outside. He buttoned his overcoat and looked up at the bright stars, the ones shining onto the SoBe Ice Arena.

He shivered for a moment.  It was snowing on that Christmas Eve.

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The story behind the scenes for Miracle on Ice

Lee and Mary Samuels are the parents of Las Vegas hockey player Eddie Samuels who passed in August. Our hearts ache for him everyday…..Las Vegas hockey dad Tommy Ricketts passed a few days after Eddie. He is the father of Beau Ricketts and his son Blade skates in the Nevada Storm hockey program. Tommy’s wife Charla gave us permission to use his likeness, saying Tommy “would be honored to be in your Christmas story.” 

Coach Rob Pallin made a giant impact early in the world of hockey in Las Vegas with his unique style of coaching which constructed confidence in each and every player when they went onto the ice. His 2001-02 AA Las Vegas Mustangs team was the first hometown team to play in the U.S. Nationals.

Dave Francis was the loving, caring person who for years ran the SoBe Ice Arena Pro Shop. He has been featured in all of our Christmas stories. His wife is Cindy and his hockey son Chris plays for the ECHL Quad City Mallards…Pete Trimboli is a hockey dad whose son Mike was a star defenseman at Utah State and who is now playing in Germany…Hockey dad Steve Allen is the father of Jason Allen who played for years at a high level in ice and roller here in town…Gramps is legendary, the grandfather of UNLV head coach Anthony Greener. Gramps has appeared in all of Christmas stories.

Lee created the Thompson Twins…Mary Cate Zurfluh is our daughter who is an amazing person, the mother of Ryan and Leah and who also makes time to write children’s books. Her husband Jay created the character Peppers, the eccentric Zamboni driver….and no the Pepsi scoreboard at the Sobe Ice Arena doesn’t spin madly about, only in this story.

This story idea was put together about six month ago, then writing got underway.  Hope you enjoyed it, Lee

Lee Samuels is the author of holiday classics…

The Kid Who Never Scored a Goal

The Coach Who Believed in Santa

Mary Cate Zurfluh is the author of a children’s book

Flash The Cat