This Christmas story is dedicated to Dave Francis, a wonderful, caring Las Vegas hockey dad who ran the SoBe Pro Shop for years here in Las Vegas. He is dearly missed by all, particuarly by the younger players. The arena seems empty without him.
We have been working on this Christmas story for over three years, tweaking it late at night. You may recognize some of the characters. My wife Mary-Margaret is a substitute school teacher. While grading
papers, she tells stories about students who try their best but don’t
always make it in their test scores. One of those was named Tyler who always gave it his all in the classroom. He is a big part of this story.
There are references to conversations among players during faceoffs
in this story. We learned a lot of that from our hockey son Eddie who
played in Junior A hockey. What happened in the faceoff circle in this
story is true – although there is a twist in conversation here. There is also a reference to Gramps on the bench. That is our dear friend Frank Perone who is on the bench at the UNLV games here in town. And, Dave Francis always had a small jar of candy canes in the Pro Shop.
Years ago we worked at a small weekly newspaper in New Jersey.
The editor was Charles Reilly, a dynamic person. On a Christmas Eve
a holiday tree caught fire in his home. Standing outside, he rushed
into the house to rescue his stepson. Neither made it out. I think of he
and his family every day. This story is for you too, my dear friend.
There is a scene too when Jimmy is in the faceoff circle and looks around and spots two friends – those are my longtime rinkboard pals Steve Allen and George Kemper.
Now, let’s get to the game and to the teenage players who skated on this unforgettable night – Lee
THE KID WHO NEVER SCORED A GOAL
A Christmas Story
By Lee Samuels
It was cold that Christmas Eve as snow fell outside the rink door.
A large banner snapped and rustled in the cold wind.
10th Annual Christmas Tournament, it read in bright red letters.
Inside the warm pro shop blue and white sparks flew as Jimmy’s
skates were sharpened on a big red machine.
At last, blade sharpener Dave, wearing goggles, held one of Jimmy’s
skates up to a small white light and carefully inspected a metal blade.
“Nice and sharp. Guaranteed for two goals tonight, Jimmy,” he said
Dave then reached into a glass jar and and pulled out a small candy cane.
“Good luck in the big Christmas Eve game,” he said. “I’ll be rooting
for you, like I always do. Tonight you will get that first goal.”
On the Las Vegas bench Jimmy with his helmet and all of his gear,
sat next to a younger player, Tyler.
Tyler said “…My Dad will be here. I know it. Mom promised. Dad
has never been to a game before. It’s Christmas Eve….”
Jimmy looked over towards the bleachers. There was his mother
and father and walking up the bleacher steps was Tyler’s dad wearing
his U.S. Army fatigues.
“There’s my Dad!” said Tyler. He and his teammate Peanut, the
smallest player on the team, tapped gloves.
With seconds to go in the game and the game tied against the
L.A. Knights, Jimmy skated slowly to the faceoff circle, then
heard a voice to his right.
“C’mon Jimmy!,” said his mother.
Dad held a cup of coffee while fiddling with his camera, the one
with the long lens. Paddling up the bleacher steps too was good
old family dog Charlie. Even Charlie wants to get a better look,
Jimmy laughed to himself.
Through his facemask, Jimmy took a look over by the glass rink
door where there was a small Christmas tree with just a few
branches and some blue lights. To his left, his grandfather
was writing in his notepad as his hockey friends Steve and
George peered through the rink glass. Over at the bench,
a nervous Gramps was lining up the hockey sticks.
They never miss one of my games, Jimmy thought to
“Let’s go – get into the circle,” the referee said.
At the faceoff, Jimmy looked down at the frosted blue dot
where the puck would soon be dropped.
Across from Jimmy was a big player from the L.A. Knights.
“Scared? Here’s something from Santa,” big player laughed as he
cracked his stick hard against Jimmy’s left ankle.
“You — get out of the faceoff now!” the referee told big player.
A new larger player skated in.
“That was my older brother. He doesn’t like you or anyone
from Las Vegas,” he told Jimmy.
Jimmy said that was OK, Santa is on his sleigh and on his
“Get real,” said younger brother. “You haven’t scored a goal
Jimmy smiled, turned and craned his head to the Pepsi scoreboard above center ice.
Tie score, a few precious left to play. At the bench, little Peanut and all of his players stood to watch. On the right side, Dave from the Pro Shop peered through the rink glass.
In the faceoff circle Jimmy looked down onto the puck. That’s what coach Rob always said, keep your eye on the puck.
Win the faceoff and get the puck over over Jason. That’s what coach Rob said during the last timeout.
Jimmy won the faceoff and passed the puck to Jason who took a hard shot and suddenly the puck bounced off the goalie’s pads and the puck went right back onto Jimmy’s stick.
That’s what coach Rob was hollering from the bench…
Jimmy wound up to shoot, then out of the corner of his left eye he spotted someone streaking towards the net. Jimmy took a shot — actually, a pass, sliding the puck over to Tyler who was near the net.
Tyler tapped the puck into the net for the winning goal.
All of the excited Las Vegas players — even little Peanut — went over the rink wall and onto the ice. There was a big pileup of players who celebrated.
Tyler’s mother was jumping up and down in the bleachers. Tyler’s father stood stunned, taking it all in.
As Jimmy skated off the ice, coach Rob asked “…why didn’t shoot – you had an open net.”
Jimmy grinned. During the last faceoff, he looked towards Tyler’s mother and father. It was the first time they had ever seen Tyler play in a real game. Tyler’s father was away for a long time, a soldier in a faraway land.
That’s all Tyler had been talking about on the bench, about his Mom and praying that his Dad would be safe.
It was Tyler’s first goal of the year.
About a hour later, Jimmy walked back to the Pro Shop.
“I have something for you, Jimmy,” said Dave, as he opened and closed some small wood drawers behind the counter. “It’s here, somewhere. It’s inside this little red box. I got it when I was a kid, about your age.
“Ah, here it is.”
It was wrapped in light green tissue paper. Jimmy opened it carefully, then held it up to a light.
It was a grey medal, on a silver chain.
Jimmy looked at it closely.
“Means a lot to me. Didn’t play the game much. Wasn’t good,
not like you were out there tonight,” Dave said.
Jimmy put the medal in the palm of his hand. On the front was a
small Christmas tree, with just a few branches.
On the back of the grey medal, it read in small letters….
Most Valuable Player