So Over YouBy: Kate Meader
Hockey is not for pussies. Technically, it’s defined as a sport. Words like play and game get thrown around liberally to shield its true nature: hockey is warfare with water breaks. In the rink, you have over two thousand pounds of brute force clashing with whittled clubs, a rubber disc that could crush a larynx, and knives attached to feet. Let’s not pretend there’s anything civilized going on here.
—Clifford Chase, three-time Stanley Cup winner, NHL Hall of Famer, and all-around asshole
Sold out. The arena was freakin’ sold out.
On jellied legs, Isobel Chase skated to the face-off circle at the center of the rink in the Bayside Arena, home of the Buffalo Betties. The puck hadn’t even dropped yet, but the raucous crowd of twenty thousand was already on its feet in anticipation of history about to be made.
The inaugural game of the National Women’s Hockey League, playing to a sold-out stadium, and she was here! On this night of firsts, Isobel would continue her storied career. Winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award for best NCAA player, last captain standing after the Frozen Four, silver medalist for Team USA . . . She could go on, but she had a professional fucking hockey game to win.
Melissande Cordet, the famed Canadian power forward and the only woman to get called up for a game in the NHL, hovered, ready to do the ceremonial drop. They’d chitchatted before the game and posed for photos while Cordet told Isobel how far women’s hockey had come. How Isobel and her fellow athletes were blazing a trail.
Come back to me with that BS, Mel, when there isn’t a salary cap of $270K on each team in the women’s league.
Yeah, yeah, Isobel got it. Baby steps. Until they could prove their worth with decent attendance figures, TV broadcast deals, and feminine hygiene product sponsorships, the Great Experiment would continue.
“Ready to make history?” Cordet asked in a voice liltingly inflected with her French Canadian accent.
Isobel remained still, her left hand choking her stick, her body bowed and tipped toward her opposite, Jen Grady, the captain of the Montreal Mavens. They’d roomed at Harvard together, skated to glory at the Games together, but that meant jack shit now. Tonight Isobel would be the first to touch the puck.
Drop, sweep, flick, chop—all viable strategies to win a face-off. Every day since he’d plopped her on the ice at the age of three, her father, Clifford Chase, had drilled into her the same advice. Know your enemy. Know what they’re going to do before they’ve even thought it. Grady liked to go for the crisp slice, so chopping her stick would be Isobel’s best move.
The old man was on his feet somewhere in the stands, though with his wealth and renown, he could have easily landed an entire box to himself. Wanting to feel the crowd, that pulsing, living thing as it rose and fell with the team’s fortunes, he’d bought a Buffalo Betties cap and planted himself in the thick of it.
When women go pro, you’ll be first on the line, Izzy. It’s why I’m harder on you than I am on the boys. It’s for your own good.
The boys, meaning the pro players on the Chicago Rebels, the NHL team her father owned and ruled with an iron fist. Substitute sons, they were sporadically successful, which only served to place more pressure on Isobel’s shoulders. She inched those shoulders forward.
The puck dropped.
Grady touched it first.
The night went downhill from there.
Two years later . . .
“So this is just a flying visit, right? A couple of dances and we’re out?”
Isobel’s younger sister, Violet, flicked a look of disgust over her shoulder. Granted, Isobel had vowed to make more effort in the Grand Plan: get herself a real, live boyfriend versus the battery-operated one she defaulted to in times of need. But six weeks into the year and she’d gotten no further than a few awkward online chats.
What are you wearing?
A sports bra and— Hello, hello, are you still there? Oh, fuck off, dickbiscuit.
“You’re never going to get laid with that attitude,” Violet said as they hacked through teeming masses of nubile, tanned, scantily clad bodies that packed the floor of Ignite, Chicago’s newest, hottest whatever. Most of these people looked like they’d been shipped in from a Pitbull music video.
When Isobel didn’t respond, Violet stopped and pivoted. “What did I tell you about showing a little skin?”
Isobel looked down at her nightclub ensemble: black leggings and Joan of Arctic fur-lined boots paired with an Eddie Bauer parka over a black turtleneck. She called it her “French cat burglar” look. Not only did it throw off a sixties beatnik poet vibe and hug all the right places on her six-foot-tall frame, but it had the added benefit of protecting against a Chicago winter. She was nothing if not practical.
“This isn’t really a good night to be looking for a man,” she muttered mutinously.
“It’s Valentine’s Day. This place is filled with losers who couldn’t get a date and now they’re on the prowl for the leftovers.”
“Like me?” Because she certainly didn’t include Violet in the desperate-dateless-leftovers category. Her sister currently might be without an official boyfriend, but she was keeping a few members of the Rebels hockey team—the team they jointly owned and ran with their elder sister, Harper—on the hook. Not exactly principled, but Violet wasn’t known for her scrupulous attention to the rules.