Stunner in Borschland: 3 Co-Champions

Bird-clipart-black-swan-12In a development that no one was expecting and that will go down in Borschland Hockey League history as something that maybe will never happen again, the league will crown 3 co-champions in the year 336.

After Rjaward’s stunning 1-0 loss to Bjaward in Bjaward, Tarlunz’s 3-2 frustrating failure against Te Staff on the Steel Men’s own ice, and Meechen’s predictable 4-0 rout of Meenesanne, all finish the year with 58 points and a share of the Saints of Borschland Championship Platter.

Although Rjaward technically is the top dog of the trio with the best goal differential, league tradition states that all three will have their names engraved in the “Saints’ Tray,” as the award is nicknamed.

“It’s fitting,” said Rjaward coach Norbert Grimm. “We had the chance to win the silverware outright, but at the end of the day the boys didn’t quite do enough to get it all on their own. But I’m proud of them. I’m very proud of the good things they did this year.”

Tarlunz coach Ampte Geert was frustrated Tarlunz couldn’t overcome the “Stafflischeflok,” or the Curse of Te Staff. For 28 straight years they’ve ended the season against the Citymen and in that time they are 5-21-2. By contrast, they’ve also started the season for the same number of years and are 11-14-3.

“It’s bittersweet,” Geert said as Lisandran brandy bottles were being uncorked all around him and teammates poured beer over each other’s heads as the locker-room radio was broadcasting the stunning news that Rjaward had also lost and the championship would be shared. “This is part of history, of course. Hats off to the other boys. They deserve it just as we do.”

Meechen coach Theedy Klaningen stared at the celebration in his locker room in disbelief. His team went 6-0-2 to finish the season after a disastrous 4-game losing streak almost put their hopes six feet under. “Unglaaberlickt,” he kept saying. “Unbelievable. This is what you hope for. This is what you work for all season.”

The return of goaltender Welneth Ungarth to full strength after his injury in the Nations’ Cup was a key to Meechen’s resurgence. In those eight games, he gave up a total of 9 goals and had 3 shutouts. He will no doubt be the consensus Nurnar Trophy winner, despite playing only 21 games in the season. However, in the games that he did play, Meechen went 16-1-4.

The Willem Schmoutuj Trophy for most valuable player is still up in the air, but it seems a lock for Jens Klijnehoop, who finished the year with a treasure trove of 27 goals and 37 points. Tarlunz’s Habel Baarda had 23 and 36, while Rjaward’s Willem “Noodle” van ter Uudl got the assist record with 26 and 35 points.

Klaes Dievenhoven of Holtzlund was the highest scoring defenseman with 9 goals and 30 points.

Week 29 results: Borschland Hockey League

Bar-209148_1920With Rjaward defeating Tarlunz this week, the championship picture is getting clearer. Holtzlund has been officially eliminated from the chase, while Meechen has to hope that both Tarlunz and Rjaward lose their last two games (and Meechen win its last one against Meenesanne) for a share of the championship.

Image: the bars are open late in Rjaward tonight!

2 Holtzlund v. Meechen 3: Meechen kept its slim championship hopes alive with a very tight win against the frustrated Axe Men, who could not solve Welneth Ungarth for more than 2 goals in this one. The strong defensive combo of Wujbe Kappe and Bartheel van Abeele helped, blocking 11 shots between them and making 5 “true” hits that gave Meechen possession back in their defensive zone. Henk de Wilde had the game-winner for Meechen at 11:18 left in the third period.

5 Bjaward v. Dohmatische 4: The backup goaltenders for each of these teams (Septembrius Septentarius for Bjaward, Rujs van Oosens for Dohmatische) did not cover themselves with glory in this game. It was the first time this year that Dohmatische has scored more than 3 goals in a single game. By the way, they did not challenge the record for lowest number of goals in a 30-game season. That would be Rachenz-Lassefball’s dubious distinction way back in the year 279, 57 years ago. They scored a grand total of 19 goals while giving up 48 on their way to a 6-12-16 record. They had 9 0-0 ties. Bjaward now goes into its last game with Rjaward with the chance to continue its record of five straight top-6 finishes. They will need to beat Rjaward and Te Staff will need to lose to Tarlunz.

5 Wrischer v. Lojren 3: The Bargemen stopped their skid with a win against te Lughaus, adding an empty-net goal at the end to cap off a strong offensive showing. Beenz Grechtlin, who has done well this campaign despite disappearing for extended stretches from the scoring sheet, got his 17th goal and 10th assist of the season.

2 Meenesanne v. Sajbell 3: Sajbell upped its second-half record to 8-2-3 with this win on the Weavers’ home rink. Meenesanne was down 3-0 at the start of the second period and almost tied it with a Philip Rooker post-ringer just beyond the glove of Gregory Gatekeeper. Rooker’s contract with the Weavers is up after this season and there are rumors he is headed to Te Staff for a large raise from his SCH3,700 current salary.

6 Matexipar v. Atterische 3: Matexipar broke out with a rare show of offensive fireworks. Backup goalie Markus Ortel for Atterische was in net and coach Paul Angewejrt left him in for the full game, despite his being peppered with 33 shots on goal. First-stringer Wujbe Minther, who emerged as a solid option in the crease this year, has become a transfer target as Atterische considers its options for the future. Minter could bring a large amount of income to help the cash-strapped Peat Men. Matexipar’s Ruuduj Klijnsmeets, a defender, had only the second two-goal day for a defender in the BHL this year. The other one is held by Tarlunz’s Luukas Deethereel, who did it versus Open Division club Hijst in the Flowering Branch Cup.

1 Bevinlunz v. Te Staff 1:  A defensive stand-off in the city by the Watravbai. Heiko Moordfors made 26 saves and Te Staff’s Korka 28.

BHL Week 29 Featured Game

Rjaward.logoThe rest of the Week 29 scores will be published today, but here is an excerpt from an extra edition of te Borscher Sportteelegram on the big Rjaward-Tarlunz Week 29 game.

3 Tarlunz v. Rjaward 4: Jubilation broke out in the city on the plains as Willem “Noodle” van ter Uudl did a magic trick to come up with Rjaward’s fourth goal and put the Cattle Drivers two wins away from winning outright their fourth league championship in the team’s 85-year history.

Van ter Uudl is better known for passing than shooting, as shown by his league-leading 26 assists. But at 3:01 left in the third period with the score tied at 3, he won the puck behind Tarlunz goalie August Hoock’s cage, made some room for himself, and emerged to the netminder’s right. The vast majority of the 8,992 stuffed into Te Roodkoningrijk (The Red Kingdom), Tarlunz’s home rink, had to be expecting him to pass to his linemate Jens Klijnehoop, who swooping in to goal between the circles.

The Steel Men defense must have thought the same. "I probably turned my back," Tarlunz defenseman Wils Oosterijk conceded after the game.

But van ter Uudl did a noodle, feinting to Klijnehoop, then spinning and sending a backhand wrister over Hoock’s blocker. “Jens is the best decoy in the league,” van ter Uudl explained afterwards. “No one wants him to score the winning goal. So it was a simple decision for me. I knew that spot [where I shot] would be open.”

Tarlunz Coach Ampte Geert was unavailable for comment for twenty minutes after the game; team officials barred reporters from entering the locker room as Geert met privately with the team. No raised voices were heard from behind the door.

When Geert did meet with the media, he was calm. “We know what we have to do,” he said, “and we have to hope for Bjaward or Wrischer or both to have some pride.”

When asked why Tarlunz did not win this crucial game on their home ice, Geert said, “We just didn’t get it done. Plain and simple. Hats off to them and to their wing (van ter Uudl). It was a tough game between two very good teams and sometimes that happens. I’m disappointed for our fans, but it’s not over yet.”

Reminded that twice now against Rjaward the Tarlunz defense has broken down at a crucial moment in the third period, Geert gave the reporter a hard stare before asking for the next question.

The goal was only van ter Uudl’s 7th of the season, and it gives them control of their own destiny. It means that if Rjaward win both of their remaining games (a makeup versus Wrischer and the season-ending grudge match at home versus Bjaward), they will take home the Saints of Borschland championship platter. They can only lose the championship outright in two scenarios: if they lose both their final games and Tarlunz (who also have a makeup game) wins at least one and ties one; or if they tie both their final games and Tarlunz wins both.

Rjaward coach Norbert Grimm said, "The only one who can turn off the steam valve is us. We're going to keep stoking the boiler and it's full speed ahead."

3rd place Meechen now can only hope for Tarlunz and Rjaward to stumble twice. They will then share the championship with Rjaward.

Week 28 results: Borschland Hockey League

Borschlandroots1This was a week where almost all the top teams in the league were all at home and all were playing beatable opponents. And behold, they all won convincingly, except for Holtzlund, who had a bit of a nailbiter against Heiko Moordfors and the Bevinlunz Merchantmen.

Only Meechen, of the high flyers, was away this week, and they ran into an inspired Jan “The Brick” Brichterglad and were able to take away only one point from struggling Matexipar.

0 Matexipar v. Meechen 0: The heavyweight goaltender battle between Welneth Ungarth of Meechen and Jan “The Brick” Brichterglad of Matexipar was one for the ages. Brichterglad was disappointed in his year this year and had vowed to stay focused for the rest of the campaign. This game was one of his finest. He stopped 30 shots, but many of those were incredible feats, including a double save on a pad save rebound which went right to Doutze Holweerde’s stick. Holweerde was in agony after he flipped the puck glove-side high seemingly over Brichterglad, but the goalie somehow stretched just enough to deflect the puck over the bar off the edge of his glove. Ungarth only had to make 21 saves as the Iron Sticks spent much of the game in their own defensive end, but he crushed Matexipar’s dream of a late win when he stonewalled Sigiswald Zberg on the back end of a 2-on-1 with 1:45 left in the game.

5 Rjaward v. Wrischer 0: A resounding win for the Cattle Drivers as Gerd Zijterwoode and Christian Zeeberg both had 2 goals and Antonius Mujrefeld scored another, tying for the league lead among defenders with 9 goals. Only Klaes Dievenhoven of Holtzlund has as many. Going into this weekend’s makeup game versus Matexipar, Coach Norbert Grimm was cautious about his team’s chances of taking over the league lead. “Matexipar always plays tough,” he said. “They are down this year, but they’ve been in almost every game. A couple of drawn games go their way and they are in the top eight.” Grimm was speaking before he found out about the 0-0 tie that Matexipar pulled out versus Meechen.

5 Tarlunz v. Atterische 1: Tarlunz carved up the disorganized Peat Men. They had five separate goal-scorers: Gerd Luppink, Pujtr Weeckerstrom, Tor Smeets, Joost Hijs-ter Hijde, and Markus Fvulders. Fvulders has just come back from an injury and is still considered a bench player, but he may make a difference in the last few games, as he was a first-line performer before he went down. “I like the way we are playing,” said Tarlunz coach Ampte Geert. Asked if he would change anything for the upcoming Rjaward game at home, he said, “Nothing different. We plan to enjoy playing on our ice against a very good team.”

3 Holtzlund v. Bevinlunz 2: Could Holtzlund score against the Nurnar Trophy contender, Heiko Moordfors, star goalie of Bevinlunz? Could Schmidt Max, not-such-a-star goalie of Holtzlund, match Moordfors shot for shot? In the end, it was about the skaters more than the netminders. “We’re better, man for man,” Holtzlund coach Dirk Eechen said. “And we were in front our fans.” Indeed, 7,690 were out for this very big game in which Holtzlund’s powerful offense simply kept up a barrage of shots against Moordfors and were able to break through enough to win. A total of 40 shots got through to the Bevinlunz cage, including the eventual winner, a rebound that Paul-Frujdrick Henricks cleaned up in front of a clogged crease.

4 Te Staff v. Sichebach 1: Te Staff was leading only 1-0 after two periods, but after Sichebach tied the score on a shot from that hit the post and went in, the Citymen forwards jolted into high gear and scored three goals in the space of 3:12, one each from Chrujstoff Anselm, Wils Schauers, and Bernt Gruun. That makes Te Staff 9-2-2 in the second half, and if they had had any kind of first half, they would be right in the mix for the championship.

2 Dohmatische v. Sajbell 3: Sajbell continues its winning ways. They are now 7-3-2 in the second half, a phenomenal record based on their 3-11-1 first half. They also have scored a whopping 45 goals in that time, or 3.50 goals per game. Former Holtzlund forward Grundel Masur has benefited from his new digs, scoring 3 goals and handing out 7 assists in his 8 games with the Sea Gods. Sajbell has not scored fewer than 3 goals in any of those games, which has helped Gregory Gatekeeper, their new netminder, get acclimated to the top league. He made 19 saves in this one and was not much tested, but in both of the last two games he had given up 4 goals.

3 Lojren v. Bjaward 3: Lojren saw a bright spot from this game as it purchased the contract of 18-year old recruit Bernt Sneecklachen at the end of the Open Division season and saw him contribute a goal and an assist in his first BHL top league game. Sneecklachen had scored 21 goals in 21 games for Eschmass.

OFF: Meenesanne, Onatten

Week 27 results: Borschland Hockey League

Rjaward.logoRjaward won the first leg of the season-ending battle with Tarlunz, claiming a share of first place. Week 29 may be decisive for both teams, as Rjaward travels to the Steel City for a rematch.

Meanwhile, Meechen is making a huge charge and is only one point behind the leaders.

3 Rjaward v. Tarlunz 2: Rjaward did what it needed to do, winning at home in a tough game where Tarlunz was hoping to preserve a tie late in the third period. With 5:50 left to go in regulation, Rjaward were pressing August Hoock’s goal with the Steel Men skaters camped out in front the cage. They had already blocked 17 shots on the game. Then defenseman Antonius Mujrefeld threw a puck in on net from the right point which might have gone off of two Tarlunz players before it hit Christian Zeeberg’s stick and deflected by Hoock. “It happens,” said Hoock afterwards. “We’re disappointed,” said Tarlunz coach Ampte Geert. “We’re elated,” said Rjaward coach Norbert Grimm. Rjaward ended with 35 shots on goal compared to only 23 for Tarlunz. They are now tied at the top of the table with the Steel Men at 52 points.

Meechen_lion_mod0 Sichebach v. Meechen 3: It’s safe to say Meechen coach Theedy Klanginen has gone to the whip in the home stretch of the season. Since an ugly loss to Wrischer in Week 21, the Proud Lions have gone 5-0-1 (+9 goal differential, 0.83 GAA average) and re-inserted themselves into the championship conversation. Welneth Ungarth’s return from injury has made all the difference, as has a friendly schedule, as three of Meechen’s victims have been from the bottom quarter of the table.

3 Onatten v. Holtzlund 3: The Axe Men traveled to the City of the Whales and faltered, as the Longshoremen’s veterans rallied and built up a 3-1 lead through two periods that they ended up not being able to sustain. Tyger Oostende and Kaameron Luudjeron were the goal-scoring heroes who salvaged a point from this contest. Holtzlund’s championship hopes are fading, but no one can take away the Flowering Branch Cup from them. Celebrations continue to be held in Erichels, Dafna, and the Upper Borschland River valley. Goalie Gareth Velnath continues on at Noi-Sporting-West as Schmidt Max is being given the reins for the rest of the season at Holtzlund. “Schmiddy is our number one,” said Lumberjack coach Dirk Eechen. “He’s had a tough campaign and he’s been a hard worker for us, so he deserves it.”

5 Sajbell v. Meenesanne 2: Sajbell opened a 5-0 lead through two periods and cruised through the final one. Man Grizzlyfaith had three assists in this game and said that is what he is happy to do. “To me, putting a puck on someone’s blade is as satisfying as putting it in the net,” he said through a translator. 17-year old phenom Antonius Udelhooven was held out of the game as a precaution because of concussion symptoms.

3 Lojren v. Wrischer 2: Lojren salvaged a game at home versus the rudderless Bargemen, whose coach Jonathan Hojberger was sacked in the wake of their Week 26 loss to Sajbell. Hojberger was a relatively young coach who had spent time outside the country as the son of Borschic diplomatic service parents, including in Australia, and he was hailed as an innovator, someone who could motivate Wrischer’s “whiz kid” lineup to excel. But after the embarrassing loss to Sajbell and Hojberger’s overall 10-11-6 record this year and 9-15-6 last, management appears to have given up on him. Wrischer's managing partner Frujdrick Koopenwick commented, "We feel that Jonathan's time here at the hockey club is over. He has done what he can to help us, and now we need to bring in someone with fresh ideas."

3 Te Staff v. Bjaward 1: Te Staff got a good win at home, giving them a respectable 44 points overall and a fine 8-2-2 record in the second half. Bernt Gruun and Conraad Gleeph got goals for the Citymen’s first line. Bjaward continues to sputter and it looks more and more like a middle of the table finish for the usually contending Bulls this year.

2 Matexipar v. Atterische 0: Matexipar goaltender Jan "The Brick" Brichterglad was supposed to be competing head-to-head with Meechen's Welneth Ungarth and Bevinlunz's Heiko Moordfors here at the end of the season for the Nurnar Trophy, the only Borschic trophy named for a foreign player. Mendar Nurnar was the best goaltender ever to play in the Borschland Hockey League and he burnished the sterling reputation of Zimrothian netminders in Borschland. Instead, he has now collected only his 2nd winning shutout in a lost season for Matexipar and even though his 2.04 GAA is respectable for the BHL, he will not be the Nurnar Trophy winner this year.

Bevinlunz and Dohmatische had off-weeks, having already played each other twice and deciding mutually not to play a friendly.

Week 26 results: Borschland Hockey League

Ice-hockey-4381263_1920Week 26 is in the books! Tarlunz stays on top, but Rjaward has pushed into second place and Meechen into third, as Holtzlund faltered after winning the Flowering Branch Cup final.

4 Wrischer v. Sajbell 5: Sajbell won with a short-handed goal in the last minute of the game, capping off a wild sequence in the Canal City. With 4:27 left in the third, the score tied at 4 and the Sea Gods pressing Bengt Ambrooderhejm’s goal, Bargeman Boris Vorhees sent 17-year old Antonius Udelhooven hard into the boards away from the puck. Vorhees was quickly whistled for interference, but defender Dieter Schmijtstaff jumped on Vorhees and tackled him to the ground, landing several punches. Udelhooven was taken out of the game, shaken up. Vorhees went to the penalty box with a 5-minute prison sentence and a black eye from Schmijtstaff, and Schmijtstaff was ejected for instigating an altercation. With a 4 on 4 for the rest of the game (5 on 4 whenever Ambrooderhejm was pulled) and the crowd behind them, Wrischer figured to convert and win against the feisty Sea Gods. Instead, Grundel Masur, who has been a stalwart on the penalty kill since coming over from Holtzlund, found a way out of his own zone and sent a pass out to Klaes Gootwen, who returned the favor. Masur skated in, feinted to Gootwen and scored on his backhand. After the game, Vorhees said, “The rookie (Udelhooven) isn’t allowed to say whatever he wants whenever he wants. You don’t respect the opponent, we’ll make you respect us.” Udelhooven denied saying anything to Vorhees or anyone else on Wrischer. “I was out on the ice for eight minutes,” he protested. “I didn’t have time to disrespect anyone.” “I understand he (Vorhees) wanted to send the young one a message,” Schmijtstaff said after the game. “But that was uncalled for.” Sajbell coach Rokus Zwischelstaff suspected it was just frustration on Vorhees’ part that caused him to lose his composure. “We’re skating even with them on their ice and they’ve had a tough season. You go after the new lad who maybe doesn’t have his head on a swivel.”

2 Meenesanne v. Rjaward 7: Rjaward beat up on outmatched Meenesanne. They are now solely focused on winning the championship, and they have a chance, with two games left versus front-runners Tarlunz and 3 winnable games against Onatten, Wrischer, and Bjaward. The only guaranteed road to victory is if they win all five games. Willem "Noodle" van ter Uudl has now taken over the assist lead in the league with 25, while Jens Klijnehoop scored goals number 25 and 26 on the season (including Cup games), a legendary total even at this stage of the season.

5 Bjaward v. Holtzlund 2: The news was very good and very bad for Holtzlund this week. They collected their first Flowering Branch Cup in over 20 years the previous Sunday, but Sybrandy Spillers, the winning goalie, is still in hospital in Staff Borsch recovering from a wound to his calf during the Grand Final that almost cost him his life. Holtzlund had to use backup goalie Schmidt Max, and they were flat and uninspired in the Bull City of Bjaward. The double is going to be tough for them to pull off, as they have 2 tough games remaining out of their 4, Bevinlunz and Meechen at home. And they do not know when they will be getting Spillers back in goal. Bjaward has broken out of its recent scoring slump with back-to-back 4+ goal games. Tor Glenk is back in form with 3 goals over those two games, and two in this one.

3 Meechen v. Onatten 2: Meechen continues to eke out wins and has climbed over Holtzlund into third position for the championship, but now it comes down to schedule and whether anyone can count on the leaders losing a game down the stretch. The Lions’ last four games are all against the bottom quarter of the league except for their Week 29 game versus Holtzlund. Meechen’s Vergilius Vergallus got a goal and an assist in this one, putting a salve on his otherwise lackluster performance this year (4 goals, 7 assists).

3 Bevinlunz v. Sichebach 1: Bevinlunz took advantage of penalties on Sichebach’s defensemen to score on two power plays, and then added an empty-netter at the end. The Merchantmen have been playing better lately and now they find themselves in fifth position, one point ahead of but still four points behind fourth-place Holtzlund.

4 Tarlunz v. Matexipar 2: Tarlunz maintained their grip on first place with a home win over Matexipar before 8,104, their largest crowd of the year. In this game, the incomparable Habel Baarda scored goals three and four to put the game out of reach of Matexipar, who held on to a 2-2 score for the first and much of the second periods. Jan “The Brick” Brichterglad put the onus of the loss on himself, saying that he has not kept consistent focus on his game since the Iron Sticks were knocked out of the Flowering Branch Cup by Dohmatische. "We had higher hopes for sure," he said.

2 Atterische v. Te Staff 1: Te Staff’s inconsistency this year has meant they are good enough to stay in the second quarter of the league, but not to make a move any higher. Atterische, for its part, has shown flashes of good play now and then, and in this game they were looking like settling for a 1-1 tie when a flukey goal got past backup goalie Wob Ramsbeck, in net for a resting Korka. Ramsbeck still made 28 saves and did not get any help from the somnolent Citymen forwards. Atterische’s Rick Rijstad had a goal for his 20th of the campaign.

1 Dohmatische v. Lojren 1: Dohmatische will need to beef up it scoring next year to match its strong defense. An opportunistic center or two who can finish would help them to win some of the lower-scoring games it is drawing or losing by one goal. A quick update for Kai Ganesmund fans. Ganesmund has had a tough time down the stretch for te Lughaus, and his point total of 18 (9 goals, 9 assists) is way down from where he wants it to be. Local media has been suspecting that he is nursing an injury, but Kai is mum on it. The more prevalent rumor is that he is seeking a new contract with a team that has a chance for the Cup and/or Championship next year, as he is nearing retirement age.

The Liminal Zone: outside and inside

LZ_coverNovels, for me, stand or fall on their world-building. Put a character into a believable time and place, and I’m hooked, regardless of whether the story’s set in the past, present, or future.

The Liminal Zone, Richard Abbott's latest in his Far From the Spaceports series, takes place in the future. How far? A hundred year, perhaps. You never really know. And that’s part of the appeal.

What’s it like to travel to Pluto? To link up intimately with an artificial intelligence personality who is nearly as complex psychologically as you? To have a legitimate chance of discovering extraterrestrial life?

Abbott answers all these questions in The Liminal Zone, and he makes it very real. For me, I could feel the claustrophobia of living inside a capsule, space suit, or space station. I shivered at the glittering cold of the surface of Charon, Pluto’s moon, and I got a little seasick thinking about the low gravity.

And it felt real—though weird and off-putting, as well—to listen to the conversations between the heroine, Nina, and the various “personas” that are part of this future world, and try to envision what type of relationship you could have with, to put it crudely, a computer.

But for all that, there was a lot that was familiar about the people in the novel.

Nina is a researcher of extraterrestrial life who has obtained her last-chance set of grant funding to travel in person to Charon, where a listening post has been set up to look for life on extra-solar planets. It’s not impossible to get there, but it’s still an expensive months-long journey for an up-close look at something that may not be there.

Nina has a hunch, however. It’s about something the staff on the station have called “selkies.” Legends on earth tell of these seal-people who inhabit the waters off the coast of Ireland and have close encounters with humans. The implication is that these selkies in space will constitute humankind’s first contact with extraterrestrials.

So you have Nina, the Don Quixote type, who arrives on Charon to find the station a hotbed of conflicts, drama, personalities, and personas. Anyone who has ever been in any kind of situation with smart people all together in one place trying to accomplish a goal will recognize how things can break down over the unhelpful attitudes of every primadonna smarty-pants who thinks their way is the best.

And everyone is clamming up about the selkies.

Nina’s task, then, involves a lot of subtle manuevering among the various human and AI movers and shakers in the group, in an attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery.

As with most of Abbott’s novels (the other two in this series are here and here), you’re not going to see a lot of explosions, ray guns, swordplay, or “it’s the end of the world as we know it” doomspeak. Instead, Abbott uses his deep understanding of human nature to explore what would happen in a future where outer space is much less about what’s “out there” than what’s inside us.

That’s all you need to know. Tell your personal AI of choice to obtain this book. Then read it. You’ll be glad you did.

Flowering Branch Cup Grand Final: Holtzlund 3, Rjaward 2

Fireworks-2356327_1920In the end, it wasn't really about skating and scoring at all.

In a classic Cup Grand Final, two fine high-scoring teams played a characteristically Borschic game, with only 5 goals scored (the over-under was 6.5) but with plenty of grit and determination.

Green fireworks go off in the sky over Erichels after the team's Flowering Branch Cup victory. Image by Gisela Merkuur from Pixabay

Holtzlund's Green Axe crew came out the 3-2 winners, raising their first Bloomentwejg Koop since 315.

But the biggest news had to wait until well after the game.

Sybrandy Spillers, heroic goalie who made 30 saves on the game, almost became the late Sybrandy Spillers when it was discovered at game end that he had been bleeding into his skate boot for much of the third period. He was rushed to St. Noos Hospital in Staff Borsch and because blood transfusions are not normally given in Borschic medicine, he spent an uncertain night in critical condition.

The initial injury to Spillers came with 3:51 left in the third period and the score knotted at two. Rjaward's put a shot on net, there was a rebound, and Anvorian forward Dieter Strudelmacher fought his way to the puck and slipped it home.

On the play, Strudelmacher encroached on Spillers's goal crease and then was pushed into Spillers by defenseman Steen Dunkel. No one saw it, but it was likely that Strudelmacher's skate cut through Spillers's sock and into his calf. 

The wound was such that it began bleeding into Spillers's skate boot, and because of adrenaline Spillers waved off help from the trainer, thinking it was just a surface cut.

The bleeding was much worse than that, though, and Spillers played through it till the end of the game, stopping 6 shots in a furious final sequence in Holtzlund's own end.

He then staggered and fell as his teammates were celebrating, and a pool of blood was seen in his vacated crease.

Luckily no artery was hit or Spillers might have lost his life.

It was fitting in a way that the game end with blood on the ice, as no quarter was given by either team throughout the game.

Rjaward looked to be in charge at the end of the first period after goals by Jens Klijnehoop (24th on the season) and Koort Strijker (17), the "Purple Rain" combination that has fueled so many Rjaward wins this year.

But Holtzlund roared back in the second period, after scoring a short-handed goal to make it 2-1. Dujtrick de Jong, so valuable to the team this year, took a headman pass from defenseman Koldar Vorochel and beat Franck Pharendaal to his stick side low.

"We'd never seen him before; maybe there was some gamesmanship on their coach's part," said de Jong after the game, referring to coach Norbert Grimm's decision to play backup goalie Lemdeveel Schmeechtpujtr in both regular-season games against the Axe Men this year. "But we had plenty of scouting and I knew he liked to waggle his stick a little bit off the ice. You can't keep that kind of thing quiet."

De Jong's goal was followed up by Kaameron Luudjeron, a 24-year old who's been making his presence felt on the ice for several weeks now. The goal followed pinpoint passes around the circles from Paul-Frujdrick Henricks and Saruman Gloostick; Luudjeron finished with a wrister that again beat Pharendaal under his stick.

Most of the third period was tense and guarded on both sides. After Rjaward had appeared to score the third goal from Strudelmacher, Holtzlund put on a two-shift rush: Axe Men coach Dirk Eechen skipped the third line's shift, re-inserting the first line but double-shifting the hot skater Luudjeron and sitting Tyger Oostende, who had had a flat game up to that point.

"They (Rjaward) were gassed and no one was matching up against Kaam," said Eechen after the game. "It was then or never. I don't like overtime and I don't like shootouts."

Luudjeron finally broke through with 2:33 left in regulation, getting the final pass on a 3 on 2 rush after Gerd Zijterwoode, Rjaward's second line, and defenders Henrick van Koorker and Adam Reemerswaal had gambled everything on a big push in Holtzlund's zone.

"I can't believe we didn't score in that sequence," Grimm said afterwards. "Spillers should have been off the ice. But instead he stopped everything. All thanks to the Saints." And he looked skyward, perhaps wondering why the Saints hadn't helped him.

Schmidt Max will be back in goal for Holtzlund in Week 26 as the Timber Boys pursue the double: a Cup and Championship.

"It will be a hard road without Sybby," Eechen said. "But we can do anything now. We've proved it."

Week 25 results: Borschland Hockey League

Bhl_away_jerseyA new week of hockey just before the Flowering Branch Cup final pitted the finalists Holtzlund and Rjaward against each other in the mountain city of Erichels, and it was as close as advertised. In the Grand Final of the Cup, of course, there will be no ties. If the score is knotted at the end of regulation, they’ll play 10 minutes of overtime, first goal wins. If there’s no winner after OT, it’ll be a shootout.

Image: Borschland national selection uniforms.

As Meenesanne and Tarlunz have already played each other twice this year, they were off this week, mutually choosing not to play a friendly, which meant that Rjaward and Tarlunz now both have a game in hand against Holtzlund.

3 Holtzlund v. Rjaward 3: Home ice advantage did not help the Axe Men as much as they wanted it, despite a screaming crowd of 7,489 gathered around Te Krick, the hockey rink known as “The Cove.” It was a see-saw game the entire time, with Holtzlund scoring one goal in every period and Rjaward expending most of its energy in the second, when they took a brief 3-2 lead on a goal by Christian Zeeberg. But they came out flat in the third period, Jens Gladweel took a high-sticking penalty, and Saruman Gloostick converted the ensuing power play with an elevated shot past Lemdeveel Schmeechtpujtr, who was spelling Franck Pharendaal in goal. Rjaward coach Norbert Grimm said about his decision to start Schmeechtpujtr: "It was time for Lem to have a turn in goal. We're comfortable with either goalie, to be honest." Holtzlund coach Dirk Eechen was steamed afterwards. "That last high stick wasn't the only penalty they had, but it seemed as if the officials were content to let it be."

3 Meechen v. Lojren 1: Lojren lost its fifth in a row, while Meechen kept pace with the leaders in the championship. Meechen got goals from two defensemen, Voga Terkel and Bartul van Abeele. Welneth Ungarth seemed his unbeatable self: Lojren’s Sander Glossamer had the lone goal for Lojren and would’ve had more if Ungarth had not made several unbelievable saves.

4 Bjaward v. Sajbell 3: Not quite enough yet again for the Sea Gods. Bjaward won for the first time in six games, having gone 0-2-3 before last night. Bjaward's offense woke up, as centerman Alex Meesenhammer had a hand in all four goals, scoring 2 and assisting on 2. 17-year old Antonius Udelhooven scored his first goal in the BHL, a nifty tic-tac-toe with Man Grizzlyfaith and Ruud Beecker.

3 Te Staff v. Dohmatische 2: Yet again, Dohmatische’s tough defense was involved in controversy. With Te Staff pressing in the third period and the score tied 2-2, defender Parn Uptek was called for tripping. That was too much for coach Azofer Teekeetl, who apparently said something that upset the officials. He was assessed a major penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, and Te Staff converted the resulting 5 on 3 advantage into the winning goal, a rebound put back by Christoff Anselm at 3:09 left in the game.

2 Atterische v. Wrischer 2: A quiet game for two middle-of-the-table teams that were hoping for more this season. Atterische had a goal from bench forward Bram van Brick, his first of the year, to preserve the tie.

2 Bevinlunz v. Onatten 0: Heiko Moordfors recorded his 50th career shutout as the Merchantmen won the Battle of the Seaports. Moordfors had little to do, making 24 saves. Roger Wijkenschaud had a goal for Bevinlunz, and Tomas St.-Ambroos put in an empty-net goal for insurance at the end of the game.

2 Matexipar v. Sichebach 1: Matexipar played to the smallest crowd of the season, 6,354, as Iron Stick fans showed their displeasure with the team’s performance by staying away from the rink. Sigiswald Zberg got goal number 16 for Mat-X, tops on the club.

OFF: Tarlunz, Meenesanne

Who will win the Flowering Branch Cup 336 NR?


When you look out at the hockey rink below the bluff, the spit of land that closes it off from the Borschland River, the houses and business and yacht harbors in the distance across that river, you understand why it is the supreme destination for all Flowering Branch Cup finalists.

The Borschland River with te Rijngk in background right. Image by Richard Ley from Pixabay

You also understand why Te Staff has won so many of these Cups. It is, after all, the Citymen’s home ice.

But it is an iconic place nevertheless, the largest rink by attendance in the nation. Over 10,000 can squeeze their way in here, depending on how many stand on that spit across the way.

The pale winter sun sets early, off towards the city of Erichels in the northwest, from where the Axe Men of Holtzlund have already come. They’ve had their first skate this morning. Confident, loose, a set roster with everyone contributing.

The Cattle Drivers of Rjaward come in tomorrow. They’ve been working out on their own rink, dubbed Te Coepeen, or The Corral. Regular telegrams come in from the press.

“We’re ready.” Coach Norbert Grimm, a veteran of Te Staff, who was in goal for six Flowering Branch Cup finals in his 12-year career with the Citymen.

“We like our chances.” Star centerman Jens Klijnehoop, who has 23 goals in 24 games.

Klijnehoop means “Small hope” in Borschic—it would be a good name if Jens were Loflin, because the Loflinders often name things and people ironically. They would call someone “small hope” if they were their last, best hope.

Dirk Eechen, also known as “te Sckipper” in Holtzlund, the Captain of the Ship, also likes his team’s chances. “We can both score goals,” he said, “but if it comes down to defense, which I think it will, we have the edge. Our defenders are better and our goalkeeper is better. They won’t outscore us on neutral ice.”

To which Grimm says, “Anytime you can put 51 shots on goal on a team, you’ll win more often than not.”

Grimm is referring to the recent series with Dohmatische, in which Rjaward shot on goal a total of 84 times and scored 9 goals, but only once in the first leg, on 51 shots.

There is no room for error in this game, as it is a singlet.

The game will take place at 3 of the clock in the afternoon, and the arena floodlights will already be lit. It looks as if the weather will be blustery, but no snow is forecast. The steam refrigerator generators will need to work hard to keep the rink frozen, based on the lights and the huge crowd expected.

It will be like many another Flowering Branch final, in other words.

And someone will raise the Silver and drink the ceremonial tisande (warm brandy and pear nectar) from it.

Who will it be? Anyone's guess. It may end up being the city that brings the biggest crowd and cheers the loudest.