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An opening loss with heads held high

Off to Not-Borschland

The Borschland Hockey League is participating in the first Alternate Universe World Cup of Hockey. Here is Sherm Reinhardt's take on the team's historic first trip off-Continent for a truly global ice hockey competition.

So it wasn't a normal road trip.

I mean, I'm not even used to plane rides, and I'm American. Back in Minnesota, the only plane I ever took was one to St. Louis to visit my aunt Trudy and uncle Carl, and that was after Dad passed.

But the guys? That was another kettle of fish, as Dad used to say. Most or all had been on airships in their lives, but those things stayed close to the ground. An airplane was science fiction to them.

When the roster came out for Game 1, and the destination, this super-nation called Gyatso-Kai that was like a conglomeration of China and Japan and the kitchen sink, Chrujstoff Anselm and Hauke Sybrandy and the rest of the selectees from the Te Staff team plus Habel Baarda from Tarlunz got together at a very low-key bar to basically write our last wills and testaments.

"An airplane is not much different from an airship, yes?" Baarda said. He was a family man, five kids. A lock for the Hall of Fame.

"You have to like honey," I said. Bear Air was the carrier, and when I came to Borschland the furry flight crew gave me the full Winnie-the-Pooh routine.

Chrujstoff knocked back a Celtlands whiskey and wiped his sleeve. "Anyway," he said, "if there is a phase shift and we are stuck in Not-Borschland, I hear they have a big hockey league. We could all get a job, maybe."

"There isn't going to be a phase shift," I said. "That's why we entered the Cup."

"You never know," said Oovie, Uwe Sipken. Normally he did nothing but clown people. Pranks, stunts, April Fool's Jokes, that was Uwe's specialty, besides putting the puck on your stick like a gift from God.

But now Oovie was staring down an airplane ride.

"We will not get a job playing hockey in their league," said Rogijr Kelmenstremmer, one of the best defensemen I've ever seen. You couldn't shoot past him. Nothing got to the goalie if he was between goal and the shooter. "We might be able to carry their pisspots."

Baarda glared at Kelmenstremmer and said, "You have to wonder why we are going, if we are such a bad team."

"Oh, it's political," Hauke Sybrandy said. Professorial type, and a deadly finisher. "You don't think this is the Expansiveists showing Borschland how much better it is to be open to the world? You know they control the government. It's just a matter of time before we are exporting our peat to every land you can shift to, and we'll have none for ourselves, but the Expansiveists will be rich and living in Australia."

"That's bunk," said Oovie, and that was the end of the conspiracy theories-- for the moment.

The day we left, the scene at the airship base was utter chaos. Lots of women crying, lots of men crying, lots of kids crying. Very traumatic. Rachael, my wife, was pregnant with our first, and she nearly had the baby right then and there.

No one said anything on the airship ride, and the takeoff from Waterbrownbear in the airplane involved lots of white knuckles. But once the plane was at cruising altitude and we got our first Foster's under our belts-- the bears laid in a supply, they love to host parties-- we had a team meeting.

There was a lot of gallows humor to start. Then Tjard Meern stood up. Besides Sikke Pfelward, he was the oldest guy on the team, the best and biggest defenseman, and maybe the best passer on the team. Meern is one of those mutton-chop types who never backs down and never says anything, just gives you that look.

This time, he talked.

"Reinhardt, you're captain and you deserve it, I'll not argue that," he said. "And you know a bit more about the outside world than we do. So we want to learn from you, Sherm, and good luck to us."

A little quiet laughter, but then dead silence.

"A lot of things have changed since you got here. This is the next. We have to get used to it. We're not just Borschland by ourselves anymore.

"But boys, hockey is hockey. We know how to play. All of us. That's why we were chosen.

"So no matter what happens, whether it's bears or unicorns or magic or any other nonsense that can happen in God's good world, there is no way we are going to do anything on the ice but tear the other team's hearts out.

"When we step off the ice at the end of the third, win or lose, we need to leave them wondering if life is worth living anymore.

"Then we can go out and buy them a drink and say, allesgeet ergut, my friend. All's well. Drink up. You just played Borschland."

No one said anything more. The meeting was over. And no one said anything for the rest of the plane ride, until we touched down in Gyatso-Kai, and the guys picked up their equipment bags, and after that it was nothing but hockey talk. 

Because we were on the job.


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