It was a must-win game. A must. Winning was the only option, because a loss would end the tournament for the home team. In fact, losing would also bring the humiliation of having to come back and play another, meaningless, game.
“For the fans.”
The house was packed, people were wearing their flag not only on their sleeves, but also on their foreheads, bellies, cheeks, their pants, their skirts, and their hats. The team was full of homegrown Slovak stars who had returned to Bratislava to win, together.
People were hopeful but worried, confident but afraid, they were both optimists and pessimists at once, going from one end of the emotional range to the other as the puck moved from the end of the rink to the other. They screamed, they sang, they stomped their feet, they laughed – and, when they lost the game, they cried.
He did, too. He listened to the Finnish national anthem, then quickly wiped the tears from the corner of his eye, and walked away from the rink. The tournament may have been over for the home team, but it wasn’t over for him.
He disappeared into a small room, then re-appeared with a hose in his hand. Carefully, he walked onto the ice. He still had a job to do.
The show must go on.