The sign at the entrance read “PLAYERS ONLY.” I readjusted the heavy gear bag on my shoulder, drew in a big breath of air, and slowly exhaled through my puffed out cheeks. Hockey tryouts are kind of a big deal in Minnesota. They gather the parents into the lobby, and quarantine them from watching the actual on ice activity.I passed through the door and walked up to the table on the other side.“First name and confirmation number” the guy at the table asked flatly.“Daniel. 216.”“First year bantam tryout. You’re at the right place. This will be your jersey throughout the entire week. You are red 13. Do not trade it with another player, and do not forget to bring it every night. If you don’t have your jersey, you don’t get onto the ice. You are assigned to locker room B. Good luck Daniel.”“Thanks.”They try to make everything seem so fair and professional, like every kid has a shot at skating on the A team. I’m pretty sure the coaches know who most of the kids are, so masking us is pretty silly. I’m also pretty sure the coaches have most of the team already penned in. So basically, there are about 30 kids trying to fill 3 to 5 spots. A first year player, like me, has the hardest hill to climb. Any second year tryout who was cut last year, but had a really good season at B level, will have a better chance than me. He’s been seen and has a year of bantams under his belt. For me, it’s a new, higher level, and I most likely, have not been seen.Also, any local politician, or booster, with a kid in the league, often gets their kid through. Unless they are clearly not good at hockey. That is part of the reason they quarantine the parents. It’s as much about keeping peace with the adults, as it is with keeping some parental pressure off of us kids.I entered the locker room, but it felt more like a library. The tension was very high, and nobody dared to speak. I exchanged a couple of nods with some of my teammates from last year, and found a spot on the bench to get ready. Everyone in the room was feeling the same pressure. We were all first year bantams, and having our personal doubts.As I was going through the ritual of armoring myself, another player walked in. When I looked up, a strange feeling came over me. Here was this boy, whom, to the best of my knowledge, I had never seen before, and he had me breathless. I was completely frozen, staring, and I don’t know why. I was drawn to him in a way I had never experienced before. Not at all in an innocent way. He stood maybe an inch taller than me, but his swagger, confidence, made him appear ten feet tall. His messy hair and perfectly proportioned body screamed at me with sex appeal, as much as his long eyelashes and button nose. I wanted to touch him, to kiss him. What in the hell was going on with me? I studied his outfit, head to toe. He had on a baggy, pullover hoodie, from some team I’ve never seen before. He wore a pair of worn in blue jeans. Kind of tight fitting, but not like skinny jeans. They hugged him perfectly. He sat across from me, and as he was unpacking his bag, he looked right at me, catching me staring. He looked into the eyes of my reddening face, held me for just a moment, and put on a half smile, before returning to his hockey bag.I tried to play it off by scurrying through my bag, getting everything together for the tryout. As hard as I tried, I could not stop stealing peaks at this boy. It was completely out of my control. I watched him at his various stages of undress and redress, saving to memory his finer details. His flat, tanned stomach, exposed when he pulled his hoodie over his head. His strong thighs, showing as he pulled off his jeans. And I especially liked how he frequently blew up at his messy, blond bangs, that blanketed his eyes.Just about the time when we were all ready to go, but not sure what we were supposed to do, a man in skates, with a whistle around his neck, walked in.“Gentlemen. Welcome to the bantam tryouts. I’m sure many of you know from past experiences, what this will be like. We will be running you through a series of skating drills, passing drills, and shooting drills. Some of these drills will be timed, so try your hardest. The second half of each session will be a scrimmage. Treat it like a real game. Try not to look at this as a competition, but more as a placement. Finding the right place for you to play competitively this winter. I will say, however, that there are 9 spots to fill on the A travel team. We had an old team last year. This team will be different. A much younger team. Some of those roster spots will be filled with some of you in this room. All we ask is that you pay attention to what we are asking for out there. Try your hardest, and have fun. Are there any questions?”“Ok. Hit the ice.”Every player has a routine they follow for getting ready for a game. Especially during warm-ups, when you first take the ice. I like to take two slow laps, then find a spot along the boards in the neutral zone, across from the players benches, to do some extra stretching. I always do this alone, because I also use this time to put on my game face.As I stepped onto the ice, I found it difficult to focus. I couldn’t stop thinking about the boy I encountered in the locker room. I felt dizzy. I couldn’t understand what was going on in my head. Before I had a chance to dive too deeply into my brain, I was brought back to reality by the chatter that awaited us on the ice. The 8th graders were hanging out by the benches, taunting us with typical hockey intimidation and trash talk. “Keep yer head up rookie. I’m gonna drill ya”, and other similar phrases. But then I heard one voice, above all the others, when he said “Barbie? No fuckin’ way. This is going to be fun.”I turned my head enough to see that prick Derek. Great. Derek plays hockey…I skated one lap, instead of two, and found my quiet spot to begin my stretched. Now I had a mixture of my unintentional lust over a boy, and fear about what Derek had in mind for me. Lust and fear is an odd set of feelings to deal with at any time. Before hockey only makes it worse. Needless to say, I was unprepared for this tryout. As I tried desperately to reel in my focus, I heard “sup Danny” over my left shoulder. I turned my head to see who it was, and to my surprise, sitting next to me, was that boy.“Hey…wait…you know my name?”“You don’t remember me?” he asked, smiling disappointedly.I studied his face as best I could, behind the black, steel cage of his helmet. “Ummm…sorry…no” I confessed.“It’s Mark! I used to live down the street from y..”“Holy shit! Marky? Oh my god! You look so different.”“Well I did move in 3rd grade. But I recognized you right away. You still look the same as I rem..”“Thanks” I interrupted, sarcastically.“I didn’t mean like you still look like 3rd grade, but I could totally tell who you were.”“Yeah. I knew what you meant.”“I figured you recognized me too. In the locker room, you looked at me a lot.”“Haha…yeah, I was trying to figure out why you looked familiar” I lied back to him. “I thought you moved to California or something.”“I did. But now I’m back” he said smiling.“Cool! So where do you live?”“St. Croix Beach.”“So where do you go to school?”“Same place as you.”“Really? I’ve never seen you, or..”“I’ve seen you. We got the same lunch.”“Really? Why don’t you come say hi?”“Well…you’re always with that girl…I don’t want to get in your way.”“Seriously? Dude. That’s my friend Kayla. She’s super cool. Come eat with us tomorrow. It’d be so cool.”“Is she, like, your girlfriend?”“Nah…well…I don’t know, not really. We’re just like, really good friends.”It was as if I was in some kind of crazy time warp, seeing my old best friend. Mark and I were inseparable friends. I took it really hard when he moved away. To be honest, I was devastated. Now he was back, and I was thrilled. I desperately wanted to reach over and give him a huge hug. Just then a whistle blew, and it was time to assemble at center ice, and begin the tryouts.