falling through the ice: take your skates off, poletti, they’re weighin’ ya down

dangerSometimes in the hockey novels, the pond where the high-school team plays its big game is beautiful, black and smooth and deep, and the sound that skates make on it bespeaks power and gracefulness and cold outdoor air, such that young Jack Taylor, who watches the game, can’t resist heading out onto this same ice a few days later when the weather starts to warm.

I’m speaking here of Lightning On Ice, Philip Harkins’ 1946 novel for young readers, and if you can see where we’re heading, well, yes, obviously. The pond doesn’t have a name, though it’s big enough, apparently, to be called a lake. The boys find a sheltered cove where the ice, soft as it is, seems thick enough. They ignore the signs warning them off. They shed their shoes, pull on skates. It’s older boys, mostly. Jack is younger, meek. At first, there’s no room for him in the game, but then one of the captains says he can tend goal. Poletti. Jack doesn’t want to play in goal but, okay, fine. Schulz is the other captain, and a jerk. It’s his wrist shot that hits Jack in the shin, fells him briefly, despite everybody having agreed to no raising. I’m not going to get into the bad blood that boils between Schulz and Poletti. Poletti pokechecks him — I will say that. And so:

Schulz, chagrined, watched the puck skim over the ice. Then his chagrin vanished as he saw the rubber disc slide serenely out of the cove onto the thin ice of the pond. Watching the puck and realizing what this would mean to its owner, Schulz broke into a laugh. “O.K., wise guy!” he cried. “There’s your pokecheck and there’s your puck. You go get it — and have a good swim!”

Poletti goes. It’s his puck, the only one he’s got. The rest of the players look on. He skates fast, gets to the puck, whacks it to safety, turns back.

Poletti was returning. The ice was sagging dangerously, rising up and down beneath him like a rippling snake. Poletti was skating uphill and downhill over the creaking ice. A boy yelled, “Come on, Poletti. You kin make it.”

No. Not true. He trips, cries out, crashes through the ice. O no.

The boys stood paralyzed. Then they broke into excited cries and skated in excited circles. “He’s up,” someone shouted. Poletti had pulled himself onto a ledge of solid ice and was pushing himself up with his arms. Suddenly the ledge gave way and Poletti dropped back into the icy water. Cakes of ice ground around him, seemed to promise support, and then sank under his weight.

ftti harkins - Version 2

Take off your skates, Schulz counsels from afar: “They’re weighin’ ya down!” No way: those skates cost him ten bucks. Jack’s the one who goes after Poletti, of course: it’s his job as the novel’s hero. Along with his nerve, he’s got a plan.

When he reached the thin ice of the pond, he dropped to one knee and, getting flat on his stomach, wriggled forward with extended hockey stick. He ignored the warnings of the other players.

“Grab my ankle,” he cried to them, and someone followed, lay down, and grabbed Jack’s ankle. Then another joined the human chain and another, and now there were four boys anchored to Schulz, who was kneeling on the thick safe ice of the cove.

Jack slid farther out near Poletti. Poletti thrashed against the heavy ice cakes, pushed them aside, and fought his way to solid ice. Jack stretched, Poletti strained. Then Poletti managed to grasp the end of the hockey stick which Jack extended toward him.

“O.K. Pull,” cried Jack. “Everybody hold on with two hands!”

Slowly painfully, Poletti came up out of the icy water onto ice that held under his weight, over the ice of the pond to the thicker ice of the cove, where he lay at last soaked, dripping, safe.

All’s well that ends & etc. Happy and proud, Jack joins Poletti for hot chocolate and hot dogs. What could be better? “A day that had started miserably,

with an assignment of goal tending and a painful bang on the shin, had turned out extremely well; by express invitation he was walking home with a big boy, a high school boy, a good hockey player.