This story takes place over a long time. It starts around February 1998 and continues until April 1999.

The Septuplet Hockey League
A Carlson Septuplets Story

The bleachers at the new Westfield Ice Arena were fairly empty, as usual. Watching the 13-16 year old girls' advanced beginner figure skating competition wasn't all that thrilling, and it didn't exactly draw huge crowds. The bleachers were only about one third filled; most of those people were parents and siblings watching their siblings compete. One of the performers seemed to have a small fan club, though: six brown-haired, green-eyed girls and their parents sat near the back row of the bleachers watching the attempted axles and toe loops performed on the ice below.

While Megan waited nervously for her turn to skate, her sisters were just bored out of their minds. An "advanced beginner" class isn't exactly for people who are at the performing level yet, so the show hadn't been all that entertaining. Meredith Carlson poked at her sister Monica, who was engrossed in a book she was reading.

"What is it?" Monica asked, slightly annoyed at being disturbed.

"Do you wanna go do something?"

"Not really. I'm reading."

So Meredith tried another of her sisters. She poked Melissa in the back.

"Hey, don't poke me," Melissa whined.

"Do you wanna go do something?" Meredith repeated her question.

"Like what?" Melissa looked very skeptical. What else was there to do at an ice rink if you weren't skating?

"We could go explore the rink."

"Oh, fun. Like there's really lots to do here."

Now Michelle joined the conversation. "Well, there's a snack bar and a skate shop and even a second rink," she mentioned. "I'll come with you."

"Okay," Meredith smiled. "Let's go."

"I'll come too," Mary said. The three of them started climbing down the bleachers.

"Wait, did you say there's a snack bar? Maybe I can get a frozen Coke." Melissa changed her mind and ran to catch up with the others.

The four of them wandered around the small complex looking for something interesting. The skate shop was closed, unfortunately, so they couldn't look at the Red Wings posters and cards. At least the snack bar was open, so Melissa got her frozen Coke. There wasn't much else there except a few pinball machines and arcade games. They wandered over towards them to see if any looked fun. The games were on the other side of the lobby, towards the entrance to the arena's second rink. While Meredith, Melissa, and Michelle were investigating the small arcade, something else caught Mary's attention. Looking in the window to the second rink, she saw a hockey game in progress.

"That looks like fun," Mary commented as she watched the game.

"What does?" Michelle said, hoping that she had found something they could do. Then she saw that Mary was just watching the game. "Oh, a hockey game. Yeah, doesn't it? Sorta like the street hockey games we play sometimes." She started to wander off, looking for something else to do.

"I wish I could be on a team. I want to play," Mary said.

Michelle heard Mary and spun around. "Huh? You want to play hockey? Like on a real team, not just in the street?"

Melissa heard them and joined the conversation. "MARY?! Hahahahah!" Melissa laughed. "Oh, I can just picture it! You with a stick and a helmet and a bunch of padding checking people into the sideboards! Hahahaha!"

"Hey! What's so funny about ME playing?!?" Mary demanded. "On a league without checking," she added as an afterthought. "Like Michelle said, I play street hockey sometimes!!"

"Yeah, whatever," Melissa continued laughing. "We're talking organized team sports here, not some casual game in the street."

"Well, I play soccer on an actual team, don't I?" Mary reminded her. "Forgot about that, didn't you?"

"Oh, right..." Melissa remembered. "Yeah, well, maybe you have for one season, but that was just because Mindy and Cassandra practically dragged you onto the team."

"Well, I still did, you know!" Mary said. "See, I can do sports, even if I'm not Miss Athlete of the Universe like Michelle, or on school teams like you."

"But hockey? I still can't picture it!" Melissa replied.

Melissa and Mary continued to argue over whether Mary was capable of playing ice hockey as the four of them walked back to the bleachers. As they crossed the lobby, Meredith noticed some flyers on the wall.

"Oh, look, Mary," she said, pulling a neon pink piece of paper off a rack. "Maybe you actually could play." Meredith read the flyer out loud. "Women's roller hockey league. Open to ages 14 and up. All girls and women interested in playing hockey are welcome. No experience necessary."

"Hey, maybe you really could do that," Michelle said. "It says there's no experience necessary."

"Funny you should notice this just after we were talking about how you couldn't possibly play. Look at all that equipment you need," Melissa noted, reading the footnote at the bottom of the page. "A helmet, shin guards, elbow pads, skates, a stick, and gloves, not to mention the optional padding."

"Hmmm," was all Mary had to say.


"Are you sure you really want to do this?" Mrs. Carlson asked. Her voice showed that she still wasn't completely convinced that her daughter really wanted to play hockey. They were at a sporting goods store that specialized in hockey equipment, preparing to get a stick cut to Mary's height.

"Yes, I'm sure, just like I was the last fifty times you asked me that question in the past month," Mary said. She hadn't changed her mind about wanting to play since she found the flyer at the

"So shall I cut the stick now?" the man who had been helping them asked.

"Yeah, go ahead, we'll definitely take it," Mary said. He took held the stick up to Mary and marked off a certain position, then took it in the back room. They could hear a saw buzzing.

As Mary and her mom sat there waiting for the stick, Mary felt a little bit awkward and out of place. Not too many girls played hockey, and those who did typically started much earlier, not at age fifteen! The people who worked at the store had been very helpful, but they did seem a bit surprised to see a high school girl who wanted to play hockey for the first time. It was a bit frustrating that so few people seemed to take her seriously. The only people who really did were Michelle, Meredith, and their dad. Mary hoped that she didn't feel this awkward when she actually skated on to the rink in less than a month.


It was noon on a sunny Saturday in April. As the Sept Van drew closer and closer to the in-line skating rink, Mary bit her nails off nervously. Today was the first practice for her new roller hockey team.

"I don't think I can do this..." she said in a shaky voice. "All I've ever done is skate around in the street with a tennis ball for a puck and a folding chair for a goal. What am I doing here?!"

Melissa, who had come along with the rest of the Septs to watch their sister at her first game, couldn't resist replying. "That's just what I've been asking you, isn't it?"

Meredith gave Melissa a gentle punch in the side as a warning to back off. "Leave her alone. I bet you would have given up before you even got this far."

"Of course I would have. I'm not stupid," Melissa commented, which prompted more forceful punch from Meredith.

"Don't worry, you'll do fine," Michelle said. "Remember, it said no experience is necessary. Since you've played street hockey, that's obviously more than no experience. I think it's great that you're even trying! You're always so determined, and that'll really help you here."

That helped her feel a little bit better, although she wasn't sure if Michelle's comments were justified. She was probably just saying that to be nice. When they actually arrived at the rink, Mary felt even more intimidated. They found out that everyone else was already there warming up except for one girl who had also just arrived, and that Mary would be the youngest on the team because they had had to combine the girls' league with the womens' league due to the small number of people who signed up. So she would be playing with people ranging in age from 14 to 50, with an equally large range of skill levels.

Mary hurried to put on all her equipment. This rushed feeling didn't help; she was already having a hard enough time getting all the various pads and guards on and adjusted correctly. One of the rink mangers gave her a jersey, which was very difficult to get on over all that equipment. Michelle helped her to pull it on without messing up her elbow pads, and she noticed something as she did. "Look what your number is, Mary. Number nineteen!"

"Really? Nineteen? I forget to look. That was the number I wanted!"

"I thought it would be," Michelle said. She knew her sister's favorite hockey player was the Red Wings' captain, Number 19, Steve Yzerman. Mary was lucky to get this number, because Stevie Y was quite the hero in Hockeytown; everyone wanted to wear number 19 as a tribute to The Captain, the selfless player who lead his by example and never seemed to give up. This time, for some reason, Mary was the lucky one who found that Number 19 was still left. It was probably there because the people giving out the jerseys hadn't let everyone pick their numbers.

"I just hope I can live up to this number," Mary said. "You understand the significance of wearing such a number, of course."

Michelle did, being the sports nut that she was. "Don't worry, you will. I mean, look how far you've come already! Most people wouldn't even try."

"I hope you're right," she sighed apprehensively. "Okay, give me my water bottle. I'd better get out there." Mary hurried on to the rink. Skating with all that equipment on, however, wasn't nearly as easy as it looked. How can they skate wearing all this bulky stuff?? Mary thought. No one else seemed to be having a hard time; maybe it got easier with practice. And she could sure use the practice right now. As she went after a puck that someone passed to her, the extra padding got to her and caused her to trip and fall, skidding across the rink.

Feeling very embarrassed and wondering how she would ever be able to play, she pulled herself up (which also proved very difficult thanks to the ten tons of safety equipment) and looked around to see if anyone was laughing at her. No one on the rink thought she looked silly, but there was a laughing face beyond the glass that separated the rink from the stands. It was Melissa.

The cage on the helmet obscured Melissa's view of her sister's expression, so she didn't notice the angry and determined look on her sister's face. Melissa's unkind laughter had been the last straw. Now Mary was determined that she would live up to Michelle's praise of her effort. She would live up to her prestigious Number 19. And she would prove Melissa—and all the other people who doubted she could do it—wrong. She didn't know if it would be possible; maybe she just didn't have what it took to skate around wearing all that equipment and make the puck go in the net. Maybe it was a stupid, unrealistic goal. But Mary didn't care. Sitting there so pathetically in a heap on the floor while her teammates skated around her, Mary decided that she would show Melissa and all the other pessimists out there that they were wrong, and that Michelle was right. She may be an uncoordinated beginner, but now, thanks to Melissa's taunts, she had a secret weapon: absolute determination. And that was something that might just count for quite a lot in the world of beginner's hockey!


As the season flew by, Mary's secret weapon helped her climb from the very bottom of the team's statistics chart to somewhere in the middle. She eventually got used to skating with all the equipment; soon she didn't even notice it. She fell down a few times per game, but each time she got right back up before Melissa could laugh at her (and Melissa came to lots of the games—she liked to hang out at the rink and watch Mary fall down).

By the middle of the season, she had scored her first goal. It was not a very glamorous goal—she got the puck near the neat and simply kept poking at it until it slipped by the frantic goalie —and they were already leading 6 to 1 when it went in, but that didn't matter. It was a goal, and with that, Mary proved that she could score a goal.

But she wasn't done there. She still had to prove herself to Melissa, to boys who laughed at girls' hockey, to people who said fifteen year olds couldn't learn a sport, and most importantly, to herself. She kept practicing, skating around in her street and practicing slap shots at the garage. By the end of the season, she rarely fell and had gotten pretty good at passing the puck, even if she did still have a fairly weak shot. Maybe this wasn't enough to get her into the Olympics, but she had come so far from where she had been when the season started that her teammates were amazed. And when the season ended in August, Mary was all set to sign up for the next session. She wasn't about to quit now, when she'd come so far and had so much fun!

Unfortunately, the team captain had some bad news. Not enough players had signed up for the fall session, because the ice hockey season would start halfway through the session. Many of the in-line hockey players were just playing for the summer while their ice hockey teams were in the off-season, and they planned to return to the ice when the new season started.

Of course, Mary was extremely disappointed. She asked their captain if she had any ideas about where she could keep playing. And as a matter of fact, she did have a suggestion. She knew that Mary lived in Westfield, so she told her about program she had heard about at the Westfield Ice Arena—the rink where Megan figure skated. It was an in-house ice hockey league for beginners, a no-checking, co-ed, purely recreational league. She didn't know very much about it, but had heard about it from some of the other in-line players. Of course, this was all Mary needed to hear. She set out to find more information about it right away.


"So what is this all about?" Molly asked as all the Septuplets gathered on the old couches in the basement. This was the place they usually congregated when someone had something important to say.

Mary glanced at Michelle and Meredith, the only Septs who already knew what she was planning. Both of them nodded as if to assure her that it was okay to start.

"Okay, here's the deal. You know my roller hockey season just ended, and there's not going to be a fall session. So I asked our team captain about where else I could play. She told me about this league they have at the Westfield Ice Arena. I called them the other day to find out about it. It's a no-checking league for beginners. It's in-house—that means they don't travel to other arenas—and it's just for fun, nothing too competitive or serious. Oh, yeah, and it's co-ed and for kids under 18."

"Oh, sure, I know that league," Megan said. "They have two or three teams right now, and they usually have a game right after my skating class. But why are you telling all of us about this? Why the conference?"

"Well..." Mary said, hesitating before reaching the climax of her little speech, "I'm very glad you asked, 'cause the thing is, there are already three teams this for session at the Westfield Arena, but they're already full. There are a couple people on a waiting list, but not enough for another team. And even if they did have enough people, they couldn't necessarily start one because they don't have a sponsor and a captain for a new team."

"Get to the point! What you want from the rest of us is...?" Melissa demanded.

"Okay, okay! What I want is for all of us to start our own team!"

Michelle and Meredith glanced at each other. Everyone else just stared at Mary with looks that said, What are you, insane?

"You want us to do what?" Melissa cried.

Mary looked a little flustered. She started talking very quickly, the way she did when conversations weren't exactly going as she had planned, to try and convince them. "No, you don't get it, see, they need a sponsor to run another team, which is just someone willing to run the team and get the uniforms together and all that. It could be the same person as the captain, if someone was willing to do that. We could do that, getting uniforms and recruiting people and all that, don't you think? And the people said—"

"Hold on!" Molly interrupted. "Forget all the sponsor stuff for a minute. What makes you think we would even want to play on a hockey team?!"

Mary just stared at Molly. "Ehehe...what?...I mean...don't you think it would be fun?"

"Let's just say that you'll have to do quite a good job of convincing me," Molly said. It was obvious she had never considered playing this game herself, and couldn't see Mary getting her to join, but she was willing to give her a chance to try.

Mary intended to take that chance. "Okay then, I will!"

"Well, you won't with me," Melissa said with a laugh. "You think you can get me out there on that slippery surface with all that junk you have to wear, just waiting to get smashed into the sideboards? Ha! There's no way I'm doing that!"

Michelle shot Melissa a sly grin. Melissa was her favorite sister, but that didn't mean she wouldn't side with the others when athletics were concerned! "Really, Mel? Then I guess all those comments about Mary not being able to do play very well...those were really what you'd think of yourself, weren't they?"

"Huh?" Melissa glared at Michelle suspiciously. "What are you talking about?"

"I'm just saying that all those jokes about her initial lack of skill...those were just your way of showing how impressed you were, weren't they? 'Cause I know you don't like to admit to being outdone by her."

"Outdone? Who's being outdone? I can do anything she can do! I can do it better!" Melissa declared. The other Septs just stared at Michelle and Melissa. They saw right through what Michelle was doing, and they couldn't believe that Melissa was falling for it. But Michelle knew that Mel's pride took first place, ahead of her rationality. This was the sure way to get Melissa to do something: use the sibling rivalry trick.

"If you could do better, then you wouldn't mind playing yourself," Meredith added.

"That's not true, I just don't have the time or interest in it," Melissa said.

"Yep, that sounds just like something someone would say if they knew they couldn't be the best," Monica added.

"It doesn't take that much time, anyway. It's just a rec league, with a game every week or so," Mary said.

Melissa scowled. She realized what her sisters were doing, but her pride still wouldn't let go. "Okay, okay, you sneaks, I get it. Well, fine. Have it your way. If she can play hockey, then I can too, and I'll prove it! I'll sign up, for one season. Just long enough to show you all. If you succeed in getting a team going, that is; I don't hear anyone else here volunteering to sign up!"

With that, Molly started laughing. "You did it!" she said between laughs. "You've got me on your roster. If you can get her to join, just like that, then you can get me, too. Where do I sign up?" She continued laughing, as if she thought this was the funniest thing ever. Melissa rolled her eyes and the others watched Molly, amused.

"You know I'll sign up," Meredith said.

"Me too," Michelle agreed.

That left Monica and Megan. "Well, you two? Are you in or out?" Mary asked.

"Well..." Monica looked hesitant. "I could try it, I guess...if you promise that it's an in-house league for beginning level kids only, with no checking...."

"It is," Mary said. "

"Then I guess I'm in too," Monica said. "It sounds like fun, and it's not like it's a lifetime commitment or anything."

"Ummm...I hate to be the odd one out, but I think I'll just stick to my figure skating classes," Megan said. "I think that's enough ice skating for me, and checking or no-checking, I still don't think I'm really the hockey type."

The other Septs tried a little more to convince her to join, but once they saw that her mind was made up, they gave up. Mary was still pleased, however. She managed to get five out of six of her sisters to join, and recruiting them had been much easier than she had expected. But that wasn't the hard part. Counting the two people on the rink's waiting list, they now had eight members. They needed fifteen for a team, including two goalies. Where was she going to find the extra players?


A few days later, Mary called a meeting of the captains of their still unnamed hockey team: that included herself and Michelle. At first, Mary had wanted Michelle to be the captain since she was so good at sports, but Michelle had refused. She said it was Mary's crazy idea to get this team together, so she ought to be captain. Mary did not want to wear the captain's "C"; she had no idea how to lead a sports team, so she begged Michelle to at least be the alternate captain. Michelle agreed to wear the "A" and help out, so there they were, the captain and alternate of a rec league team-to-be, trying to figure out how to make Mary's crazy idea work.

"So where are we going to get five more players?" Mary sounded worried. "That's how many we still need, right? I asked everyone on my soccer team about it, and just one girl, Audrey Binton, wanted to play. And you know Claire Hutchinson, right? Well, she plays on the Catholic high school's field hockey team, but she wanted to try ice hockey when I told her we were starting a rec team."

"Yeah, I know Claire. I heard from some other kids at that school that she's really good. But actually, we only need four more players. I asked Oliver Greenly. He tried out for our high school's hockey team, but he didn't make it, so he's willing to join ours."

"Really?" Mary sounded pleased, but surprised. "He doesn't mind? I would have thought he'd worry about being picked on by the guys on the school's team for playing on a rec league of mostly girls."

"Nah, I guess he's stronger than all that. Or else he didn't think of it yet," Michelle laughed. "Hopefully the former. Anyway, I think I know where we can get our four remaining players. Did you think of asking Luke Alwood, the kid down the street who sometimes plays goalie in our street hockey matches?"

"Hey, that's a great idea! Why don't we run over there and ask him right now? If he'd join, that's one goalie off our list."

"And we can ask Claire's little sister to join, too, 'cause I think she'd be interested," Michelle added.

"Another great idea! Let's call them tonight!" Mary was very glad she had gotten Michelle to be alternate captain; she was certainly good at this recruiting thing! Mary called the Hutchinsons and talked to Claire about getting her sister to join; she said she'd bring her to the team meeting that they would hold next weekend. Then they headed down the street to Luke Alwood's house to see if he would join. It took a bit of coaxing, because he wasn't sure he wanted to play on a team with a bunch of girls, but Michelle mentioned that he already played street hockey with a bunch of girls, so how different would this be? Mary reminded him how much fun it would be to play on actual ice instead of a street where cars kept threatening to run him over, and that convinced him to give it a try. He also agreed to come to the team meeting.

When Michelle and Mary returned home from Luke's house, Megan was waiting for them. She had heard them talking about recruiting members, and she knew a girl who was interesting in playing ice hockey. Her name was Gloria Candas, a girl who figure skated at the Westfield Ice Arena. "She's several levels up from me, though," Megan explained. "I think she could even go to the Olympics if she practiced a few more years. But she wants to play ice hockey for some reason. I think she's sick of figure skating 'cause her parents have always pushed her so hard to do it well. Maybe it's some sort of rebellion. But anyway, I thought I'd tell you about her."

"Hey, that's great!" Michelle exclaimed. "Do you by any chance know her phone number? We could call her right now and ask her about it."

"Actually, I do have it. She gave it to me so you could call her, in fact." Megan pulled a scrap of paper out of her pocket and gave it to Michelle, who promptly called her and invited her to come to the meeting.

After that, Michelle called Oliver and Mary called Audrey and the two kids from the waiting list—Paul Onanda and Geoffrey Lezinski — to tell them about the meeting. Paul was a little unsure whether he wanted to come when he found out the team captain was a girl, but Mary got him to at least agree to attend the meeting. Geoffrey was surprised that the team captain was a girl too, but what really impressed him was that she was one of the famous Carlson Septuplets. That made him agree to come! Oliver said he'd bring a friend who also got cut from the school team, Joshua Wyley. That was the best news of all, because that meant they had fifteen potential team members! Mary and Michelle went to bed that night feeling very satisfied with their scouting efforts, but also a little worried about what running a hockey team would really be like.


The two team leaders got their first taste of team leading the next Saturday, when everyone they had called gathered in the Carlsons' basement for the team meeting. The turnout was great: all fifteen people were there! The only potential problem that Mary noticed was that the girls and boys tended to stay apart. She hoped that wouldn't cause a problem when they tried to play as a team.

The meeting went pretty well, overall. They chose their team name: the Westfield Comets. Kristie Hutchinson, Claire's little sister, suggested "Shooting Stars," but several of the boys thought that was too "girly." So Molly suggested "Comets" as something similar but possibly less "girly," and almost everyone liked that, so that would be their name. Then they picked out jerseys out of a sporting goods catalog provided by the Arena, and settled on a white, blue, and green style. Monica was appointed "team artist" who would draw the Comet logo and they'd get it silkscreened on to the jerseys. Then came the fun part: the financial part. Mary asked everyone to bring their team dues to the first practice, which would be next weekend. After all, they had to cover the cost of team registration as well as the jerseys and silk-screening.

That reminded Meredith of something: they needed to get their names silk-screened on their jerseys, too. Most people could just get their last names, as usual. Kristie and Claire could get their first initials added as well. But what were the Carlsons going to do? They all had the same last name and initials.

This problem stumped most of the players, but Gloria Candas had an idea. "It seems the only thing you can do is pick some other letter besides your initials, unless you just want people to go by your numbers."

"It would be confusing to just use numbers, because no one would be able to figure out which number was which," Molly said. "But that's a good idea, Gloria. We can pick whatever we want for an extra sort of initial. I'd rather just use my real ones, but obviously that's not an option. This is why I wish we didn't have the same initials."

The other Septs didn't mind having the same initials, but they could see that Molly had a point. They often used a set of symbols they had created years ago instead of initials, but they couldn't very well get those symbols on their jerseys. So they all picked out "new" first initials. Mary got C because she'd have a "C" on the front of her jersey as well, and Michelle chose A for the same reason. The rest just randomly picked letters they liked: L for Melissa, Q for Monica, Z for Molly, and E for Meredith.

"It's kinda odd, isn't it?" Monica said. "I wonder how many other people have to pick out new initials for their sports jerseys."

None of the other players could think of anyone. Some of them thought it was extremely bizarre, because they didn't really know what the lives of the Carlson Septuplets were like.

"Well, you know, we've just got unusual lives," Mary laughed. "That's what happens when you're a Carlson Sept." She was only half serious. But neither she nor any of the other Septuplets or the team members realized how truthful that statement would prove in the coming few hockey seasons.


Exactly one week later, everyone met at the Westfield Ice Arena for their practice time. It was 10 o'clock in the morning, because the travel teams and more "high priority" groups got the more desirable afternoon slots. Some of the players complained, but Michelle reminded them that they were lucky to get weekend time at all. Since the recreation in-house league was an arena-sponsored league, they were at least entitled to Saturday practices.

Everyone showed up, to Mary and Michelle's extreme relief, and everyone had their equipment (minus the new jerseys which weren't ready yet—they used practice jerseys instead). Mary had to get a few extra things to move from in-line to ice hockey, but the other Septs had to get all of it, and they weren't used to putting all of that on. Neither were some of the other players who were playing for the first time. Mary, Michelle, and Oliver helped the very beginning level kids to figure out how to get all that equipment to work, and then came the fun part — trying to get everyone to learn how to skate with it on. Fortunately, most of the team had already had some practice, but several of the kids struggled with that at first. Mary remembered how hard it had been for her at first, but that it had become easier with practice, and she told the kids who were struggling about that. That helped boost everyone's spirits—until trouble showed up, that is.

About halfway through their practice time, another team showed up on their rink. Half the of the Comets were still learning how to skate with their equipment at the time, and they weren't a very impressive sight. The other team quickly put their outfits on and skated on to the ice. None of them seemed to have any trouble balancing with the extra padding. All of them were boys. Although their size wasn't very intimidating, they did look like they were all around fourteen or fifteen. Their uniform make-up contrasted sharply with the variety-pack Comets, who had all types of players ranging from eleven-year old Paul Onada (who was small for his age), and Kristie Hutchinson, a twelve-year-old beginner, to seventeen-year-old field hockey star Claire Hutchinson and the very tall fifteen-year-old Joshua Wyley.

"Hey, what are they doing here?" Kristie asked.

"Oops!" Mary said. "Sorry everyone, I forgot to tell you that we'd have to share the rink with another rec league team for the second half of our practice. We can scrimmage against them, or just keep practicing on this half of the ice."

"This is a rec league team??" Meredith asked, glancing at the boys. They did look like they ought to be a travel team.

"Well, well, look at this," said one of the boys, skating out to the center of the rink where the Comets were milling about, still practicing their skating. "You're the new rec league team, aren't you? The one run by the Carlson Septuplets? I heard about you, and I was anxious to see what you'd be like." He had a very smug smile on his face that made some of more impressionable comets nervous. He had a black and white jersey that matched his teammates'—they already had their matching uniforms—and there was a captain's "C" on his left shoulder. "Who's your captain?" he demanded.

Mary skated over to him. "I am." She wasn't wearing a "C" to prove it, so she was determined to act like a good leader to make up for that.

He kept the smug smile as he looked her over, towering several inches over her in height. "So which look-alike are you?"

"My name is Mary Carlson," she said icily, not liking the way this guy's apparent superiority complex nor the way he treated her as if she were interchangable with her sisters. "What's yours?"

"Ryan Chalmer," he said. "Captain of the Westfield Storm, the defending Westfield Cup Champions."

"Oooh, if they're so tough, how come they're here and not in a travel league?" Gloria asked Monica, who was standing just a few feet behind Mary: close enough for Ryan to hear. The comment annoyed him, and he chose not to address it directly, but to combat it with even more insulting remarks.

"So, think you girls can learn to skate before you have to face us?" he sneered, emphasizing the word "girls."

"We're doing just fine, thank you," Mary said. "It's our first practice. Just give them time. They'll be ready to take on you and your Storm when they need to be."

"Sure they will," he said. "Shall we scrimmage today, or are you girls still too fragile?"

Mary wanted to accept their challenge, but that would be insane, and Ryan knew it. The Comets were in no shape to play against last year's recreational league champions. "I told you," she said, still in an icy tone. "We just started today. You weren't in any shape to scrimmage the first day you picked up a hockey stick, either."

"Just thought I'd ask. See you in three weeks, at our first game, girls!" With that, he skated back to his teammates.

The way he had kept going on about them being "girls" as if that were a negative thing had, of course, made the girls very angry. But it had made the five boys on the team even more angry. Joshua dropped his gloves and went after Ryan. Oliver and Michelle pulled him back after he had knocked Ryan to the ice from behind. "Who are you calling a girl?" Joshua demanded as his teammates held him back.

"Gee, I'm sorry, I didn't notice you guys. You blended in so well on a girls' team," Ryan replied.

Joshua tried to go at him again, but Oliver, Michelle, and Paul restrained him as Ryan skated back to his team with a glare in the Comets' direction.

"What is his problem?" Michelle said after he had left. "This is just a rec league! It's not like we're million dollar athletes going after the Stanley Cup! It's just for fun!"

"And you'd think he'd be secure enough about his chances of winning that he wouldn't need to act that way," Molly added.

"Do you think we really intimidate him that much?" Kristie sounded hopeful.

Mary just stared at the Storm as they skated around skillfully at their end of the rink. All she said was, "I'll see if we can get an extra practice this week."


Mary did manage to get some extra ice time for their team to practice on Wednesday night. Everyone who couldn't yet skate with perfect ease showed up, and a few of the more experienced players joined them. Megan came along to help them learn skating techniques. As their teammates practiced, Joshua and Geoffrey held a mini-conference with Mary and Michelle to deal with a minor crisis. Certain sexist comments from a certain enemy team captain had offended certain boys on the Comets.

"You guys can't quit!" Michelle was pleading. "Don't listen to what he says! He's just a mean person! You can't take him seriously!"

"Yeah, we need you guys to win," Mary said. "I know that at least one of the other teams has a lot of girls on it, and all the boys aren't quitting that team. You knew it was a co-ed team when you signed up, so why are you letting some idiotic, cocky captain change your mind? You know that's what he was trying to do."

"I guess you have a point," Joshua said. "I'll stay, one one condition. Let me pound that creep's head into the glass next time I see him."

" know this is a no-checking, no fighting league," Mary pointed out uneasily.

"Just don't tell anyone that we said you could," Michelle said. "Now what about you, Geoffrey? Are you going to do what that cretin wants you to do, or are you stronger than that?"

When Michelle put it that way, Geoffrey couldn't very well refuse. "Well...I'll stay, for now at least."

"Good," Mary said. "Now let's hurry up and practice so we can beat those guys."


The Comets' first game was at the beginning of October. It was against a team that was mostly boys, but had four girls as well. They lost 6-2, with Oliver and Claire as the Comets' goal-scorers. They had picked positions (at least temporary ones) at their last practice, and Claire was a defenseman as she had been on her field hockey team, but she was one of the few who had enough practice to contribute to offense, too. Oliver was a left wing. Luke played in goal that night because he had experience from street hockey, but they had decided that Audrey would be the team's second goalie. She had never played goal before, but she thought it would be fun and was willing to try it. Overall, most of the Comets were skating well and they only had about five incidents of players tripping over their own feet, which was much better than at the practices. The other team had tripped several times as well.

"You guys did great tonight," Mary said. "It doesn't matter that we lost. It was our first game ever, and we did a lot better than we might have done. Luke did especially good in goal."

There was some applause for Luke. "And Claire and Oliver did great scoring those goals," Michelle added. More applause.

"We're going to have another extra practice this week," Mary said. "Come if you can, okay everyone?" Everyone agreed that they would.

The extra practice paid off, and they won their next week's game, 7-6, over the one team they hadn't met yet. There were only two girls on that team. Luke played in goal again. The goal scorers were Mary, Joshua, Claire, Gloria, and two goals by Paul. Mary felt extremely pleased with herself, but especially proud of the rest of her team. "We did it, you guys! We can win a game!" she exclaimed as the game's final buzzer sounded. This team was just as beginning-level as the Comets, but it didn't matter. They had won!!

The third week's game was against the Storm. Although it was supposed to be a no-checking league, the Storm players didn't seem to realize that. All of the boys got checked at least once; Joshua was hit least three times. But Michelle had warned everyone before the game that they had better not retaliate or start any fights, because if they did, the Storm wouldn't be penalized. The Comets were on the power-play throughout most of the game thanks to the Storm's belligerent play, but they couldn't capitalize on their extra player advantage. The Storm won the game 8-1. Monica was the only goal scorer for the Comets, and she was absolutely ecstatic about it, but of course the mood was a bit subdued after the defeat. Everyone congratulated Monica and promised Luke that it wasn't his fault that they let in 8 goals.

"You're doing better since I last saw you, but it looks like you girls still need a bit of skating practice!" Ryan laughed cruelly as he walked by the Comets, who were sprawled out on the floor of the Arena after the game.

"Let's have another extra practice this week," Michelle suggested. And they did.

During the next few weeks, the Comets carried a losing but still decent record, considering they were such a beginning-level team. They won a few times, including Audrey's first game as goalie. And they kept practicing. Mary and Michelle were pleased at how their team was improving and didn't mind the losing record at all, but they didn't want it to stay that way forever.


The session ended in late December, and as the playoffs for the October-December session drew closer, the Comets continued to practice as hard as they could. They were so focused on their games that they didn't even notice the crowds that were starting to come to their games.

"Is it just me, or are an unusually large number of people coming to these games?" Luke asked after one game, a 4-2 loss for the Comets. "I mean, this is just rec league hockey, but it seems that those bleachers are starting to get a little crowded."

"You know, I noticed that too," Claire said. "It's almost as many people as we used to get for my field hockey games at school, and that was a bigger deal than an in-house hockey league. It makes no sense."

Mary just shrugged. "Well, if people are going to watch us, that's even more incentive to try harder," she said. "But I know we don't need an incentive. The playoffs are starting in a month. How about an extra practice this week?"


What the Comets didn't realize is that the big crowds were just at their games. The other three teams didn't draw nearly the crowds. It wasn't as if 19,983 people came to each game, like for the Red Wings, but there by the end of November, there were a hundred or so people coming to each Comets' game. The other teams started to notice the crowds when they met the Comets, and for the most part they couldn't figure out why. A few kids on one of the other teams had a guess, though.

"Do you think all these people are here to see them play because the Carlson Septuplets are on that team?" one kid asked his friend.

"Probably. I can't think of any other reason that people would come watch rec league hockey."

"Maybe it's just 'cause hockey is so popular around here, and Red Wings tickets are so impossible to get that people have to find substitutes," a third friend chimed in. His two friends didn't seem convinced.

Meanwhile, up in the stands, two executive-type men were watching the game closely.

"So those six kids with the various letter initials...those are the Carlson Septuplets?"

"Yes. The Arena manager confirmed it."

"Where's the seventh?"

"I don't know. Apparently she doesn't play on this team."

"Do you think people would care that not all seven are there?"

"Look at the crowd the six of them have drawn already! I don't think they mind."

"Then I think you're right. They'd be perfect to advertise our new sporting goods shop. They're already so popular, and now they'll be popular among sports fans, too. But do they still do advertisements? I haven't seen them on TV in a while."

"Well, even if they stopped, we can probably convince them again. Ask their captain after the game. I think one of the Septuplets is the captain, anyway."

"No, I won't ask after the game...they'll be tired and not willing to talk, I'll bet. Let's see if we can get their number and call them at a more convenient time."


Miss hockey team captain, you have a telephone call," Mrs. Carlson called. When she answered the phone, the voice on the other end had asked to talk to the Westfield Comets' captain.

"Coming," Mary said. She took the phone from her mom and said, "Hello?" expecting it to be one of her teammates calling about missing this week's practice.

"Yes, are you the captain of the Comets' hockey team? Which Septuplet is this?"


"Oh, hello, Mary. I was just calling to see if you'd be willing to get your sisters to advertise for our sporting goods store, the Super SportsPlex."

"What?!?" Mary was taken completely by surprise. "I don't know about mean 'cause we're septuplets? But we don't do advertisements anymore...."

"But with your new hockey team being so popular, all the hockey fans around here would love to see you in a commercial. You're hockey fans too, of course. Wouldn't you like to be in a commercial about the sport you love?"

"Uhhh..." Mary didn't really know how to handle this. She was never the one to deal with ad people. "But we didn't even buy our equipment from you. So why would we advertise for you?"

"Well, where did you get it?"

"I got my stuff at Center Ice Sports and my sisters got theirs at Play-It-Again Sports, not that it's any of your business," Mary said. She realized she probably shouldn't even tell this guy that much, but it was too late to take it back. "Anyway, I'm not the one you want to talk to about parents aren't here right now, you'll have to call them later. Bye." She hung up without giving the man a chance to respond, or a chance to figure out that Mrs. Carlson really was home since she had just answered the phone.

This was trouble. Completely unexpected trouble, which is the worst kind. She had no idea how the team would respond...she could guess what the other Septs would do, but she had no idea how the rest of the Comets might react. It was time for another Septuplet meeting.


"An ad guy called our house?" Molly was angry. "How dare they! We just want to play hockey to entertain ourselves, not to sell their products."

"And that's not the worst of it," Mary said. "They called back a second time about an hour later to talk to mom or dad, and I told her to ask if all of the team could be in the ad. He only wanted us in it, and he wanted Megan too, even though she's not really a hockey player."

"Oooh, those people make me so mad!" Molly fumed.

"Should we tell the team about it?" Monica asked.

"NO," Mary, Michelle, Molly said firmly and in unison.

"This would only distract us from our focus, which is winning the playoffs," Michelle added.

"Right. So no one says a word, okay guys?" Mary asked. Everyone agreed to keep quiet.


The next day they had a game. The Septuplets noticed the large crowds, and because they now realized why they were there, it made them a little nervous. They didn't want to entertain all these spectators; they were there for their enjoyment. But they managed to keep quiet about this to their teammates. Everything went well—they even won the game 5-3, despite the Carlsons' nerves. Everything went well, that is, until right after the game. They had an unexpected visitor waiting for them as they collapsed on the floor outside the rink after the game.

"So you guys are the Comets, eh? Congratulations on a great victory!" A twenty-something-year-old man approached them as they talked over the good points and bad points of their game.

"Uh, thank you," Monica said. They didn't have a problem with compliments from strangers, but they were still feeling a bit uneasy about all the strangers there.

"You know, I was wondering if I might have a little talk with you guys for just a minute," he said.

"About what?" Molly asked suspiciously.

"Sure, go ahead and talk," Oliver invited him without noticing Molly's suspicion.

"Well, I work for Center Ice Sports, and I was wondering if you might be interested in doing an advertisement for us. Since your team is so popular," and here he gestured towards the crowded bleachers, "we thought you'd be the perfect people to advertise our hockey store.

"Our team? Popular?" Audrey said. She noticed the crowds, but she knew they were nothing compared to the crowds at Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings' home, for example. "If you want a popular team, why don't you ask the Red Wings?"

The guy wasn't about to admit that he'd very much like to get the Wings in a commercial, but he couldn't afford them. "Just look at all these people who came to see you play," he replied.

The reality of this situation was beginning to sink in for the non-Septuplet members of the team. They had never known what it was like to be a "celebrity" and be asked to do ads. It was very exciting for them.

"You want us to be in your ad? Really??" Geoffrey cried. He remembered that he joined this team because the famous Carlson Septuplets were on it, and now he realized just how much that meant.

"All of us?" Monica checked. "As in all fifteen of us?"

"Sure, all of you. Why not?" The guy acted very friendly, even to the kids who weren't famous septuplets. This helped him to win over some of the Septuplets themselves.

"Well...if you want all of us..." Meredith began. She glanced questioningly at Mary, who gave that same questioning look to the rest of her teammates.

"Let's do it! This is so cool!" Kristie cried.

"Yeah!" several Comets chorused in agreement.

"Okay, how about we take a vote," Mary said. "Everyone who wants to do the commercial, raise your hand." Mary didn't know how else to handle this. Dealing with ads among her sisters was one thing; it was something completely different when her teammates were involved. At least this store was where she had actually got her equipment, a nice, friendly, helpful, small store, not some huge chain of sporting good places.

Everyone raised their hand except Molly.

"Great!" the Center Ice Sports guy looked really happy. "I'll call the Arena manager to set up a time, okay?"

And that's how the Comets ended up in their first advertisement.


Mr. and Mrs. Carlson weren't exactly pleased when they found out the Septs were going to be in an ad after all, but they weren't mad either. They realized that the rest of the Comets had never had this chance, and they thought it was generous of their daughters to go along with it for their sake. They filmed part of the ad at the Arena a few days later, which showed the Comets shooting on an opposing goalie and had Mary, with her captain's "C" clearly visible, score a goal. Then it showed a bunch of the Comets, including some who weren't Septuplets, walking around in Center Ice Sports with their Comets jerseys on, looking at the equipment. Then the whole team posed by the sign in front of the building and shouted "Center Ice Sports!" and a voice-over said, "endorsed by the Carlson Septuplets and the Westfield Comets recreational league hockey team, it's the perfect place to meet your own hockey team's needs."

The rest of the Comets were absolutely thrilled when they saw the ad on TV a few days later. They were very proud—some a little too proud, but most of them took it well. Unfortunately, the next game was against the Storm.

"We saw your little ad," Ryan said to them before the game. "And it's too bad for Center Ice Sports, 'cause they're going to have a bunch of losers for their spokespeople. Maybe we can sign a contract with the Super SportsPlex after we tear your team apart!"

And they did tear the Comets apart. The final score was 5-0. A shutout. The Comets' captain was not at all pleased.

"We haven't beaten the Storm all session, and that was our last game against them unless we can get to the second and final round of the playoffs," Mary said. "If we're going to be in advertisements, we have to play like we deserve it."

"Come on, Mary, it's just a game, you say that yourself all the time," Paul said, a bit surprised at the way Mary was acting. Mary always hated to lose to the Storm, of course, but she didn't usually get this worked up about it.

"It was just a game, until we made it into a business," Mary said. She was referring to the commercial, of course. Part of the deal the Carlsons had made with the Center Ice Sports people was that half the money they earned for the commercial would be given to a sports-related charity, one fourth would go to the Arena, and the other fourth would be divided equally among the fifteen players. It wasn't a whole lot of money per player, but it was enough to cover the costs they had paid to play. "If we're earning money off of this, we have to play like it. You saw how those Storm players treated us because of the commercial. If we don't want every kids' hockey team in Michigan to resent us and smash us into the sideboards every chance they get, we have to play like we deserved that commercial."

No one knew what to say to that.

"Extra practice this week. Everyone please show up," Mary said. "The playoffs start next week."


Everyone did come to the extra practice, although they grumbled about needing extra time to do Christmas shopping, as Christmas was just after the playoffs ended. And everyone showed up for the first game of the best-of-three series for their first round playoff series. They lost the first game. One more loss and they were out. Mary and Michelle tried to get them to practice harder, but some of them were still feeling to proud from the commercial and some of them were too focused on the holiday season to pay much attention to hockey. The second game came and went. A loss. And with that, the Comets were out of the playoffs. They wouldn't face the Storm again this session. Ryan was there watching the game, and he made sure to laugh triumphantly after the game. He gave especially comments to the Septuplets and to the boys on the team, his two favorite groups to target.

It was a disappointed and quiet team that slumped on the floor for the last team meeting of the session.

"Look, Mary," Oliver began. "You don't have to say it, we should have played better, we didn't deserve that commercial, but—"

"We're coming back next session," Mary interrupted him. "Don't look back, except to learn from it. But I hope all of you will be here first thing on January tenth to sign up for next session. If you still have something to prove to those creeps on the Storm, then quitting isn't going to solve that. Just remember. And I'll see you all at practice on the Wednesday after Christmas, unless you want to call my house and tell me you're quitting."

"Practice? But the next session doesn't start until early February," Geoffrey said.

"I said I'll see you on Wednesday, unless you're quitting," Mary said.

Everyone was silent. No one wanted to face Mary or Michelle about quitting in the mood they were in right now.


The only person who wanted to quit the team, it turned out, was Melissa. She announced this the day after Christmas.

"I don't have anything to prove to anyone anymore," she said. "I joined to prove to you that I could do it, and I did, so I win. I proved it. Winning the Westfield Cup wasn't part of the deal. Beating the Storm wasn't part of the deal. All I had to do was play a season, and I did. And I'm done."

"Fine," was all Mary had to say. And that's all she did say to Melissa for the rest of the week.

Whether the rest of her team was with her or not, Mary was determined to win. That determination she had started with back on her in-line hockey team was still there, and it drove her to rollerblade around in her street in the twenty-degree temperatures, practicing her slap shot, which was still weak, and her backwards skating. When the time for the first practice that Mary had set up for the new session arrived, Mary headed to the rink with all of her sisters, including Megan who wanted to watch, but minus Melissa and Michelle. Michelle would still be the alternate captain, but for some reason she said she'd show up late to the practice. All the other Comet players arrived. The Septs were so happy, they almost forgot about their disappointing loss in the last session's playoffs.

"You knew we wouldn't give up on you," Claire said with a smile. "Now let's get working. You know, the Storm won the Westfield Cup again this year. We have to do something about that."

"Right! So let's work on accuracy passing drills, I think that would be the most helpful," Mary said. And they got right to work on it. It was such a nice feeling that all of her teammates had shown up again...except for two who were missing. Melissa, who had quit, and Michelle, who had mysteriously disappeared. Mary tried to forget about them and headed off to join the drills.

They were just taking a water break when Molly happened to glance at the rink doorway.

"Hey! Look who's here!" she cried.

In walked Michelle, and behind her, Melissa.

"Michelle! Melissa! You came!" Mary cried. Everyone skated over to greet them.

"Yeah, well, I decided that since it was so important to you to win, you couldn't do it without your star player. So I just had to sign up again. For all of your sakes," Melissa said.

Meredith rolled her eyes at Melissa's comment. "Oh, come on, you know you missed us. Now get those skates on. Hurry up! We have to keep practicing if we're going to beat that Storm!"


All throughout the break between the sessions, during the whole month of January, Mary bugged her team to come to extra practices. They complained about the frequency of the practices (and some marveled at the fact that she could even get all that ice time for them) but they came anyway. And when they couldn't get ice time for the whole team, Mary dragged all her sisters out into the street to practice at street hockey. If they wouldn't come, she'd practice by herself.

The people at the Arena were amazed at the Comets; they had never seen a team that was so determined to win. Some of the managers talked about this impressive team to some of their friends who managed other ice arenas, and the word got around about the determined team that was lead by the Carlson Septuplets and had even made a commercial for Center Ice Sports. When the new session started in early February, the crowds were there once more, and they were bigger than ever.

Eventually, word of the famous Septuplets' determined hockey team reached the people at Powerade, the official sports drink of the NHL. They knew that the people in Detroit were absolute hockey maniacs. Sports Illustrated had declared Detroit the number one sports city in America, and the number one sport in Detroit was ice hockey. So they were anxious for new ways to advertise to the Detroit crowd. They also knew that the Carlson Septuplets lived in Detroit, and they had heard about how their team, although it was a rec league team, was becoming quite popular among the Westfield-area suburbs. They had even heard that the Carlson Septuplets were extremely devoted fans of the Detroit Red Wings. This gave one of their advertising managers a great idea.


"WHO wants to do an ad about us?!" Gloria cried when the Westfield Ice Arena manager told them the news. A representative from Powerade had contacted the Arena about having their team—the one with the Septuplets, they specified—do an ad for them. Like the Center Ice Sports ad, this would be a local ad, but the big difference was that it would be for a national product and that it would be shown during Red Wings games on Fox Sports Detroit and UPN 50.

"No way," Molly said. "No way are we doing this ad. No chance." But everyone ignored her.

"We have soooooo got to do this ad! This is the coolest thing in the world!" Claire squealed.

"There is no way we're turning this down," Luke said. "We are never going to get another chance like this! Well, maybe you Septuplets will, but we won't!"

"How about this," Mary said. "We'll do the ad, on one condition. Everyone comes to extra extra practices through the playoffs to make up for the way you're all going to get cocky about doing this ad."

There were some rolled eyes and groans, but most people exclaimed, "YES!" They really wanted to do this ad.

"I guess it's settled!" Michelle laughed. Even she was excited. After all, this was the first time a famous sports drink company had wanted her in an ad for something athletics related!


This time, the ad featured all the Comets skating around with lots of visual special effects and flashy colors. There was a voice-over narrator who said, "This season, all twenty-seven teams of the NHL will be drinking Powerade." Then a pause and more skating and slap shots. "As well as future NHL stars and Olympians across the country, including the Carlson Septuplets and their Detroit Comets Junior Hockey Team." Then it showed the Septs and their teammates drinking Powerade, and after that, the Red Wings drinking from the Stanley Cup.

"Oh, wow!" Michelle cried when she saw the finished ad. "They called us future NHL stars and Olympians!" She was absolutely beaming.

The rest of the team was equally excited. "And we're in an ad with the Red Wings!" Mary added. Of course, they hadn't actually gotten to meet them, they were added in from old ad footage, but it was still very cool.

"So when's the next practice?" Audrey asked. "I'll be sure to bring my Powerade!"

"Never mind that none of us actually drink the stuff," Molly added with a laugh.


Either the extra practices or the excitement of being in another commercial—or maybe both—paid off this time, and the Comets' record improved tremendously over last season's. They beat the Storm for the first time, in a 4-0 shutout, provoking unpublishable comments from Ryan and his teammates. They lost only three games after filming the Powerade ad. And more people than ever were starting to notice them, thanks to the ad and their improved play. The small stands were overfilled; people were having to be turned away at the door.

Then playoff time came again. The Comets were ready this time. The Arena had to start charging admission to their games to keep the bleachers from being too crowded. And the Comets won the first two games in their first round, allowing them to advance to the finals!

There was much rejoicing after that game, until they found out who their opponent would be in the finals: the Storm. They had only beaten them once, and they were more angry than ever about the Comets' Powerade ad. This proved to be a very heated match.

In the first game, the Storm let their imagined superiority get the best of them, and the Comets took them by surprise. They won 3-2, in only their second victory ever over their arch rivals.

And then something even bigger than anything they had seen before happened.

A representative from Fox Sports Detroit called the Arena, asking if they could broadcast the next game, and Game Three if it went that far, live on TV across the Detroit area.

Claire actually fainted when she heard this news.

By this time, the whole team was absolutely giddy with excitement beyond control. This was getting big. They couldn't have stopped it if they had wanted to, except perhaps by an intentional loss to the Storm. And there was no way that was going to happen. A unanimous vote (yes, even Molly agreed) to okay the TV coverage.

Of course, they needed the Storm's permission too, and the permission of the parents. It took a lot of paperwork, but they got it. And the Storm didn't mind at all. Because they were determined to bring the Comets down, and to do it on TV would be even better. The stakes were too high now. Everyone was basically losing their senses. Everyone associated with the Westfield Ice Arena had gone completely hockey-crazed. (Everyone who wasn't already, that is.)

When the day of the big game arrived, the cameras were ready at all angles of the ice. The stands were packed to capacity; they had even sold standing-room only for people to crowd one side of the rink. And they had an announcer this time; they had never played with one of those before. Someone to say, "Goal scored by number twenty-one, Monica Carlson, assisted by Claire Hutchinson and Oliver Greenly," or whoever scored the goals. This was really big.

They took the ice for the game, and everyone was nervous. Mary took the opening face-off against Ryan, and she won it. She couldn't remember ever winning a face-off over Ryan before. But she didn't stop to think about it for long. She took off sailing down the ice and passed it across to Michelle, who was on her left wing, and Michelle sent it across the ice to Melissa, who was on the right. Melissa was so nervous (although she wouldn't admit it) that she just shot without thinking. Apparently the Storm's goalie was more nervous, because in the puck went. The buzzer went off, Melissa jumped up and swung her stick in the air happily, and Mary and the other Comets crowded around her and bopped her on the helmet in the traditional way of congratulation a hockey teammate. The announcer cried, "Goal scored by number ninety-one, Melissa Carlson, assisted by Michelle Carlson and Mary Carlson! The time of the goal was fifty-four seconds." Nearly everyone in the crowd cheered. And the Storm's goalie just stared at the puck forlornly.

Ryan was so angered by this goal, less than a minute into the game, that he managed to summon the energy to grab the puck from the next face-off, skate a few strides, and fire it right past Luke into the Comets' net. Suddenly it was 1-1, only minutes into the game.

And then it stayed that way. Into the second period, and until the buzzer sounded to start the second intermission.

"This is very unlike the Storm, as you all know," Mary said during the break. "And I think I know why. They're not used to this. I know we're all extremely nervous and we're not used to it either, but they've got even more pressure than us. They haven't done the ads to prepare for this kind of attention. Do you think that might be why they're not playing like they used to?"

"No, I'm going to have to disagree with you there," Geoffrey said "They're not destroying us because we aren't letting them. It's all that extra practice you dragged us to! We're finally good enough to beat them!"

"Yeah!" everyone exclaimed.

Another buzzer sounded to get the teams back on the ice, and the third period began. Still no scoring. It stayed 1-1 until five minutes were left in the game. Then Mary got the puck. She took off down the ice but was blocked by the Storm's defensemen.

If I try and go further, they'll stop me for sure, Mary thought, but maybe if I've practiced that slap shot enough...oh, I hope I have!

Only a few feet past the Storm's blue line, Mary shot the puck as hard as she could, afraid to look where it went.

"She shoots...." the announcer began.

Time seemed to slow down for Mary and the Comets as they watched the small black disk flying towards the goalie. He sprawled on the ice, but Mary had been working on lifting the puck with her shot. She hadn't been very good at it, and couldn't get it very high, but there was a chance....

The arena fell silent.

"...and scores!" the announcer yelped. The buzzer went on. And everyone in the arena started screaming, including the other Comets. Mary swung her stick in the air and skated right into the corner where her teammates crowded around to congratulate her."

"Goal scored by number nineteen, Mary Carlson!"

There was applause from the audience.

"Assisted by Audrey Binton and Geoffrey Lezinski! The time of the goal was fifteen minutes and twenty three seconds."

More applause.

And then the referee dropped the puck again. And the Comets had to forget about Mary's goal for another four minutes or so. They stayed on defense, keeping the Storm out. And as the seconds ticked away, the Storm knew their chances were slim. With ten seconds left in the game, everyone on the Comets' bench was standing and cheering. As the final buzzer sounded, all the Comets threw their gloves and sticks on the ice and started piling on top of each other around their own net.

"We Are the Champions" started playing on the PA system.

And Mary knew how Stevie Y must have felt on June 7th, 1997, when a forty-two year curse was lifted from Hockeytown and the Stanley Cup returned to Detroit.

Absolutely perfect.

Perhaps she hadn't had to wait for fourteen disappointing seasons to lift a forty-two year curse, but she had had to prove herself, and to lead her team by her determined example when people thought she'd never do it, just like the Wings' captain, the real Number 19.

Onto the ice came the manager of the Westfield Ice Arena, carrying a shiny silver cup. Of course, it was modeled after the Stanley Cup as most recreational league hockey trophies are, but it was a bit smaller. (The size didn't matter, of course.)

"And now, here's Matt Richardson, manager of the Westfield Ice Arena, to present the Westfield Cup to the Captain of the Westfield Comets," the announcer said.

"Thank you," the Manager said. "This team, the Westfield Comets, was founded less than a year ago, but in that time, they've come so far. At their first game, they were a team that could hardly stand on the ice. But their captain dragged them to extra practices and more extra practices, more and more until they couldn't take it anymore. I've never seen a team so determined to prove what they can do. People said they could never do it, this team made up of mostly beginners, although they had their experts who were always there to help out. And there was one girl who started it all with an idea that just about everyone else thought was crazy, but she was determined to do it no matter what the odds were. And that's why I'm so pleased to present the Westfield Cup to Mary Carlson."

With that, he handed her the trophy, and she hoisted it above her head, just like she had watched her hero do. And also like that, she skated around the ice holding it in the air as "We Are the Champions" played again.

Then she gave it to her teammates, and they skated around and around with it. Then there was a team photo with the Westfield Cup, and that was all there was to the on-ice celebration. Mary was glad that was all they did on-ice, because she would have felt like they were making way to big a deal out of this if they had done any more. After all, they weren't the Red Wings winning the Stanley Cup. This only happened because they were the Carlson Septuplets. It wasn't a very nice thought when she looked at it that way, so instead she looked at it from her teammates' points of view: they would never have been able to have such an amazing time playing the sport they loved if they hadn't been playing with the Carlson Septuplets. And because the Septs could share that glory this time, that made it a million times nicer.

They headed off the ice and into the girls' locker room. There were more girls than boys, so that's why the locker room celebration was in there, but no one was changing so it didn't matter that all the boys came along too, as well as moms and dads and brothers and sisters. And some other visitors, too, as Mr. Carlson told his daughters.

"You've got some visitors," he said as they clustered around in the corner with the Cup.

"Who? News people?" Michelle had heard that the Detroit News and Free Press had come to write about their story.

"Some, but that's not who I meant. Go see, over there."

And guess who they saw?

Signing autographs for some of their teammates' brothers and sisters, there were three of the Red Wings!!! Brendan Shanahan, Kirk Maltby, and Steve Yzerman were actually in the same room as them, giving out autographs!

"They said they had to come," Mr. Carlson said, grinning. "Someone told Stevie that the reason this team got so far was because it's captain looked up to him as a role model. So since you've become such big news, I guess he wanted to see what this was all about. And Shanny and Maltby wanted to come along and see what all the fuss was about, too."

The Septuplets never found out that it was actually their mom who got them to come. Mrs. Carlson knew Steve Yzerman's cousin (although she had never met the Captain himself) and she told her all about her daughter's hockey team and how their captain wore Number 19 as a tribute to her role model. So she told her cousin and that's why Shanny, Maltby, and Stevie Y ended up visiting the Comets' Westfield Cup Locker Room Celebration.

"Heh, do you think they'll let us come to their locker room celebration if they win another Stanley Cup this year?" Meredith asked.

"OH, I wish I had my jersey!" Mary cried.

Their parents had taken care of that, too. When they found out that three of the Wings were coming, Mr. Carlson drove home and picked up all seven of the Septs' Wings jerseys.

All of the Septs (including Megan, she wouldn't miss out on this!) and their teammates, with absolutely indescribable elation, headed over to go see the Wings. But they pushed Mary ahead, to be the first to talk to their heroes!

"The Septuplet Hockey League" © 1999 by Jessie Mannisto.