Hard Hitter

By: Sarina Bowen


Sunday, March 6th

Standings: 4th place in the Metropolitan Division

19 Regular Season Games Remaining

Patrick O’Doul knelt on his yoga mat, eyes closed.

“Let your breath find its natural rhythm,” came a soothing voice at the front of the room. “Become aware of its temperature, and of the sensation of your breath as you exhale.”

He exhaled slowly, obeying Ariana, the team’s massage therapist and yoga instructor.

O’Doul didn’t give a crap about yoga. He didn’t know where his chakras were, and he didn’t remember any of the names of the poses. But on game day he never objected to this mandatory hour of Simon Says with the beauty at the front of the room.

She had them holding child’s pose for a couple of minutes. Since he stunk at yoga, he needed to listen closely to her instructions. The concentration yoga required was the best part—if the pretty lady in the pink sports bra was trying to twist your body into a New Age pretzel, there was no time to worry about the opponent you had to face down in five hours.

“As you hold the pose, reconnect your breathing with your body. Notice how the breath moves through the ribcage in this pose,” she suggested. “Use each exhale to settle a little more firmly into the stretch. We’re opening up the hips . . .”

Ariana circled among her students, making a posture correction here and there. She stopped at O’Doul’s side, then got down on all fours. “Hi,” she whispered.

When he turned his head, he met a pair of brown eyes, sparkling with mischief. “Hi?” She rarely began conversations during class.

“If this is too hard on your hip flexors, go back into tabletop.”

“I’m good,” he grunted. Christ. The whole world was focused on his weakness. Chronic muscle soreness shouldn’t be such a big deal. Playing through pain was a rite of hockey.

“Do you have children?” she whispered.

“Fuck no,” he whispered back. “And I never will.”

Her smile didn’t falter. “This pose is easier for them, because their limbs are shorter relative to their torso length. So take it easy. Let gravity do the work, okay? And do me a favor?”

“What?” He’d never had a conversation with anyone when they were both folded in two on the floor.

“Don’t blow off your next massage appointment. You’re making me look bad.”

Aw, man. Ambushed in child’s pose. “I’m sorry,” he said immediately. The trainers wanted him to have some massage therapy for his hip. “Didn’t mean to mess up your schedule.”

She shook her head. “It’s okay. You’ll show up this time, right?”

“Sure,” he promised, because it was hard to think up a decent excuse when you were sweating over your yoga mat.

Ari gave him one more killer smile and got up, moving on to correct another player’s posture.

He watched her go, then felt guilty about missing his appointments and also for checking out her perfect ass.

Twenty minutes later, after yoga, he was ambushed a second time. But not by Ari.

“How’s the hip?” Nate Kattenberger asked, his towel draped around his neck. The reason the Bruisers did yoga in the first place was because the team’s young owner was a big fan of vinyasa. He sure didn’t have any trouble holding Ari’s poses, and always took a spot in the very front row.

“I’m good. Feeling stronger,” O’Doul lied.

“Glad to hear it. I think we can beat Boston tonight,” the billionaire said, wiping sweat off his forehead with a towel. He was wearing spandex shorts and a T-shirt reading, Move Your Asana. “Two game points tonight could really set us up for the weekend.”

As if O’Doul didn’t already know that. “We’ll make it happen,” he vowed.

“I think you will,” Nate agreed.

O’Doul hoped so. They needed a third place finish in the Metropolitan division to be guaranteed a play-offs spot. If they ended up in fourth place, they might squeak into the last spot. It was possible. But, as O’Doul’s team-issued phone told him every time he pulled it out of his pocket, their play-offs spot was not a lock. Kattenberger’s sophisticated model projected their chances at 81 percent.