How did I get here? I was on top of the world. Two finals appearances in three years. The Sedin brothers. The best goalie in the league, somehow. I got to make fun of Jeff all the time! I was Raven and he was Tommy Dreamer. Now? I'm bottom of the conference, and he's somewhere in Havana smoking a cigar from his Ivory Tower. I better pay attention, the judge is making his verdict. I don't think it's going to be a good one.
Now, I've been here a long time. And if it isn't the damnedest thing I've ever heard. Mr. Skey, or "GM Skey" as you INSIST to be called, in some ways I admire what you've done with the power rankings, and your recent success despite your first round drafting "strategy" or lack thereof. But your recent crimes cannot go unpunished. What kind of example would I, the high and mighty Doug of the Wheat Kings, 1st of his name, Supreme Court Judge of this Building, number 1 in the standings and number in these power rankings be setting for others who come after you? I have no choice but to sentence you to three years of rebuilding in the Security Institution Maximum. (gasps from the audience). That's right, the SIM. Some of you may deem it harsh, but unless we show others that actions have consequences, we risk it happening over, and over again. What's that? Bailiff, you have news for me? (The Bailiff whispers in the judge's ear. Doug shuffles angrily in his seat). "MR. SKEY it has come to my attention that your team defeated me recently, 5-4, despite being out shot 41-22. I simply cannot abide that. FIVE years in the SIM. CASE DISMISSED! (bangs gavel)
Wait, wait it was in a shootout! I didn't even mean to do it, I forgot to set my lines after my trade with Ryan! Judge, please, you can hardly blame, me, you're on your third string goalie. You shouldn't even BE in the top spot right now! (BANGS GAVEL - SIX YEARS!) Damnit, I should quit while I was ahead. Or behind. I don't even know anymore...Jeff? What are you doing here? (Jeff, wearing sunglasses and looking very smug, saunters up to Henry as he's getting cuffed and led outside). "Oh, I wouldn't miss this for the world, pal! Look, I've been where you're going. In Cuba, too, it's way worse. Didn't even see half the GMs until I'd crawled my way back into the World. Listen, I got a tip for you. Win the McDavid sweepstakes, it makes things go a little...speedier. (Jeff giggles deviously and struts out of the courtroom).
The bailiff shoved our hero against the wall. It looked like it hadn't been painted in years, not that paint would've done anything to hide the smell. "You get one phone call." (Henry furiously dials Eric). Er, they got me. Five years. Six, actually, I'm not sure. Doug's feeling pretty powerful since he's been at the top of the rankings for so long. So...listen, I've got to move some assets before they freeze them. I was thinking of (Henry divulges trade details to Eric). Sound ok? I mean it's not great, but I don't have much of a choice. Yeah, they're taking me in now. Ok pal, thanks. Come visit sometime?
Gary grabbed the phone and slammed it down. "Let's go, Hamburglar." I remembered Gary. I saw him make this very walk a few years back. Or was it a few years? I can't even tell anymore, we've all been around so long. I began to ask a question. "No talking." Silence. Footsteps against a hallway that was far too long. Wasn't there any way to speed up this process? "Listen to me. You're going to get into my squad car and you're not going to say a word. I'm going to take you to the SIM, and then get back to my day. If you make a sound, ANY sound, like sneezing, coughing or asking another stupid question, I'll make sure your introduction to the SIM is worse than it's going to be. Understand? (I nodded, but I don't think he saw. I didn't want to risk saying I understand. I don't think he cared).
The drive was lonely. I should've been sweating back there, but I felt so cold inside. The SIM. I'd been sentenced to the SIM. Did anybody ever get out? Sentences were usually short enough, but even after guys got out, the sting of being there never really left. We drove up to the gate. Gary and Matt exchanged unpleasantries. Matt leaned over. "Hey Skey. Don't make this like your first Frosh night. If you see a bunch of people gathered at night, keep your mouth shut. I won't be there to help carry you to Bigelow this time. Come on through Gary, you can take him to see Corey to get prepped.
Corey wasn't much more helpful than Matt and Gary. His badge was shiny, a little too shiny. He'd been recently promoted. Sure, most of us had heard of Corey's exploits, his hockey knowledge and his dashing good looks, and it looked like the powers that be finally noticed too. He sniffed. "You stink." (I hadn't showered in days.) Personally it makes me sick to have to walk around with you, but the Warden wants you all cleaned up before you meet. (I quickly got into a shower where any degree of warm wasn't an option. I was getting cold shoulders and cold showers). "Put this on." The jumpsuit was bright blue and black, with a cannon on the right arm. "Part of my promotion. I sponsor some of the uniforms now. Previously, the SIM didn't allow for any type of team affiliation. Riles up the blood, creates conflict. But the Warden decided that he likes a little sparring. Put this on. Oh, you don't want to put it on? (I'm a Hamburglar, er, Gladiator not a cannon!). Corey laughed. All right then. You won't like it, but you go ahead and wear what you want. Let's go. He led me down another uninviting hallway that tasted of stale air and lofty expectations. The rest of the inmates were a mix of hopelessly optimistic and bitter disappointment. They all stared. Here you go. Warden's office. Don't piss him off. I didn't see Corey again that day.
Guy Flaming didn't look up from his newspaper. Newspaper, doesn't he get wi-fi in here? "Mr. Skey. Sit." (I told him I'd prefer to stand). I don't care what you'd prefer. This is my home. You're a guest here, and you will do as I say. (He nodded towards the corner. I noticed Tom and Norm looking straight ahead, but looking like they had something in their hands that I didn't want to admit were there). Now, you're here for six years. SIX! Ha. That's a long one. Maybe you'll be in my chair one day, but I doubt it. Keep your head down, your mouth shut and I'll let you live easily here. If you even THINK about pulling that 5-4 shootout win over me, however, it's going to be the longest six years of your life. Boys, take Henry in.
I tried to tell Tom - I didn't expect Filppula to pot 2 goals against the best team in the league. I don't have a single player that has a high PS. Tom wasn't fooled. "Setoguchi has a 77. You're not fooling anybody." (Never mind that Setoguchi wasn't even dressed... I'd already pushed my luck too far). "Take it from me, kid. If you're in the World Conference, you've got a shot. You've always got a shot. But never try and take on the big teams, don't brag about it on Twitter and ...oooh, a trade.
Norm chimed in. "A trade? DOUG? Oh man, Skey, did he just sentence you?" (He had). Sooo, he got Howard from Calgary for Dublin's 3rd. Well, I hope he remembers Rule of Acquisition 19 - "Satisfaction is not guaranteed." Ok Skey, you're all set. Last chance to put on a Canons jersey, we've got a quite a few in here that are jumping on his bandwagon. You'll have some friends. No? Suit yourself. And with a hard kick to the ribs, I flew through the doors and heard a loud lock remind me of my fate. I was in the SIM.
"Hey man, you ok?" It was Dustin. I barely recognized him. He hadn't shaved in a while, and was wearing an oven mitt. I wasn't in a position to judge, or ask questions yet, so I didn't. "Don't worry about them. Tom and Norm are just feeling superior because they're in the top 10. Did they tell you I used to be among the greats? Oh it's true. I'm still...well, never mind. That's not why I'm here. I'm here to walk you through, make sure you don't hurt yourself. Stick with me buddy and you'll do fine. Is...is that a Gladiators jersey? (I sighed. This WAS going to be a long six years).
First things first, that's Pat Booth. (Holy crap, the 2007-2008 Continental Cup Championship Pat Booth?) Yeah, he hangs around here once in a while, but he doesn't need to. I just think he likes it. Keeps him honest, reminding himself that only a few losses will drop you a few spots in the rankings. Whatever you do DON'T talk to him about Karlsson. I'm serious. Unless you want to hear the loudest person on the planet tell you that you're a dumbass.
That's Sylvain. You'll notice he's got all sorts of gizmos on him, fresh haircut - oh yeah, the Warden loves this guy. Ever since he got in here, all he does is win. Can you believe he was 25th at one point? (I could barely contain my astonishment). I know. Lucky guy. Although I think he's been in here long enough, he knows it. Even got a recommendation from Tony Kornheiser for early dismissal.
That's Don. Don't ever look at Don.
That's Matt. Don't ever NOT look at Matt.
(I was mentally writing down all the tips Dustin had for me. Don't look at Don, look at Matt, don't ask Pat, this-that...) when one of Sean's lackeys came up to us. "Dustin! What are you doing? No no, remember? We had an agreement that you're going to bring any new bodies directly to us. (Dustin tried to play dumb, but they weren't having any of it). Scram. (Dustin scrammed).
So look, I gotta take you to Sean. He's having a chat over there with Sam. Don't worry about what they're talking about, they're just talking. Sam's on his way up and Sean...is Sean. He's always in the mix, but he'll be in here for a while. But uh...if you're game, we're gonna get out of here. If you know what I mean. (I did. I was optimistic).
Sean walked over. Skey! Been a while. Welcome to the dregs! Ah, don't worry about Sam...or Pat...or Matt, look, don't worry about anybody. You're the smallest fish in here, so nobody'll give you the time of day. I've been there. Listen though...we're all getting sick of being here, so we're gonna bust. Easy right? Well...not quite. We sort of have a bargaining chip. (Sean led me to the cell block that was taped off). We rigged the cameras, and the guards we pay off don't ask questions. Mark was tied to a chair. The commissioner of the entire league. He'd gone missing last week. And he was staring me in the face.
"Hey Skey. When I get out of here, I'm going to make sure you never win another game again". Ryan stepped out of the shadows. "We're done taking orders from you, Mark. The Express have come to their last stop. Here. (Ryan handed me a four leaf clover). Keep it in your pocket. It's our calling card, it'll get you out of trouble as long as the one causing trouble is in the know.
Boys, boys guards! GUARDS! (Didn't they pay off the cards?). Ryan shuffled me over to our cell that we would be sharing. "Can't pay off Mike. We've tried. Don't worry, we'll distract him away with some fracas, but we can't ever like Mike know that we've kidnapped Mark. We figure that having the head honcho here means nobody's watching and simming the games properly. That leaves the door wide open for the Brit.
The Brit? "Right 'ere." Michael was sitting on a bed in the corner, with a laptop glowing against his face. Ryan was excited. "Any luck?" "Yeah. Almost. Algorithm is up. Now it's just a matter of making sure we don't win ALL the games and pull a Bigelow. Gotta make sure the games are close...bingo. Hey Ryan, where do you want to pick in 2018? "Can I make the playoffs AND win first overall?" Michael grinned. "We can do whatever we want." Hey, new guy, get in here!
The Brit called in Chris. "This here's the Baker. He's going to cook us up something that'll get us out of here. Baker, how's the batch coming along?" "Oh not bad. It's kinda hard with the guards watching me in the kitchen, but Kirk's keeping their attention elsewhere.
Kirk wandered in. "Hey boys, you talking about the guards? Yeah, Baker, you can probably get in there right now. I've got them all excited about my first overall pick stories, and I told them I was going to grab my scouting notes. Ryan, you got those? (Ryan handed them over). "Perfect, this'll take them hours to comb through. Baker, when you finish your batch, the Baron will rig them up to the southwest wall. No more meetings, we're busting out tonight.
The Baron wandered in. Ryan laughed. "Don't mind Bob. They think he's crazy because he wears a monocle and top hat, but it's just to throw them off. Bob's going to hide the explosives...sorry, the "batch" under his hat in the yard. When the shift changes, Bob you bury the batch under that bush by the wall. Got it? (Bob did. He tipped his hat without saying a word and moved on).
There was some kind of commotion outside. They'd found Mark. Sheetal burst in. "BOYS, they're onto us! Mike found Mark and Mark spilled the beans about our plan. Brit, everything go through? "Michael was frantically pounding at his laptop. "Almost! It'll...ah, we don't have time. I've done what I can, let's get out of here. JAILBREAK TIME BOYS!!"
Kasim appeared beside me. "Hey bud, first day eh? Exciting times" I clapped him on the back, it was good to see familiar face. I told him it looked like he was on his way out too. "Not a moment too soon. They don't have ANY hot sauce in here!"
EVERYBODY! FOLLOW THE SNAKE! (Cries and shouts from everywhere. The explosives had gone off. Bryce was already crawling under the exterior fence on his belly and working on the lock. It took seconds, and Bryce was gone just as quickly. A flash of jerseys appeared to my left, right, up...I was on my back. Somebody helped me up, couldn't see who. I was nearly there.
The sirens were blaring. I could see guards along the wall preparing their weapons. We were in the middle of the desert, where the hell would we all go? I ran to the road and just started down the slop to the right. At least I'd be out of sight of the guard towers. A few ragged steps behind me confirmed that others thought it was a good idea. We stopped at an underpass to catch out breath. How many of us made it? 89, by a quick count. A bus pulled up...and stopped. A few quick honks. The hell?
The door opened. A tall guy sitting in the driver's seat held up a four leaf clover. Get in boys. We're all in this together!