Steven and I sat in my living room talking about his ‘previous life’ as he recalled it.
As he turned into his driveway, he pressed the garage door opener, disrupting the tranquility as his garage door lifted. As the truck came to a stop, the driver’s side door opened and he stepped out of the truck. Steven Schmidgall, 31, was an imposing figure both off and on the ice at 6’6” and just shy of 245 pounds, he seemed to dwarf the truck.
He grabbed a large bag of hockey gear from the back of the truck and arranged the gear on a drying rack. Local hockey fans would recognize him as the star goaltender for the Duluth Ironmen of the International Hockey Super League, returning from an early morning workout and practice.
He just had time to clean up and head back downtown for an interview.
Traffic was snarled all over the city by the rain. Steven’s frustration was starting to get to him when he finally got to to the bottom of the hill on Central Entrance. Slowly, he made his way up Superior Avenue and he made it to Magliani’s about five-thirty. He walked in to find Bryan waiting for him, dressed in a well-tailored suit. Bryan walked up and shook his hand. Bryan turned and started walking towards a table in the back of the restaurant. As they sat down, Bryan looked at Steven and smiled.
“We shouldn’t be disturbed too much back here.” Bryan said as he pulled out a tape recorder. Bryan talked to the tape recorder for a few moments, dictating the details of the interview.
“How long have you been playing with the Ironmen?” Bryan asked.
“For the last seven years. I’ve played my entire Super League career with the Ironmen. I was drafted out of Seattle of the Pacific Hockey League when the Ironmen started.” Steven said with commanding voice that was an embodiment of his pride in the team.
“How long have you been the team’s captain? It’s uncommon to have a goalie acting as captain.” Bryan asked, trying to find out how it happened but also trying not to offend Steven.
“I was asked to be the captain four years ago just before the All-Star Break. The team was in a slump, players were fighting in the locker room, and morale was sinking fast. I was so fed up with it all that one night after a game, I went into the locker room and gave the entire team a piece of my mind. I wasn’t being negative about the team’s play, but about the in-fighting and the lack of chemistry. A few days later, Coach pulled me into his office and told me that several of the players had talked to him about making me the captain. The team voted and that was that. I’ve been the captain ever since.”
“Leadership is the main job for the captain isn’t it. It strikes me as odd that you are the only goaltender to have been named as the captain by the team itself. There have been previous times where a goaltender is named as a temporary captain or as an assistant captain. But as far as I could find, you are the only team captain who was put there by his fellow teammates and what is truly impressive is that you have been renamed to the job for the last three seasons.”
“I guess I’m doing my job well. If I wasn’t, the team wouldn’t keep putting me in that position.” Steven said somewhat modestly.
“Very true, Steven.” Bryan paused for a moment, “If I could change the subject, last season after the All-Star Break, you had a streak of several games where you really seemed to be off your mark. You let in several goals per game and you were pulled just into the second period of the first game. The official team response was that you had been traveling out of the country during the break and gotten a severe case of food poisoning. How did you convince Coach to let you keep playing when you were that ill?” Bryan asked more for his own personal knowledge than for background for the interview.
“I had gone to Germany for two weeks to visit my family and attend the funeral of my grandmother over the break since I wasn’t playing in the All-Star Game due to my ankle injury. Sometime during my trip, I contracted salmonella. It really didn’t hit me until I was on the plane back from Köln.” Steven said, giving the city’s name a distinct German accent which caught Bryan’s ear, “Once I got back to Duluth, the airline had an ambulance waiting for me. I went right from the airport to St. Mary’s Hospital where I spent almost a week before being discharged. I knew I wasn’t fit to play, but I couldn’t just sit back and watch the team. Was it the best decision I could have made? No. It wasn’t.”
“So, why did you play? If you were that ill, did you really help the team?”
“Now that’s the question I’ve been asking myself since those games. I was trying to reinforce the spirit of going out on the ice every game and giving it everything. My everything was about 40%. I never should have played. I actually could have been injured much more seriously had I taken a check or hit while playing.”
“Do you think your playing had the effect you wanted?”
Steve stopped and laughed, “You know Vince, I’ve not really opened up to outsider’s much about my hockey career. I spent so much time in the closet, then suddenly, I was out of the closet thanks to my ex-husband. That’s a story for another time.” And with that pronouncement, Steve took a long swig of beer and belched.
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