Two days had passed since the Ponyville Golden Leafs returned home from their tough loss to the Manehattan Rangers. During those days off, Twilight and her friends rested and completed their usual chores and jobs. On the third day, the Golden Leafs met for practice at Ponyville Pond. Instead of constructing the boards and glass on the ice, Twilight had Spike only bring two nets, the sticks, and the girls' practice uniforms. Right on time, the remaining Golden Leafs arrived to the rink. Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie joined Twilight at the edge of the rink. The ponies shivered as they changed into their pads. A cold wind blew fiercely as grey clouds hung low over the pond in the afternoon. Twilight looked around for Applejack but there were no signs of her.
"Hey girls, did any of you hear from Applejack?" asked Twilight
Fluttershy shook her head as she laced up her skates. "No, none of us has. I hope she is alright."
Suddenly over the hillside, a loud shout erupted. "AAAAAH'M A COMINNN'!!" Each pony turned toward the direction of the voice and there galloping in a hurry was Applejack. Not too far behind, Big Macintosh and Apple Bloom slowly made their way toward the rink, cloud puffs of frigid air billowing from their nostrils. Applejack caught up to the group and quickly changed into her practice uniform.
"Sorry I'm late everypony…we were just doin'…some winter cleanin'…in the barn and…lost track a'time," said Applejack, huffing a breath in between words.
Twilight, in full gear, stepped out onto the ice. "That's okay, Applejack. We weren't ready to start anyways."
"Hope y'all don't mind Big Macintosh and Apple Bloom watchin' us skate."
Pinkie Pie clasped her last goalie pad strap and flipped her mask down. "Ooh goodie! We'll have real fans cheering us on today!" As Pinkie said this, Big Mac and Apple Bloom reached the edge of the pond.
"H-h-howdy everyone. S-s-sure is a cold one today. Eeyup." said Big Mac with his teeth chattering.
Apple Bloom jumped out from behind her brother and greeted the Golden Leafs one by one. "Howdy Twilight, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Fluttershy! I'm excited to watch y'all practice! Especially you Pinkie Pie."
Pinkie gave Apple Bloom a big smile from behind her facemask. "Thanks Apple Bloom! I won't let you down!"
The Golden Leafs all stepped out onto the ice for practice. After a few laps around the pond, they stopped in the center to stretch. Once stretching was over, Twilight addressed the team.
"For today's practice, we're going to work on being tougher. Manehattan was knocking us all over the ice and we couldn't hold our ground."
Rainbow, smirking, raised her hoof. "You mean we couldn't hold our ice."
Twilight snapped back, "I know what I said! Anyways, we're going to work on our toughness. Everyone is going to have the opportunity to give out and receive checks."
"What will our banking have anything to do with being tougher, dear?" Rarity asked.
Twilight put her hoof to her face. "No! Checking is when you hit the other player. The thing Applejack did to Rainbow Dash during training camp that started that little fight."
"Hehe, yeah. I remember," said Applejack as she looked over at Rainbow. Rainbow shot back a snort.
Fluttershy was next to raise her hoof. "Umm…Twilight, does that mean I'm going to get hit."
"Yes, Fluttershy. I'm sorry but it will be for your own good if you want to make it through this season alive. You're an easy target out there for the other teams. Don't worry, we'll help you."
Fluttershy looked down and sighed. "Okay. If it will help the team, I'll do it."
"Great. To do this drill, we'll all be on the ice with our sticks as if we're in a real game. I'll blow my whistle and shout out someone's name. Everyone whose name wasn't called goes over and tries to check the person I did call out. Got it?"
Applejack and Rainbow Dash stood side by side and nodded excitedly. Rarity gave her helmet and mane one final check to make sure they were tidy. Fluttershy wobbled in her skates and her wings shook nervously. Pinkie Pie skated up to Applejack and gave her a big chest bump before heading over to Apple Bloom to teach her some goaltending skills.
Tweeeeeeeeeeet "Applejack! Go!"
Immediately, Applejack skated off toward the other end of the pond with Big Macintosh cheering her on. Rainbow Dash stayed hot on Applejack's trail trying to catch her. Fluttershy, Rarity, and Twilight remained far away, choosing to wait for Applejack to approach them before striking. Applejack laughed at Rainbow Dash as she skated down toward the center. Rainbow, recognizing she wasn't going to land a good hit trailing directly behind Applejack, started veering off to the left of Applejack and skated faster to create an angle. Applejack quickly looked to the right and noticed Rainbow was no longer behind her. When Applejack turned back to the front, she heard a yell. "Incoming!" Rainbow Dash blazed toward her from the left side and slammed her flank into Applejack's. Applejack stumbled in her skates but didn't fall. After landing the hit, Rainbow was repelled back and she fell on her behind. Applejack laughed and kept on skating. Rarity, Twilight, and Fluttershy were ready to attack. All three began converging onto Applejack. Applejack saw their tactic and lowered her head. Rarity, Twilight, and Fluttershy closed in but with ramming speed, Applejack bowled over all three, leaving them splattered along the ice. Rainbow busted out laughing as Applejack kept skating with a big grin on her face. Twilight slowly got up and blew her whistle.
Tweeeeeet "Rainbow Dash….go. Ugh."
Rainbow Dash's laughter quickly turned into stoic determination as she began skating away from everyone. Applejack still carried momentum from her skating and was coming in fast. Rainbow kicked up her pace a notch and glided away from the rapidly approaching Applejack. Rainbow got away and curled around the edge of the pond. Rarity and Fluttershy were back up and weakly gave chase as well. Applejack changed her stride and began to cut down Rainbow's angle. Rainbow saw this and skated faster. Applejack drew closer and prepared for a crush. In a flash, Applejack sprung toward Rainbow. Seeing Applejack flying at her, Rainbow gritted her teeth and powered her legs onward. She blasted ahead, avoiding Applejack's attempt. Applejack looked back and saw she missed her hit. Applejack crash landed into a mound of snow head first with just her back legs showing and kicking. As Big Macintosh walked over to his fallen sister, Rainbow came toward Rarity and Fluttershy. Fluttershy closed her eyes and threw herself toward Rainbow but she also missed and landed hard on the ice. Rarity was next in the line and, like Fluttershy, threw herself toward Rainbow. Rainbow zoomed off to the side and dodged Rarity as well. Rarity landed next to Fluttershy and they helped each other up. Rainbow came to a halt to see most of her teammates sprawled out along the ice. She laughed as Twilight reached for the whistle.
Tweeeeeeeeeeeeet "Rarity! Go!"
Rarity let out a gasp and started stumbling to get away from everyone. She was a slower skater so Applejack, now recovered, and Rainbow quickly approached. Applejack ended up beside Rarity and was ready to hit. Rarity, out of instinct and self-defense, nudged her head over and poked Applejack in the forehead with her horn. Applejack stopped to tend to the bruising poke as Rainbow closed in on Rarity. Rarity leaped in fright when she saw Rainbow approaching and tried skating faster. Rainbow was now beside Rarity and went to hit. With a growl, Rarity quickly turned to Rainbow's side and bit her in the wing. Rainbow let out a yelp in pain. Seeing Rarity's mean streak striding right towards her, Fluttershy jumped out of the way with a squeak. Rarity kept growling like a dog, daring anyone to come at her. Twilight sighed at the current failure of the drill and blew the whistle again.
Tweeeeeeeet "Twilight Sparkle! I mean, me! Go!"
With whistle still in mouth, Twilight started sprinting away. Rarity, still skating hard, changed direction and aimed for Twilight. Twilight noticed Rarity closing in and came to a hard stop, sending Rarity flying right past. Applejack approached next and was picking up speed. Twilight, quickly figuring out velocities and angles in her head, decided to go head on toward Applejack. Right as they were going to collide, Twilight swiftly spun out of Applejack's path, with Applejack's momentum sending her right past. Off on the side, Fluttershy was talking to herself, trying to gather up the courage to deliver a big hit. Seeing this, Twilight turned and skated toward her. Fluttershy noticed Twilight approaching so she stomped her hoof down and began skating at her. Twilight let up on her speed and began to brace herself. Fluttershy came up to Twilight's side, closed her eyes, and SLAM! Twilight fell to the ice in a heap. Fluttershy re-opened her eyes and noticed she was still standing, having delivered her first hit. She jumped in joy and cheered for herself until she noticed Twilight in trouble. Immediately, Fluttershy raced over and tended to her victim.
"Oh Twilight! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to hit you so hard! Oh, please forgive me."
Twilight got up with a loopy smile on her face. "It's okay, Fluttershy. Just give me a minute to compose myself. That was a doozy of a hit."
Fluttershy smiled back. "Thanks, Twilight."
Applejack and Rainbow came up to them swiftly. "I reckon that hit was bigger than the one I gave Dashie. Good work, Fluttershy!"
"Yeah, that was awesome!" Rainbow chimed in.
Twilight, still feeling weak, gathered up the team. Pinkie Pie came back from practicing with Apple Bloom and joined the discussion.
"Well, that drill didn't go as I planned, but we learned some things. We learned that Applejack is solid as a house." Applejack chuckled and flexed her leg to show off her muscle. "We saw that Rainbow is too fast for anyone to catch."
"You got that right!" yelled Rainbow confidently. Twilight weakly grinned and went on.
"We learned that Rarity has a nasty streak inside her."
Rarity laughed and ran her skate down her mane in a brush-like motion. "Haha, well I have to everything I can to keep my mane and uniform looking ravishing and perfect. If it means I need to play dirty, I'll play dirty."
"Well, if you have to, don't get caught. We can't afford unnecessary penalties. And finally, we learned Fluttershy can dish out a big hit if she believes in herself."
"Oh, I will from now on. I'll try to hit my absolute hardest!" Fluttershy said smiling.
"Good. Let's use what we learned today for our game against Cloudsdale tomorrow. I haven't done my research on them yet, but I will do that tonight and give you all a scouting report in the locker room. Let's rest up and be back here for our home opener!"
The Golden Leafs all put a skate in and on three yelled "TEAM!" Spike arrived to gather up all the equipment and each pony went off toward home. Before leaving the pond, Twilight talked to Spike.
"Spike, take a letter please."
Spike pulled out a scroll and quill and waited for Twilight's next words.
"Dear Princess Celestia,
Tomorrow is the Ponyville Golden Leafs' home opener. Right now Ponyville Pond is just an empty ice rink. If you could help us build a brand new arena on the pond, we would greatly appreciate it.
Your faithful student,
In a green flame, Spike blew the scroll into the air. Almost instantly, Spike belched out a response scroll. He unrolled it and began reading to Twilight.
The EHL offices have informed me of your plight earlier this week. I am sending out Canterlot's finest crew of carpenter and masonry colts. Ponyville will have their arena done in a blink of an eye. I also was told of your first loss to Manehattan. Don't give up and always remember to have fun with your friends. Good luck in your home opener.
Your Royal Highness,
Relieved by the Princess' words, Twilight and Spike headed for home. Back at the treehouse, Twilight pulled out her EHL media guide and began studying up on the Golden Leafs' next opponent, the Cloudsdale Red Wings. A few hours of reading later, Twilight sleepily closed her books and trotted off to bed, excited for tomorrow's big day for the Golden Leafs franchise.
The next morning, Twilight woke up early because she couldn't control her excitement for the game. She remembered what Princess Celestia had said and she raced off toward Ponyville Pond, hoping to see a hockey arena in its place. As she galloped closer toward the pond, she saw the top of the cylindrical arena peering up over the horizon and growing taller. With each stride, Twilight's smile grew wider. She stopped right in front of the tall arena that sat before her. It was a shining, blue-bricked arena with golden ornaments and accents lining the roof and sides. In large golden letters above the front entrance, "Ponyville Pond" flashed in the rising sunlight. Twilight squealed with delight and walked inside. The concourse was covered in royal blue banners and linens with the Golden Leafs' logo emblazoned on each one. Concession stands and souvenir booths lined the walls, empty but ready to be filled with delicious arena fare and collectible items later in the evening. Twilight's eyes stayed wide open in amazement as she walked about the new arena. When she walked past an opening to the arena seats, she stopped dead in her tracks. Below her, she saw the whitest, freshest sheet of ice her eyes ever saw. The red and blue lines on the ice vibrantly gleamed under the arena lights. The Ponyville Golden Leafs logo glistened and shone at center ice. Twilight looked all around, slowly taking in the magnificent scene before her.
"Pretty nice arena, huh?"
Twilight jumped a bit at the unexpected voice. She took a few seconds to calm herself down.
"Yeah, this arena is amazing!" she said as she turned toward her visitor. Suddenly, Twilight's face went from ghostly white back to its illustrious purple color as her visitor was Princess Celestia, smiling warmly upon Twilight with her mane floating.
Overjoyed, Twilight beamed like a lighthouse at her mentor. "PRINCESS?!? What are you doing here?"
With a laugh, Princess Celestia stood alongside her student. "Why Twilight, I shoved the responsibility of managing a hockey team upon you and Ponyville. The least I could do is watch your home opener is person."
"Oh, this will be great! I have to run and tell the girls that the Princess is here!" Twilight yelled while jumping in a circle.
The tip of Princess Celestia's mane went up to Twilight's lips. "Shhh, let's keep it our little secret until tonight. I don't want your team to be distracted before your big game."
Twilight nodded excessively and gave the Princess a hug. Princess Celestia stepped out of the arena and onto her royal chariot. In a flash, she was gone. Twilight's excitement doubled and she began to shake at the thought of the Princess being at their home opener later that evening. She left the arena and went back to the treehouse to prepare for the night.
Two hours before game time, the Golden Leafs met at Twilight's house. Together, side by side, they walked toward their new arena. Twilight did a good job containing her knowledge of the arena and Princess Celestia's presence so that her friends could share the same reaction she had. Just as Twilight did, the others saw the top of the arena as they approached. With anxiousness quickly building, the Golden Leafs broke into a gallop toward their arena. Twilight didn't run forward with her friends, but chose to hang behind to view their reactions. Applejack and Rainbow Dash jumped and gave each other high fives while Rarity and Fluttershy stood completely still in admiration. Pinkie Pie danced around her friends, taking in the delicious smells that were filtering out from inside. Twilight reached them and directed them all toward their locker room.
On their walk to the locker room, the giggles and squeals of the Golden Leafs rang out down the hall. The ponies trotted back and forth, inspecting and admiring each new thing they passed. As a nice touch, the wall containing the locker room entrance was adorned with each pony's cutie mark in golden paint. When the team saw their golden marks on the wall, they each yelled and ran up to hug it. After a few extra seconds of adoration, the team finally entered the locker room. There, each pony had their own stall made out of finished oak. The blue carpeting was plush and inviting. A large Golden Leafs logo was stitched and placed boldly in the center of the room. Hanging from golden hooks were their royal blue home uniforms Rarity had made. The ponies quickly put their gear on, their excitement level going through the roof.
Once dressed, Twilight stood in front of her teammates.
"Okay girls. Here's what we need to know about the Cloudsdale Red Wings. They play a quick-paced game. They like controlling the puck and they have a great defense. They made the Celestia Cup Finals last year so they're still very good. We'll need to be on our best if we want to stand a chance. As for their lineup, here's who they have. Rainbow, at center is Spitfire. She's very crafty and has great hooves."
Rainbow let out a fangirl-like squeal. "Oh my gosh! I'm playing across from Spitfire of the Wonderbolts?!? This is going to be awesome! I can show off my speed to Spitfire and the Wonderbolts will have to accept me!"
"Don't get too excited, Rainbow. Tonight they're Red Wings, not Wonderbolts. Rarity, their right wing is Soarin. He's pretty solid and strong. He'll stand in front of Pinkie a lot and try to block her view."
Rainbow interrupted again with another squeal. "Soarin plays for them too?!? Even more awesome! Two of the Wonderbolts playing against me tonight. This is too cool!"
Twilight brushed off Rainbow's star-struck squealing and continued on. "Applejack, their left wing is Gilda. She'll play you pretty tough. You match up well with her."
At the sound of Gilda's name, Pinkie Pie sat up with a slight smile on her face. "Ooooh, Gilda's back! I hope she remembered that party I threw for her! We had so much fun that day. You think she'll remember me? Do ya?"
"I'll do whatever I can to keep her in line, Twi," a determined Applejack said.
"On defense, they have Pucks. He's one of the oldest and best defenseponies in the league. He's very good. The other defensepony is Ditzy Doo. She's pretty…unusual to say the least. The forwards will have to find a way to outwork them while Fluttershy and I try to shut down Cloudsdale's forwards."
Pinkie Pie got up from her stall. "Who's their goalie, Twilight?"
"I'm not sure. The book I read said it was some goalie named Domarenick Horsek, but he's been retired for ages now. I guess we'll have to find out when we get out there."
Applejack leaped up. "Let's go git 'em, girls! Who's ready for a darn good home opener?"
The Golden Leafs met at the center and put a hoof in. Twilight was last and gave some last words. "Let's remember what we practiced and have fun tonight. Tough and fun on three!"
One…two…three…"TOUGH AND FUN!" shouted each player as their skates were raised to the sky. They exited the locker room and headed out to the hallway to wait for their introduction. On the other side of the ice, they saw the Red Wings stretching and loosening up behind their entrance door. From the hallway, the Golden Leafs heard a loud buzz bellowing out from the crowd. The murmur of all the Ponyvillians grew louder as the countdown clock ticked down toward zero. The Golden Leafs looked all over their home arena, down to each nook and cranny. A calming peace fell upon each of them as they quickly grew accustomed to their home arena. The lights dimmed which drew a loud cheer from the crowd. Spotlights illuminated on the ice and affixed themselves to an upper balcony. A familiar voice echoed out to each corner, ready to announce the lineups and the surprise guest.
"Filles and gentlecolts, welcome to Ponyville Pond for the Ponyville Golden Leafs' home opener!! My name is Spike, the official super cool announcing dragon for the Ponyville Golden Leafs! Sit back, relax, and get ready to cheer on your Golden Leafs as they take on the visiting Cloudsdale Red Wings!"
Loud booing came at the sound of the Red Wings name. There was a small smattering of cheers as a handful of pegasi ponies came down from Cloudsdale for the game proudly wearing their Red Wings jerseys. Spike continued his announcing duties.
"Since this is Ponyville's home opener, we have a special guest in our midst tonight. All the way from Canterlot, your benevolent leader and friend, Princess Celestia!!"
This time the whole arena cheered together in unison as Princess Celestia stepped out onto the balcony, flanked by her royal guards. She waved to everyone in attendance and took her seat. Down in the hallway, Twilight saw all her friends' faces light up in surprise when the Princess' name was called. Their anxiousness reached a fever pitch and they were now itching to get out on the ice.
"Now the starting lineup for the Cloudsdale Red Wings. At center, number 13, famed member of the Wonderbolts, it's Spitfire! At left wing, number 44, Gilda! At right wing, number 96, also a famed member of the Wonderbolts, it's Soarin! On defense, number 5, Pucks! Also on defense, number…question mark-exclamation point…whatever, it's Ditzy Doo!"
Each member of the Red Wings flew out from their entrance door briskly as their name was called. They landed along the blue line as they awaited the announcement of their goalie.
"Starting in goal for Cloudsdale, rookie goalie number 35, it's Scootaloo!"
Out from the door skated out Scootaloo. Her tiny wings flapped happily as she skated toward her teammates. She ended up inside her goal crease and scooted from side to side, chipping up the ice for traction.
Princess Celestia applauded as the spotlights circled around the arena. The lights then fell upon the Golden Leafs' door. Spike started up again.
"And now, for the PONYVILLE GOLDEN LEAFS! At center, number 20, your town weatherpony and friend, it's RAINBOW DASH! At left wing, number 9, the most beautiful pony in the arena and the owner of the Carousel Boutique, it's the fair and lovely RARITY! On the right wing, number 88, the hard-working, apple-bucking, Sweet Apple Acres-running reliable pony pal, it's APPLEJACK! On defense, number 42, my best friend and Ponyville's resident egghead, it's TWILIGHT SPARKLE! Also on defense, number 0, beloved by ponies and creatures alike, the 'Stare Master' FLUTTERSHY!"
The Golden Leafs skated out onto the ice with their introduction. With a more modest entrance this time around, they took the time to revel in the downpour of cheers that came from their fans and fellow city dwellers. They lined up across from the Red Wings and stared them down. The Red Wings did not look back. They instead were looking down at the ice with a quiet focus. However, Scootaloo looked up to see Rainbow Dash standing across the ice. In a flash, Scootaloo skated all the way to Rainbow and stared up at her with a happy smile.
"Oh hey Rainbow Dash! I can't wait to see you skate circles around everyone. You're going to be the best!"
Rainbow looked back at Scootaloo with a smug expression. "Yes, yes, you're right, kid. I will be the best! See you in the game."
Scootaloo propelled herself back to the net and bounced around with delight.
"And in net, number 33, the party pony with the power of perfecting desserts, it's PINKIE PIE!"
Pinkie skated out and hopped to her place in net. She skipped around the net to cheers. The light flickered back on and the teams circled around in their zones. The teams drifted toward the center circle. The referee goes through the usual goalie check and readies the puck.
With the drop of the puck, Ponyville's home opener was underway.
The first few minutes of the 1st period went back and forth as each team battled their nerves and committed a couple turnovers. After the 8 minute mark, the Red Wings gained control of the puck and didn't let go. Every ten seconds or so, Gilda, Spitfire, and Soarin ripped shots on net. Pinkie found herself bouncing back and forth, up and down to make saves. Pucks and Ditzy also had a few shots along the point which Pinkie blocked. Ponyville could not get the puck away from Cloudsdale. Even after Applejack placed a check on Gilda and won the puck, Ditzy glided up and slammed Applejack right back. Shot after shot, Ponyville scrambled to gather the puck and get some offense going. It took nearly three minutes before Ponyville finally had possession in the Cloudsdale zone. The Golden Leafs still did not get a shot off though as Pucks pressured Rainbow into making a bad pass toward Rarity which Soarin swooped up. Back the other way, Cloudsdale ran a play which saw Spitfire receiving the puck behind the net. Both Soarin and Gilda streaked toward the net from the wings. By doing that, Fluttershy and Twilight closed in on the crease in front of Pinkie to stay with the Red Wing forwards. This left Ditzy open up the middle to which Spitfire passed her the puck and Ditzy let off a rocket shot through a crowd of skaters. Ponyville was lucky as Ditzy's shot deflected off a leg and bounced out of harm's way.
With four minutes left in the period, the Ponyville zone resembled more of a shooting gallery with each Red Wing getting two shots off. Pinkie once again stood tall and made brilliant saves to keep the game scoreless. On the other end, Scootaloo sat in front of her net daydreaming about playing alongside Rainbow Dash. She faced zero shots and it appeared to stay that way as Cloudsdale kept possession. Around the 2 minute mark, Ponyville finally caught a break and had the puck for a 2-on-1 rush. Rainbow and Applejack were pushing toward the net with Pucks back on defense. Rainbow looked for an opening to pass over to Applejack but Pucks closed in and cut her off. Rainbow gave the puck away and back came Cloudsdale. Gilda took the puck down to the corner behind Pinkie. She was met by Twilight who tried playing tough to get the puck away. Gilda powered out and passed to Spitfire who grabbed it at the faceoff circle. Fluttershy glided over to cut Spitfire off but Spitfire lightly flicked the puck between Fluttershy's legs and blazed around her to get it back. Rarity reached her stick out to poke at Spitfire but Spitfire quickly lifted the puck up onto her stick blade and jumped over Rarity's stick. Spitfire set the puck back down on the ice and fired a shot. Pinkie kept her eye on the puck the entire time and was able to glove it for a great save. The crowd applauded Pinkie for the save and Spitfire for her amazing puck handling display. Ten seconds remained in the period and to no one's surprise, the Red Wings had the puck and had two more shots on Pinkie.
A horn blew throughout the arena for the end of the 1st period. It was all Cloudsdale in that period even though the score didn't reflect it. The Ponyville crowd cheered both teams off the ice. One by one the Golden Leafs walked to their locker room.
They all reached their stalls except for Pinkie. As soon as she stepped into the room, Pinkie collapsed in an exhausted daze. She dragged herself to her spot and unwrapped a special energy cupcake. She gulped it down and soon she was back to her bouncy self. She spoke up to everyone in the room.
"Whew! I am so tired! That was a crazy period! I was over there and over there, and here and there and here and there. Wowee."
Twilight looked over to her. "Sorry we let so many shots on you, Pinkie. You did a great job out there.
"Cloudsdale is playin' tighter than a square apple in a round box. We cain't get through 'em!" exclaimed Applejack.
"I know that period was rough, but I think I realized something," said Twilight. "Cloudsdale's forwards didn't try to check us too often. They are more concerned with skating and having the puck."
Rainbow blew her mane out of her face. "Well duh, they have two of the Wonderbolts on their team! Of course they're going to skate fast. It's not rocket science."
"So then we'll take them off their game…by getting tough. Just like in practice. Let's rock their worlds. They seem like a finesse team so if we show them a little toughness, they're bound to fold," Twilight said with a stern look toward Rainbow.
Rainbow jumped out her of stall. "Now you're talking!"
"Let's do it then. Let's get physical!"
Twilight nodded to her teammates who nodded back with a grin.
The Golden Leafs marched back out onto the ice for the 2nd period. Cloudsdale also made their way back onto the ice ready for the new period.
With another puck drop, the 2nd period began. Ponyville started to execute their strategy. Each time a Cloudsdale skater touched the puck, a Golden Leaf was right there to deliver a hit. Just as Cloudsdale racked up shots in the 1st, Ponyville was racking up hits in the 2nd. Since Ponyville was hitting more, they had the puck more. Applejack snapped Ponyville's first shot on net but Scootaloo jumped up to grab it. During the play stoppage, Scootaloo held up the puck in her glove and called out to Rainbow Dash to show her. Rainbow didn't smile but gave a little approving nod.
Cloudsdale won the next faceoff and had the puck in the Ponyville zone. Spitfire passed off to Soarin along the boards. With Rarity coming in quick to hit, Soarin rushed a pass to Ditzy on the blue line. Sensing the weak pass, Rainbow Dash zoomed up to intercept it. Rainbow blasted off for a breakaway. Scootaloo strained to see who was coming towards her. When she noticed it was Rainbow Dash, she giggled and hopped up and down with excitement. Scootaloo skated up out of the crease to meet up with Rainbow.
"Hey Rainbow Dash! That was an awesome interception! Can you teach me how to do that?"
Rainbow smiled as she blew right by Scootaloo. "Sure thing, kiddo!" she muttered through the stick in her mouth.
With a wide open net, Rainbow slammed the puck in the net. The fans jumped to their hooves and a cheer exploded out along with the siren of the goal horn. The rest of the Golden Leafs skated down to celebrate Rainbow's goal. Scootaloo glided over to join in but a frustrated Gilda grabbed Scootaloo's jersey with her beak and dropped Scootaloo back in the net.
"GOAL! 1-0 PONYVILLE! Scoring her first goal of the season, number 20, RAINBOW DASH!"
Play resumed and Spitfire won the faceoff away from Rainbow. Spitfire kept the puck and brought it over the blue line. Twilight and Fluttershy came together in the middle to block Spitfire's path but she deked to the right to get Fluttershy off stride then pulled the puck back and deked left to get through Twilight. With just Pinkie in front of her, Spitfire twirled a shot toward the upper left corner. Pinkie quickly tried to raise her blocker hoof but it was too late. Just like that, Cloudsdale tied the game 1-1. Spitfire skated toward center ice toward her awaiting teammates for celebratory headbutts. The goal light flickered and the crowd sat in stunned silence about what they just saw.
"Goal for Cloudsdale. Her first of the season, Spitfire!
The Golden Leafs drifted back to center ice in shock of Spitfire's amazing skill. They shook out of their trance and play was back on. Reviving their strategy, the Golden Leafs kept hitting and had the puck more but couldn't get another goal. The 2nd period quickly came to close and the crowd gave the Golden Leafs an encouraging yell as they exited the ice.
Back in the locker room, Twilight and company were energetic and pleased with the period. They had plenty of hits and kept the puck mostly out of their zone to which Pinkie was grateful.
Twilight cooled down and addressed the team.
"Now that's more like it! We were great! The hitting was strong and we had the lead for once. Good work, girls!"
"And I'm not as tired as I was last period!" piped up Pinkie.
Rainbow flew up into the air eagerly. "Did you all see my goal? I flew up, charging like a Wonderbolt, I stole the puck, blew past the little orange squirt, and pounded it in the net!"
"That was amazing, Rainbow Dash. You skated so fast and did so well," said Fluttershy as she put her helmet back on.
Twilight spoke back up. "Now remember, we were in this same situation last game with Manehattan. Don't let up on the toughness and get some quality shots on net. At least we won't have a cheater to deal with. We can do this!"
The one minute warning horn blasted throughout the arena and the Golden Leafs trotted back to the ice.
Over in the Red Wings locker room, Spitfire pepped up her team by telling them to fight fire with fire; to match Ponyville's physicality and hit back. The Red Wings accepted the mission and made their way back to the ice.
The final period began and neither team budged for the other. The hockey game felt more like a table tennis match, with one team having the puck, getting hit, then the other team claiming the puck, getting hit, and so on. Rarity had the puck in the Ponyville zone until she was hit by Soarin. Soarin took the puck and was immediately slammed by Rainbow. As soon as Rainbow turned up the ice, Gilda was there to lay a check on Rainbow. Gilda took the puck and before she could move, Applejack glided in with a hit. With each check, the crowd cheered louder, letting both teams know their toughness was being appreciated.
The Golden Leafs finally put an end to the hitting party and had the puck on offense. Applejack shot the puck around the boards to Rarity who was waiting on the other wing. Rarity brought the puck toward the net where she was pressured by Ditzy. Rarity saw Rainbow sprinting at the net and quickly slipped a pass that direction. Rainbow got the puck and flicked a shot on net but it skipped wide, eliciting an "Ooooooh" from the fans.
Cloudsdale came back the other way and dumped the puck into the Ponyville corner. Fluttershy went after the puck but was nervous she was vulnerable. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Gilda charging in hard toward her. As Gilda closed in, Fluttershy braced herself and pounced away from the corner toward the brutish griffin. Gilda's eyes enlarged in shock when Fluttershy flew at her. WHAM! Crushed by a devastating check, Gilda flew back and hit the ice hard. The crowd erupted as Fluttershy quickly gathered herself to get the puck again. She passed it over to Twilight who passed it up and out of the zone.
Only 3 minutes remained when Rarity received Twilight's pass. She brought the puck in but found no one open. Unsure of what to do, Rarity skated in and tried to shoot. Pucks came by and poked the puck away before Rarity could get the shot off. A little frustrated, Rarity bolted after Pucks and geared up for a hit. However, Pucks had just passed the puck off to Soarin who entered the zone. Rarity kept on her path and delivered a board rattling hit to the Cloudsdale defensepony. The referee saw this and raised his hoof for a delayed penalty. Twilight stole the puck from Soarin which caused the whistle to blow.
Tweeeeeeeet "Penalty, Ponyville number 9. Two minutes for boarding."
Rarity skated up to the referee and began to plead her case.
"Oh, you surely don't mean that, do you darling? I mean, a fine looking gentlecolt such as yourself just couldn't have the heart to throw little ol' me into the penalty box right?"
The referee stared back unamused. "Save it, lady. It's two minutes."
"Hmph!" Rarity pouted all the way to the box. The Ponyville fans booed as the Golden Leafs were about to embark on a very crucial penalty kill with just over two minutes left in a tie game.
The puck dropped and Cloudsdale's power play began. Cloudsdale had a similar strategy to Ponyville, with each skater staying in a certain area and passing back and forth among themselves until a shooting opportunity presented itself. The Red Wings' passing was crisp and right on the stick tape. Gilda passed to Pucks, Pucks to Ditzy, Ditzy to Soarin, Soarin to Spitfire behind the net, Spitfire back to Soarin, Soarin to Ditzy, Ditzy to Pucks along the blue line. The Golden Leafs moved from side to side along with the Red Wings' passing. When it appeared a Red Wing was going to shoot, Applejack or Rainbow dove in front to block. Rarity's penalty was down to one minute left and Cloudsdale still did not have a shot. Pucks faked a shot and passed back over to Ditzy. Ditzy passed to Soarin who was along the boards. Soarin passed back to Ditzy and quickly moved in to block Pinkie's view. Ditzy reared back for a shot, forcing Applejack to dive for a block. Ditzy pulled back and passed to Pucks. Seeing a lane to the net, Pucks fired a swift shot. Soarin tried positioning his stick to redirect the shot but missed. The puck drilled Pinkie in the chest and bounced in front of Twilight. Twilight quickly shot the puck down the ice to kill the last few seconds of the penalty.
As Rarity stepped out of the box, the Ponyville crowd rang out in loud applause for the clutch penalty kill. The Golden Leafs fed off the energy and skated harder as the clock reached the final minute. Spitfire collected the puck behind Scootaloo and carried it up through center. She dumped it toward the corner to which Soarin gave chase. Twilight and Rarity bunched up there to get the puck before Soarin came swooping in. Twilight knocked the puck around the boards to Fluttershy. Fluttershy tried passing over to Rainbow but Spitfire brushed by to intercept. Spitfire deked around Twilight who had retreated back to the net. Pinkie stepped up to take Spitfire head on. Spitfire blasted a rifle straight toward the five hole. Pinkie collapsed her legs to block the shot and swept it over to Applejack on the side. Applejack quickly brought the puck up with 10 seconds left. She got over the blue line and halted. Rainbow speeded down the center to catch up. Applejack snapped a pass toward the net for Rainbow to pick up. 0:07…0:06…Rainbow saw the puck and reached out to touch it. 0:05…0:04…the puck landed on Rainbow's stick blade. 0:03…0:02…0:01…Right as the potential game-winning shot was flung, Ditzy Doo appeared out from nowhere and landed a helmet-rocking check on Rainbow. 0:00.
The puck sailed off into the corner with Rainbow drifting lifelessly toward the boards. She hit the boards hard with a thud as the period horn blew and the Ponyville faithful gasped at the final play. The referees and the Golden Leafs rushed over to the fallen pony. Rainbow opened her eyes and slowly worked her way back to her hooves. Receiving a standing ovation, even from Princess Celestia herself, Rainbow was helped toward the locker room by her friends.
In the locker room, an EHL doctor checked over Rainbow as the rest of the team started to freak out about playing in overtime.
After shining a light in her eyes and checking her heart rate, the doctor gave Rainbow the nod of approval and left. Twilight tried calming down her team as Rainbow held an ice pack to her head.
"Girls, settle down. Overtime isn't any different than a regular period."
Rarity stepped up to Twilight. "Don't you know what 'sudden death' means? If Cloudsdale scores, we lose! I don't want to lose in front of the Princess! She'll go back to Canterlot and tell all her subjects about how poorly we did and we'll be the laughingstock of the EHL!"
"Snap out of it!" yelled Twilight as she clunked Rarity on the helmet. "Everything will be fine. And think of it this way, if we score, we win!"
"'S-s-sudden death'? That sounds s-s-scary," said Fluttershy trembling.
Applejack stood up and faced her teammates. "It's just an expression y'all. We need ta' stop our worryin' and go back to playin' hockey. We got this."
Pinkie bounced up and flipped her mask down. "I'm ready to go, Twilight! I'm not afraid of suddenly dying!"
Twilight let out a groan while Rainbow tossed the ice pack aside and put her equipment back on.
"Everypony shut it! We're going back out there and winning."
Unprepared for Rainbow's outburst, the locker room grew silent. Twilight nodded and the Golden Leafs trotted back toward the ice.
Back on the ice, the clock only read 5 minutes as usual with overtime. Cloudsdale skated around their end and then met at the net to go over their strategy. Ponyville approached the center circle, already knowing what they needed to do: score first.
The puck dropped and the overtime period began. Rainbow won the faceoff and passed it back to Twilight. Twilight skated up and dumped the puck into the corner. Applejack rushed in after it as Pucks also charged for it. Applejack got there first and had to keep it away from Pucks' stick. Rainbow stuck to the boards behind Applejack and tapped her stick to let her know she was open. Applejack heard the tapping and flicked the puck behind her along the boards. Rainbow retrieved it and tried darting in and out of the Red Wings skaters. Soarin dove into Rainbow's path but she hopped over. Gilda was next to drift toward Rainbow but as Gilda went to deliver a hit, Rainbow skated harder and ducked low, causing Gilda to miss. The only defender left in Rainbow's way was Ditzy. Rainbow held the puck off to her right hoping Ditzy would bite. Ditzy saw the puck and poked for it, just as Rainbow wanted. Rainbow quickly pulled the puck back in toward her skates and moved it to the left, completely faking out Ditzy. Rainbow now had an open path to the net. Scootaloo, now determined to deny her idol a game-winning goal, stood ready. Rainbow reared back her head to shoot.
Out from the corner, an orange and yellow blur flew in like a mystical wind to take away Rainbow's puck. It was Spitfire and she was now off to the races. Twilight and Fluttershy scrambled back to cut Spitfire off. Spitfire was coming in on the left wing. Twilight dove across but Spitfire held up and waited for Twilight to slide by. Fluttershy then came across and tried to land a check on the Cloudsdale center. Spitfire fought back and was now flank to flank with Fluttershy. Both players were heading at Pinkie's net at full speed. With one final nudge, Spitfire veered Fluttershy away and poked the puck to Pinkie's left. Pinkie dove left but Spitfire had already snapped her stick back. Lifting her back hoof in the air, Spitfire performed a picture perfect hoof drag and blasted the puck into the now wide open net. All together, the Golden Leafs' hearts sank as the puck rattled around the goal and the goal light illuminated. A giant groan rung out from the crowd as Spitfire threw herself at the boards in celebration.
"Goal by Spitfire! Cloudsdale wins in overtime 2-1!
The remaining Red Wings dashed toward Spitfire, throwing the sticks and gloves in the air in jubilation. The Golden Leafs could only look down in disbelief and disappointment. Cloudsdale finished their celebration and skated off the ice. Still drifting sadly around the ice, Twilight and friends eventually went toward the door. Despite the heartbreaking loss, the Ponyville faithful cheered their home team off the ice, impressed by their valiant effort. Encouraged by the support, the Golden Leafs' frowns turned into very faint smiles. They finally trotted off the ice and headed back to their locker room.
In the locker room, the mood was silent once again. No one said a word as they undressed, still feeling the bitter disappointment of defeat. After a few minutes of wrangling up their items and cleaning up, the silence was finally broken. Not by a Golden Leaf, but by two Red Wings. Spitfire and Soarin walked in and faced the Ponyville squad. Spitfire walked up to Twilight and extended her hoof for a hoofshake.
"Soarin and I just wanted to come in and compliment you girls on a game well played. No one's pushed our team to the limit like you did tonight."
Twilight accepted Spitfire's hoofshake.
"Thank you. It really means a lot."
Soarin stepped in. "Don't get too down on yourselves. Keep it up and soon you guys will be regular contenders. We mean it."
The rest of the Golden Leafs smiled upon receiving this praise. Rainbow Dash was still sulking at her stall, upset about the loss.
Spitfire approached Rainbow with a smile. "Hey Rainbow, you had some pretty cool moves out there. Since we're still going to be in town tomorrow, you wanna hang out and show us around?"
Rainbow looked up at Spitfire and her icy frown melted to a big grin. "You bet! I'll see you tomorrow."
Spitfire and Soarin said goodbye to the Golden Leafs and left. Twilight was about to speak to her team when Spike ran into the room with a scroll. Twilight opened it and read it aloud.
"Dear Ponyville Golden Leafs,
I am very proud with your performance this evening. You showed passion and heart down on the ice. Most importantly, it appeared you were having fun. Do not let this loss dampen your spirits. I am confident you will reach greatness someday. I wish I could have visited you after the game but I had to return to Canterlot on official royal business. I greatly look forward to seeing you play in Canterlot soon.
Your Royal Highness,
Twilight looked up from the scroll to see her friends' faces. They looked much more upbeat and encouraged from the Wonderbolts' visit and the Princess Celestia's letter. Spike packed up the equipment and the Golden Leafs headed back to Twilight's treehouse.
Back at the treehouse, the girls were chatting and even sharing a few laughs. Spike lit the fireplace and each pony curled up in front of the fire to rest and to heal their sores. Twilight made hot chocolate with Pinkie Pie's help and handed them out. Twilight glanced at the schedule and saw their next game was in Appleloosa.
"Hey Applejack, do you think you could let your family in Appleloosa know we're coming? We're going to need to take a train there and we'll need a place to stay for the night. It would be very much appreciated."
"No problem, Twi. I'll send a message out to Braeburn and see what he can do. I'm lookin' forward to goin' back there to see him and Bloomberg again."
"Great." Twilight then spoke up for every pony to hear. "Okay girls. Tonight, we took another step towards winning. We had a lead and took the game to overtime. I'm proud of every one of you. With a little bit more practice and hard work, I'm sure we can get over the hump and win a game."
Pinkie giggled. "Silly Twilight. We're ponies! We don't have humps! Camels have humps!"
The others laughed at Pinkie and Twilight's exchange. After the laughs settled, Twilight continued.
"Our next game is in Appleloosa against the Black Apples. Applejack is going to work on getting us a ride there. Let's take a few days off then it's off to Appleloosa!"
"Yeah!" her friends shouted.
Even though Ponyville suffered another loss, the Golden Leafs gained valuable crunch time experience and held their first lead. Their effort was praised throughout Ponyville the following days. Ponyville citizens expressed their excitement for future Golden Leafs games whenever they saw one of the players roaming about the town. Seeing the excitement spreading through town gave Twilight and friends added confidence and a will to work harder so their fans could eventually witness a win. For now though, it was time to travel to Appleloosa to take on a new opponent.
To Be Continued
Three Stars for Cloudsdale @ Ponyville
* Spitfire (CRW)
** Pinkie Pie (PGL)
*** Rainbow Dash (PGL)
Other Scores Around the EHL (Home Team in CAPS)
MANEHATTAN 3, Fillydelphia 2
APPLELOOSA 3, Canterlot 0
EHL Standings (W-L)