“All right, team, if we win this game, we’re going to the national finals in Grayton! Now let’s go out there and clean their clocks!”
“Yeah!” the Dragonflies cried out in unison.
“Minoko! I agreed to let you let you give the pep talk as long as you didn’t encourage fighting,” a chagrined Clever Clover said. “Now, team, we’re going to play fair and give it our best; and if we do that, we will be going to the finals.”
“And if that fails, we just gotta have Belle Star root for the other guys. Who are we playing against?”
“That’s not good. She’ll never root for a python over a dragonfly, unless… I wonder if she knows that a python is a snake?”
“Minoko, don’t go lying to her about anything. It’s just a coincidence that she always roots for the losing team. And to prove it, I’ve asked her to cheer as loud as she can for the Dragonflies today. When you hear Belle Star’s voice cheering you on today, remember, she believes in you; but you need to believe in yourselves if you’re going to win. So do you believe in yourselves?”
* * *
The Dragonflies played a good game, but the Pythons matched them move for move. The last seconds of the final period were ticking away. The Dragonflies had the puck, but the Python defense was blocking every move they made on the goal. Suddenly, a Python player stole the puck and made a long shot on the Dragonflies’ goal. The goalie jumped to block the puck, just barely catching it on his shin pad, deflecting it from the goal just as the clock ran out. The buzzer sounded and the teams made for their respective benches.
“All right, Dragonflies, you’re doing great. The Pythons may be good, but I know you are better. You just need to stay focused. One more goal and the game is ours. I know you can do it.”
The Dragonflies took to the ice. The Pythons took control of the puck and drove for the Dragonflies’ goal. They shot for the goal, but the Dragonflies’ goalie blocked the shot and passed the puck across the rink to a Dragonfly waiting by the Pythons’ goal. The Python goalie skated between the Dragonfly and the goal. Belle Star was jumping up and down in the stands. “Go Dragonflies! Yeah! Wo-ho!” The Dragonfly passed the puck past the goal to a waiting teammate who shot the puck behind the goalies back for a score.
* * *
“We won!” Minoko slapped Clever Clover on the shoulder. “Ha! I knew we could do it!”
Clever Clover waved his cap in the air. “Good work, team!”
Belle Star was jumping up and down in the stands clapping and cheering loudly. The Dragonflies skated off the ice in a jubilant mood.
“All right! Grayton, here we come!” Minoko cried as she high-fived Clever Clover, almost knocking him over.
* * *
Clever Clover sat at his kitchen table. “You know, Minoko, I’m really impressed. You’ve become quite the assistant coach. Of course, after you won two games while I was away at the Isle, I should have expected it. I just wish you hadn’t lied to Belle Star about the names of the other teams.”
“Eh, whatever it takes to win. That’s my strategy.”
“Hm. Well, she won’t be going to Grayton, so it won’t do any good to lie to her anymore.”
“I was just toying with her. Mm, but this trip is going to be great fun. It’ll be the first time you and I went anywhere together.”
“Just remember that it won’t just be the two of us. We’ll have the whole team along, so don’t try anything funny.”
* * *
The next week was tense with anticipation. The Dragonflies trained hard for the big game in Grayton. On the morning of the day the team was leaving, Belle Star stopped by Clever Clover’s house bright and early to say goodbye.
“Oh, Clever Clover, I’m so excited for you! I wish I could go with you but I will be rooting for the Dragonflies!”
“Hey! We may have won the last game, but we shouldn’t push our luck.”
“Minoko! Cut it out. Belle Star is not a jinx. Sorry about that, Belle. She’s just excited about the big game. I appreciate it, and I appreciate your taking care of Pixie and Ryo while we’re gone.”
“It’s no problem. They’re so cute and cuddly!”
“Well, we’ve got to be going. Bye, Belle Star. See you in three days.”
“Bye Clever Clover, bye Minoko.”
“Yeah, whatever. See ya later.”
* * *
Clever Clover, Minoko, and the Dragonflies arrived at the crowded airport. “Alright everybody, stick together.” Clever Clover was trying to keep the rambunctious youths in line but with limited success.
Morning Glory called out to Clever Clover over the crowd. “Clever Clover! I’ve got something I need to discuses with you before you leave!” She pushed her way through the mass of ponies to reach the purple prince.
“Is it really that important? I’ve sort of got my hooves full at the moment.”
Minoko waved her hooves in the air. “All right, Dragonflies! Listen up! I want you in line and quiet! We’re a hockey team, not a bunch of hooligans!” The dragonflies jumped at Minoko’s orders and fell into line. “There you go, coach. The team is under control.”
“Thanks, Minoko. Now, Morning Glory, what is it?”
“Well, as you know, I have volunteered to assist you in your princely duties here in Friendship Gardens; and as this will be your first absence since I have assumed this role, I thought that we should discuses how to deal with any situations that might arise.”
“Oh, yeah, that. Usually when something is up, Raven or Foxglove send me a letter either summoning me to the Isle or explaining what to do. I assume they will let you know if anything needs to be done.”
“Yes, but what if one of our ponies in Friendship Gardens has some request or need?”
“Aside from you and me, the only Isle pony I know of in Friendship Gardens is Lady Moonshine.”
Minoko appeared between the prince and princess. “Hey, what about me? I’m an Isle pony. Just because I was banished doesn’t change the fact that I was born and raised on the Isle and I am one of your people.”
“Sorry. I know you’re from the Isle but you aren’t on the best of terms with the rulership. I didn’t think you really considered yourself to be one of us.”
“Hey, I may act tough and pretend to take things lightly, but I am proud of my heritage. I guess I’ve been an outcast so long I’ve forgotten what it’s like to belong. But now that I’m part of a team, part of the Dragonflies, I am remembering. I… I’m beginning to long for home.”
Morning Glory glared crossly at the pirate pony. “Are you through?”
“Oh, sure, I bare my soul and that’s the response I get, ‘Are you through?’ Sheesh, I should have kept my mouth shut.”
“Morning Glory, she is one of our people. You shouldn’t just brush her off like that.”
“Oh, all right. I’m sorry, Minoko. I’ll try to take you more seriously from now on.”
Minoko turned away from the princess. “Yeah right.”
“Well, if there’s nothing else, Morning Glory, we’ve got to be boarding our plane. Goodbye.”
“I guess not. Goodbye Clever Clover, and good luck.”
Minoko led the Dragonflies onto the plane and took her seat next to Clever Clover. “Well, nothing to do now but wait.” She leaned close to the prince.
“Hey, Minoko, did you mean what you said back there about belonging?”
“Of course. Did you think I was just making it up?”
“Well, no. I didn’t really know what to think. But I hoped you were serious.”
* * *
The plane landed in Grayton and the Dragonflies checked in to their hotel. “All right everybody, I want you to hit the hay right away. You’re going to need your rest for the big game tomorrow.”
“Great idea, get the twerps out of the way so we grown-ups can have some fun.”
“Minoko. We should be getting to bed also.”
Minoko threw her arms around Clever Clover’s neck. “You don’t waste any time, do you?”
“I meant we should each be going to our own beds and get to sleep.”
* * *
The next morning, after a large breakfast, the team made their way to the rink to warm up for the game. The other team, the Bigfoots, was also there, warming up on the other side of the rink. The Bigfoots’ coach, a large pony named Billy, skated over to Clever Clover and Minoko. “Hey there! How’s it going?” Billy extended his hoof to Clever Clover.
“Hi. Everything’s good. We’re looking forward to a great game.”
“Well, don’t worry about that. My Bigfoots are gonna give it their all.”
“Yeah? Well, the Dragonflies won’t go down without a fight!”
“Calm down, Minoko. Remember what I told you about starting fights.”
“I didn’t mean that literally.”
Billy laughed. “Ha! If your team is half as determined as your assistant coach, this is going to be the best game ever!”
Clever Clover nodded. “Yep. They’re some great kids.”
“Well, I’ll leave you to your warm-ups.” Billy skated off.
“That was nice of him, coming over to talk to us like that.”
“Yeah, right, he was just looking for signs of weakness. Back when I was pirating I’d often engage a ship’s captain in ‘friendly’ conversation before I attacked.”
“Uh, Minoko, this is youth hockey, not piracy on the high seas.”
“A battle’s a battle, no matter where or how it’s fought.”
“The difference is that in a real battle there is a lot more at stake than a plastic trophy.”
“I guess. But I still don’t trust him.”
* * *
The warm up was over and the game about to begin. Clever Clover and Minoko gave their final instructions to the team before they took to the ice.
“All right Dragonflies, you’ve got to give it your best if we want to beat the Bigfoots. We’ve come this far, so I know we’ve got what it takes. All that’s left is for you to go out there and win!”
“And show no fear,” Minoko added. “If they see any weakness, they’ll walk all over you. Be strong and we will win!”
“Yeah!” the team cheered in unison.
* * *
The timer ran down and the buzzer rang, ending the game. Minoko’s jaw dropped in disbelief. “How could we lose? The kids were on fire, but we lost. What happened?”
“It’s just a game, Minoko. The kids had fun and hopefully will have learned something. We may not have had the high score, but we didn’t lose.”
The Dragonflies headed for the locker room somewhat crestfallen. Clever Clover tried to cheer them up. “Come on, guys, you did good out there. The Bigfoots are a good team and there is no shame in losing to them. And just think, if we face off against them in the finals again next year, it will be all the sweeter when we beat them.”
Billy came barging into the Dragonflies’ locker room. “Hey, coach! Great game! Listen, your team did such a good job today I’ve decided to treat them to pizza. It’ll give the teams a chance to get to know each other off the ice.”
“That’s awfully kind of you. Hey, Minoko, doesn’t that sound like fun.”
“Minoko, are you okay?”
Clever Clover turned back to Billy. “Why don’t you just take the kids. I think me and Minoko need some time to ourselves.”
“Sure thing. I’ll drop the kids off at the hotel later. Hey kids, you up for pizza!?”
* * *
Once coach Billy and the kids had left, Clever Clover sat down next to Minoko. “What’s wrong, Minoko? Why are you taking this so hard?”
“It’s nothing. I’m fine. You should have gone with the kids. I know how much you like pizza.”
“You’re upset. I couldn’t just leave you alone. You’ve got to talk it out. Why don’t the two of us go to a nice restaurant and we can discuses it over supper?”
“Are you asking me out on a date?” Minoko almost smiled.
“Uh, no, not really. At a time like now you need a friend.”
Minoko lay her head on Clever Clover’s shoulder. “Thank you.”