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McNichols Sports Arena
Excerpt from Critical Conditions

McNichols Sports Arena

     All the rules had seemed to change in my relationship with Sam Purdy after he had exercised his cop discretion and chosen not to believe me after I confessed to him that I thought I had shot someone last October.
     Before that night we had enjoyed a friendship, but it was an odd hybrid of being buddies and being adversaries. We'd tried to enhance the relationship before; we bicycled together for a while, but that faded away from mutual neglect, and our friendship continued to languish within the bloody boundary lines where his police interests and my psychological acumen overlapped. We occasionally had breakfast together, sometimes spoke on the phone for no reason other than to stay in touch, and made vague plans about getting together that we rarely followed through on. Not once had Lauren and I rendezvoused socially with Sam and his wife, Sherry.
     But over the last winter things had evolved, and Sam and I started meeting away from work. The first couple of invitations were from me, generated, I think, by my persistent anxiety that he would change his mind about ignoring my confession and end up busting me for some capital offense related to that gun going off. Right from the start, though, the incident the previous October seemed dead for Sam. I tried to make sense of how something so monumental for me seemed so inconsequential to him. I finally decided that by behaving the way I did that night in October I had passed some initiation ritual that was meaningful for Sam in a way that I might never understand.  Maybe by caring enough to do what I did that night, I had crossed a line, joined some unnamed fraternity, earned some invisible stripe, and to Sam, I was now good enough to be a member of the club.
     What club? I don't know.
     Those first few meetings we met late, after nine at night, after Sam had tucked his son, Simon, into bed. Sherry was a morning person, and was usually in bed shortly after Simon. What Sam normally did during those late-evening hours with his family asleep, I don't know, but he seemed grateful for the opportunity to get together with me.
     For a month or so we struggled to find the right place to meet. We tried the brewpubs, Walnut and Oasis, and played some pool. We tried some coffeehouses. We met in a few of Boulder's bars--the West End, the Boulderado, even one memorable evening at Potter's. But nothing felt right until Sam decided that maybe I would be a suitable companion to accompany him to hockey games and invited me to Denver to watch the Colorado Avalanche.
     Sam had three season tickets in the second row of the second deck in the southeast corner of the arena.  One for him, one for Sherry, one for Simon. On a cop's salary, the tickets were a big investment.  On school nights, Sherry wouldn't let Sam take Simon along, so Sam was left to fend for himself on weeknight games. 
     Sam had been raised in northern Minnesota and had played hockey all his life.  The arrival of a National Hockey League team in Denver brought him joy that was hard for me to understand until he took it upon himself to begin to teach me about offensive defensemen and blue lines and two-line passes and clearing zones and delayed offsides and the importance of finishing checks. 
     During those late-winter games, I was a hockey student.  He instructed me about nuance without ever taking his eyes from the ice.
     And during the twenty-minute breaks between periods, Sam and I stopped being buddies and started becoming friends. 

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