NORWALK — The ice, scarred by skates in the patterns fingernails make on a frosted window, had been cleared of all the young hockey players except two.
"Penalty shot! Penalty shot!"
From the bench of the Norwalk Condors, the breath that expelled these words came out in white clouds.
A Condor stood in the desolate expanse of the rink's center, ready to charge the goalie of the Raiders from St. Albert/Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and try to tie the score, which was Canada 2, Norwalk 1.
"That's David Ahn. He's our best player," said a Condor on the bench.
Ahn, 4 feet 7 and 80 pounds, wore glasses behind his plastic face mask.
The Condors' parents, bundled in parkas in the three-row grandstand, set up a commotion incongruous to the hour, which was 7 a.m. on Memorial Day.
The referee blew his whistle.
Time, like everything else in the Norwalk Ice Arena, froze for this confrontation between 10-year-olds.
Ahn weaved toward the net, moving the puck professionally with his stick.
The goalie, Billy Russell, waited.
Russell blocked the puck.
Ahn flailed his stick on the ice, then returned downcast to the bench.
Parents Offer Encouragement
An adult slapped the backs of Ahn and the other Condors, and said, "You guys are doing great out there, you're doing great."
But before his white clouds of breath dissipated, Canada had scored again and it was now 3-1.
This was a key game in the third annual Norwalk Mite California Invitational Tournament, which was played over the holiday weekend and also included teams from Ontario, Culver City, Fresno and Denver. Boys ages 7 to 10 are in the Mite Division.
As could be expected, a hockey team from Southern California was at a disadvantage--in skill and experience--in a game against one from Canada. The Condors played only 20 regular-season games (winning 17), while Canada had played 65.
"We don't often play this level of competition," said Norwalk Coach Brian Chwan. "And they've had more practice than we have. We practice one hour a week. We lack a lot of what is required . . . in game situations."
The Raiders were more adept skaters, which was no surprise to Chwan, a native of Canada.
"(In Canada), from the time you can walk you are skating," he said.
The hope for an upset was renewed when 50-pound winger Shane Oh slapped in a goal to cut the lead to 3-2. That pleased Oh's mother, a woman in black leather pants who came down to the bench and squirted water from a plastic bottle into the mouths of the Condors.
But Canada responded with two quick goals.
Late in the second period, the Condor parents kept cheering and advising:
"Pass to David! Pass to David!"
"Just think a little bit!"
"Shoot it, Shane!"
"Let's go, Condors . . . Let's go, Condors."
Center Nolan Thompson scored to make it 5-3. A parent clanged a bell.
"Two more, Condors, two more!"
But there wouldn't be any more.
Opponents Take Penalty Shot
In the frantic efforts to score and prevent goals, bodies tumbled in front of the nets, forming multicolored pileups--the black and gold of Norwalk mixing with Canada's white and red.
When a Raider, Jarome Iginla, broke free toward the goal, Ahn threw his stick at him--an infraction that meant Canada would now attempt a penalty shot.
"Wake up, ref," yelled a woman in a blue coat.
Now it was Iginla who was the lonely player at center ice. He looked down at Chico Ramos, the Condors goalie.
"Chico, Chico," was the plea from the stands.
Iginla sped toward the goal, faked and flipped the puck past Ramos.
While Canada celebrated, Chico threw his stick. Then, as he kicked at the puck, he tripped and fell into the cage in a heap of disgust.
The referee gave Chico a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
For most of the third period, the Condors played two players short because of penalties and the Raiders quickly advanced the score to 9-3.
Beyond one swipe with his stick at a passing scorer, Chico showed no further emotion.
Loss Eliminated the Condors
On the bench, the Condors leaned forward, their heads resting on their sticks.
"We've lost," Casey Flanagan said to Jason Newlin.
"No we haven't, it's not over," Jason said.
But soon it was.
Subdued by the 11-3 final score, the spectators applauded as the teams exchanged handshakes.
Chico's mother and little sister began unfastening his pads, which were studded with ice shavings.
"I'm not mad at your performance," Sammi Ramos of Bellflower said to her son. "It's your attitude. That's what you have to work on."
Chico, cumbersome in the uniform, undershirts and protective equipment that expanded his 100-pound bulk, listened but said nothing, despite his sister Muffi's attempt to cheer him up with a stuffed animal.
Sammi Ramos, a hockey referee who has called penalties on her son during games, told a visitor, "I guess I should be proud he only gets one or two penalties a game, rather than throwing fits. When he was 5 he would lay down in the net and kick his feet and pound his arms."
The defeat knocked the Condors out of the tournament.
"For their climate they play really well," said Fred Miller, coach of the Canadian team, which won the tournament hours later with a 4-0 victory over Denver.
Miller's players, though, seemed impressed more by palm trees than the Condors.
"We swamped 'em," said Corey Osland, 9, his mouth full of bubble gum.