R.1, R.2, R.3, R.4, R.7, W.3, SL.1, SL.2, L.4, L.5, L.6

The Save

What’s the difference between talent and luck? It might depend on who you ask.

Art by Natasha Donovan

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Courtesy Onondaga Nation

    Oren shifted the stick from one hand to the other. Even with the mask on his face, his padding, and his gloves, he was feeling naked. The goal behind him was 6 feet by 6 feet. But it seemed as big as a barn door now that he was the one guarding it. 

    In front of him were nine other Onondaga boys on the team. Perry Elm, the third defender and closest, turned to look over his shoulder at Oren.

    “No worries,” Perry said. “We got this. No one’s getting past us.”

    Oren nodded. He was actually on the same field with these guys, in a real game. His heart should have been pumping with excitement. He was finally playing the position he’d practiced for so very long. Instead, he was terrified.

    Why am I so upset?

    They were ahead 14-2. Only two minutes left. No way we can lose. That was why he, the third-string goalkeeper, had been given a chance.

    A chance to look like a bum.

    The team they were playing, the Buffalo Bulls, actually wasn’t that bad. But Oren’s team was winning because they were a whole lot better. After all, the Bulls weren’t buffaloes at all. They were just city kids.

    He’d bet none of them had ever set foot on a lacrosse field before they hit middle school. How many of them had held their first stick before they could even walk? How many of them had a grandfather like his who was a legend of the game? And not one of those kids on the visiting team was Indian.

    We are the Iroquois,

    we’re proud, we are strong

    That’s how Joanne Shenandoah sang it on his mom’s favorite CD. It was sort of a corny song, but it usually inspired him.

    Iroquois. We’re Iroquois. And everybody on our team is so much better than these guys.

    Except me.


    Oren tried to concentrate. But for some reason, his mind wandered back to when he was showing those Buffalo kids around. He’d been asked to be a tour guide. It was a way to make the third-string kids feel more useful, he guessed.

    He almost laughed remembering the city boys when they were given the short tour of the Rez before the game. The best moment came when they were taken up onto the hill to see the tribe’s buffalo herd.

“Wow,” one boy said. “Those are real!” 

    Another kid reached out to grab the fence. “Do they ever get out of there?” he said. He sounded nervous. 

    “Yup,” said Bill Jimmerson, the keeper of the herd. He was leading this part of the tour. “But only when they want to.”

    That was when the buffalo everyone on the Rez called Big Guy, the largest male in the herd, decided to show his sense of humor. He spun around and charged straight at the crowd.  

    To their credit, not all of the Buffalo Bulls ran or tripped over their feet as they tried to run away.

    As usual, Big Guy stopped inches away from the fence. Then he lowered his head so that Bill Jimmerson could reach through the fence to scratch behind his horns.

    “Wow,” said a thin, long-armed kid whose sweatshirt had a number 10. He was shaking his head and smiling as he stepped back up to the fence. “That is how to charge the goal.”

    “You bet, Masterson,” said the slightly shorter boy by his side. Like his friend, he’d stepped back but hadn’t run for his life when Big Guy charged. The shorter boy’s sweatshirt had a large number 7.

    Number 7.

    A whistle sounded.

Wake up!

    Oren looked up the field. The ball had been put back into play.


    There actually were a couple of pretty good players on that Buffalo team. Numbers 10 and 7. The two kids who’d admired Big Guy. They’d scored the only goals. One each against Lee Elm, his team’s second-string goalie. Lee was good and would for sure be guarding the goal next year after Phil—the first-string goalie—graduated.

    Number 10 and Number 7. Both of them were now heading Oren’s way, passing the ball back and forth between them. 

    Be a panther in the goal.

    That was how his grandfather put it to him.

    Oren crouched. He could feel his heart beating now. 

    A panther. Be a panther, he thought.

    Number 10 had the ball.

    Masterson, Oren remembered. That’s his name.

    Everything was in slow motion now. 

    Masterson was getting ready to make a shot. The ball was about to leave the webbing just as Number 7 charged Oren. 

    Oren tried to leap with his stick up to stop the shot. But as he did so, his feet crossed. His legs tangled together at the exact moment when Number 7 ran into him.

    Oren flipped in midair and landed flat on his belly. He couldn’t move. The wind had been knocked out of him like a piece of Bubble Wrap stomped on by a boot.

    I really am a bum was all he could think.

    A whistle sounded.

    The game was over. People were shouting.

    “All right!”

    “What a move!”

    They’re praising that goal scored while I was belly flopping, Oren thought.

    Then he realized the voices were those of his own teammates.

    And it was not just his own guys who’d been impressed. Number 10 and Number 7 were leaning down on either side of him.

    “Man,” Masterson said. “That was amazing!”

    Oren looked down at the stick in his left hand. There, held in the webbing, was the ball.

    Coach White was patting him on the shoulder. “Oren, my man, you may take Phil’s slot next season,” the coach said.

    I should tell everyone it was an accident, Oren thought.

    But he didn’t.


    My door is always open. That was what his grandfather always said to Oren.

    And it was. When Oren got to his grandfather’s cabin, the door wasn’t locked. But his grandfather wasn’t there. There was a note on the door.

    Gone to council meeting

    Come on in

    Food’s in the fridge

    Oren pushed the door open and went straight to the fridge.

    He was sitting at the kitchen table, finishing off his fourth piece of fried chicken, when his grandfather arrived.

    “Sge:no,” his grandfather said. It was the old greeting, a word that simply meant “peace.”

    “Sge:no,” Oren replied.

    “Leave me any of that bird?” his grandfather asked. He chuckled as he pulled up a chair.

    “Not much,” Oren said.

    “No problem,” his grandfather replied. “Plenty more at Firekeepers. Still hungry?”

    Oren nodded. These days he was always hungry. Probably because of that growth spurt his mom said he was about to have. It couldn’t come fast enough. Oren was tired of being half a head shorter than the other boys on the team.

    “Ready?” his grandfather said.

    “Born ready,” Oren replied.

    The two of them set off walking.

Art by Natasha Donovan


iStockPhoto/Getty Images

    It wasn’t that far to Firekeepers. No more than a mile. It was the restaurant where everyone on the Rez liked to eat. 

    They sat at their usual table. So usual that the waitress brought out the plate of fry bread, two bowls of buffalo chili, and two glasses of water without their having to order.

    The food disappeared quickly. They sat there for a while in silence, looking out the open window to Oren’s right. One of the Jemison boys was trying to start his three-wheeler.

    “Wish I could have been at the game today rather than that council meeting,” his grandfather finally said. “Heard you made a great play.”

    Oren shook his head. “No,” he said.

    His grandfather didn’t say anything. He just looked at Oren, raising an eyebrow.

    Oren took a deep breath. Then he explained it all, how it had been nothing more than a happy accident. How he felt like a fraud. How he shouldn’t be getting any praise at all.

    His grandfather shook his head. “I think it was more than that. I’ve watched you practice. You have good reflexes. Sometimes we can do things that surprise even ourselves. Plus, what’s wrong with luck?”

    Oren stood up. He wasn’t sure why. It was hard for him to sit and listen to his grandfather trying to make him believe he wasn’t a loser.

    What happened next was hard for even Oren to explain. There was a loud bang and a spurt of fire from the Jemison boy’s ATV. Then something whizzed through the air toward them. Oren found himself flying right over the table, like a big cat. He knocked his grandfather to the floor. A piece of sharp metal spun over their heads.

    “Gramps,” Oren said, jumping to his feet. He looked down at his grandfather lying on his back. “Are you OK?”

    His grandfather smiled up at him. “Better than I would have been if that hit me,” he said.

    Suddenly there were people all around them.

    “You see what that boy did?”

    “I never saw anything like it.”

    His grandfather held out a hand and let Oren help him up.

    “Well,” he chuckled. “Nya:weh, Grandson. Thank you! Remember what I said about you having good reflexes? No way are you going to feel bad about this save.”

    “I guess so.” Oren grinned. 

Meet the Author

Eric Jenks 

Joseph Bruchac is a writer and traditional storyteller who lives in Upstate New York. He is the author of more than 170 books for young readers and adults. Much of his work is inspired by his Native American (Abenaki) ancestry.

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