It is far too early in the season to be handing out report cards (if it isn’t, we’d be really scared about Mirtle’s projection of 57 points for the Devils), but if we can’t hand out report cards, we at least need to have a parent-teacher conference with Mr. and Mrs. Devils. We have some concerns and hope that by addressing them now the Devils can pull themselves together before they spiral into in-house suspension territory. Here at IPB Academy, we believe parent-teacher conferences are informal discussions that don’t need the stress of actual numbers brought into the equation. There will be time enough for stats, wins and losses when report card time rolls around. So with the halls bedecked with the players’ construction paper artwork, we invited Mr. and Mrs. Devils to the classroom for a little chat:
IPB: Thanks for coming in today to talk with us, Mr. and Mrs. Devils.
Mr. & Mrs. D: [Settling uncomfortably into child-sized chairs] Should we be concerned about our child?
IPB: [Laughing in a combination of nervousness and condescension] Well, “concerned” is a very strong word, but… yes. Yes you should be.
Mrs. D: [Clutches pearls] Oh no! I knew we should never have moved! All the travel, all the uncertainty, all the unfamiliar surroundings! [Spins on Mr. D] This is all your fault!
Mr. D: My fault? But our old house was about to be condemned! We had no choice! And weren’t you the one complaining just last week about how the rats chewed through the sofa?!
IPB: Please, please — this isn’t about finger-pointing or laying blame. We just wanted to talk to you today about the warning signs we’re seeing; for so many years your child has been the model student, but suddenly this year… well.
Mrs. D: [Muffled sobbing]
Mr. D: [Pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs heavily] He’s underachieving again, isn’t he? He did this last year! And the year before! We did what he asked, we got him new babysitters every time he got tired of the old one, but nothing helped!
IPB: Yes, we remember that. All too well. But there’s something different about this year — something troubling. [Reaches into a drawer in the desk and pulls out a sheaf of papers; the papers are fingerpaintings done by the class.] Look at these. [Spreads the paintings out on the desk]
Mrs. D: [Looks over the papers, then points at one depicting, fairly clearly yet still sloppily, a house with a tree and a dog beside it] Is that our boy’s?
IPB: [Darkly] No.
Mr. D: [Picks one out that looks like The Ghent Altarpiece] Is that one his?
IPB: [Lets out an involuntary bark of laughter] Good heavens, no. The Senators did that one. No, this one is your child’s. [Holds up a painting that is made up of ugly, directionless smudges of mud browns and bile yellows. The overall effect of the painting is nothing less than disturbing.]
Mrs. D: [Choked with tears] Oh God!
Mr. D: I don’t understand.
IPB: Well, we promised not to bring numbers into this, but we just can’t help it. Three wins in ten games. A 69% efficient penalty kill. 3.4 goals against per game.
Mr. D: [Interjecting, his face turning bright red] WHAT?? He told me his numbers were good! He said he was doing just fine!
IPB: [Gently] No. No he’s not. But it’s not too late!
Mrs. D: [Stepping in over Mr. D's inarticulate, strangled rage] But how can that be? Those numbers… [waves hankie absently] …a team can’t just overcome that kind of start, can they? I mean, it’s all lost! Our boy’s a failure!
IPB: This is where we have to leave numbers out of it, because we’re not sure what the precedent is with this kind of start, but there’s no reason to abandon all hope. The Devils might be 28th overall in the league right now, but the season doesn’t end until April.
Mr. D: [Bitterly sarcastic] Plenty of time to drop to 30th. Looks like we’ll be able to join Mr. and Mrs. Coyotes on that trip to the Bahamas in April, after all.
IPB: Now, now…
Mrs. D: Maybe this is just a question of the grading systems not being fair! Maybe our boy’s talents aren’t what you can really accurately assess with stats and grades?
IPB: We’ve tried to give the Devils the benefit of the doubt, for sure. [Gets up, walks to the window, and looks out at the last of the autumn leaves clinging to the tree branches outside] We mean, yes, there was the long road trip, and then the new house, and there’s the new system and the new coach… but there’s only so long before we have to say that we’re gravely concerned. [Turns back to face Mr. and Mrs. D] And we would like for you two to keep an eye on your child’s latest behavioral trends when he’s at home, away from the classroom.
Mr. D: [Darkly suspicious] Behavioral trends?
IPB: Yes. Unfortunately, your child is demonstrating some severe dysfunction.
Mrs. D: [Tittering laugh] Oh, but when doesn’t our boy act at least a little bit dysfunctional? Dysfunction is really his calling card!
IPB: We know what you’re talking about, Mrs. Devils, and we agree — we’ve had many good years with your child, enjoying his little eccentricities. But this year we’re not so sure this isn’t a sign of something far more sinister.
Mr. and Mrs. D: [Staring in silent, wide-eyed apprehension]
IPB: He’s lashing out internally.
Mrs. D: Wh… what?
IPB: Lashing out. At himself. Internally. The coach is calling out players –
Mr. D: [Interjecting] It’s about damn time!
IPB: But the players aren’t learning anything from it. Johnny Oduya continues to drop his stick on key plays, even after costing the team a win on Long Island, and Patrik Elias seems to think being called out is a good thing because it means the coach thinks he’s “important”.
Mr. D: That Elias isn’t right in the head. Never has been.
IPB: That’s not for us to decide. The problem is bigger than just one player.
Mrs. D: [Pathetically hopeful] This is all part of the new-coach learning process. We read about it on the internet, and it said it can take months for it to play out. Now that we’re in our new house, now that things are normalizing… the players will start to understand what the coach means when he calls them out in the media.
IPB: [Dryly] The coach called out Johnny Oduya, but benched Mike Mottau.
Mr. D: He benched Mottau? But Mottau was our best defenseman!
IPB: Our point exactly.
Mr. D: [Eyes narrowing meanly] Is it Brodeur’s fault?
IPB: It was, at first. But not anymore. Now everyone is sucking, and he’s finally starting to look to be back on track.
Mrs. D: [Suddenly outraged and lashing out blindly] Where’s Lou while all of this is going on? He’s always been there to fix things when they started getting crazy in the past!
IPB: Excellent question, Mrs. Devil. That’s probably the reason we’re most concerned right now. In previous years, when your child has been more successful, this sort of behavior would have prompted some kind of drastic response, or, at the very least, a knee-jerk coach-firing. But Lou has been strangely absent, perhaps even inattentive.
Mr. D: Oh, forget it! Just forget all about it! Clearly there’s only one thing we can do — send him to military school.
IPB: [Shocked] Military school? Oh no! We don’t want you to take your child out of our class. We truly care deeply about the Devils; in fact, we shouldn’t say this because the other children might hear about it, but we love your child the best.
Mrs. D: [Watery smile] You do?
IPB: [Blushing] We’re supposed to be objective, being the teacher here, but we just can’t help it. And we probably do a bad job of hiding it. Which is why we’re meeting with you right now and not, say, Mr. and Mrs. Ducks or Mr. and Mrs. Rangers.
Mrs. D: [Conspiratorially] I hear Mr. and Mrs. Rangers are both seeing other people on the side. And they’re drug addicts.
IPB: That wouldn’t surprise us, but that’s neither here nor there.
Mrs. D: Right. Sorry. I can’t help myself.
IPB: Look, Mr. and Mrs. Devils: there’s only so much we can do. We’re here to support, cheer for, and love your child, but we can’t affect any real change. We need for you two to step in and get your child back in line. There have been flashes of competence at times this season, if not brilliance, but for the most part the only thing the Devils have done consistently is look overwhelmed and discombobulated. Can’t you, as parents, help your child find a comfortable state of mind? A happy mental place he can retreat to when things aren’t going well? A sense of steadiness?
Mr and Mrs. D: Umm… probably not.
IPB: [Sighing heavily] Well then, can you book us for that trip to the Bahamas, too?
Mr. D: [Surprisingly excited] Mr. Coyotes told me we’re going on the cruise ship Lottery Pick! It’s very swanky.
IPB: [Brightening] Really? Do tell…