February 9, 2017

All By Myself

I just marked my fifth year playing net after coming back to hockey after 25 years away but this isn't a retrospective entry. It's a reminder that no goalie stands alone on the ice.

Regular readers here know that my Puck Hawgs team ran through the Lower 'B' division like shit through a goose last season and won the championship. This season we haven't missed a beat since moving to Upper 'B'. Last week I had the nerve to remind the team before the game that we had a 17 game winning streak going.

What was I thinking?

We were down 4-0 by the beginning of the second period. I had "that" game. The kind of game that nearly every goalie has had- usually more than one. I couldn't track the puck. I was out of position and off-angle. The goals poured into my net. Every time my team managed to get something going, I let another one in and we sunk back into a hole. I was not only losing the game for us but I was ending the kind of winning streak rarely seen in beer league hockey.

Then this happened.

I was done. I resigned myself to a loss and worse, letting my guys down. But I guess they didn't believe it. I watched as the twelve other guys on the Puck Hawgs worked harder and dug deeper for the next five minutes of that game than maybe any other time in any game or season before. We tied the game with two minutes left and the game-winning goal was scored with under a minute remaining.

I was numb skating through the handshake line and I grinned and again shook the hand of every Puck Hawg in the locker room. I couldn't believe what they'd done.

I've had a week to think about that game. I don't want to break sticks and act the idiot and I don't think I inspired anyone with my antics. What I have been reminded of is that, win or lose, it doesn't happen by myself. I've long known that at this level, I'm not winning any games single-handedly and I guess my team is trying to make sure I can't lose a game all by myself either.

18 in a row baby. I don't think I'll mention that before tonight's game.

December 27, 2016

Let Me Try That!

This is my pal Brian. He isn't a goalie.

After the ordeal
Brian is a solid player. He skates well, scores goals and is a great teammate. He's fit too. In fact, in the world of beer league players he is likely in top 10%. Mind you the vast majority of us like drinking beer more than visiting a gym and some us have trouble getting out bed the day after a game. Brian is a fit, athletic and strong player.

Brian wanted to try being a goalie and I happened to be there for the Christmas morning Stick & Puck at which he suited up.

Unplanned, I decided to document the event and ask Brian to recap his experience in his own words:

How long have you been thinking about trying to play net?

In the last year or so. I really started to think about it more seriously when our goalie wasn't able to show up one night and someone had to draw the short-straw. I didn't get the chance to play that night but it stuck with me.

Can you describe what getting dressed was like?

I felt like a mite who's mom or dad was in the dressing room helping them get dressed. Some of the pads I had seen before, but things like the extra set of knee pads were new to me. It actually wasn't that bad, and was much quicker than I thought, but it certainly takes some effort.

How did you feel getting ready to go on the ice?

I was much more confident in my natural athletic ability to make at least a couple of saves before I actually strapped on all the gear. Once I was dressed, I thought "I hope I'm able to actually skate with all of this on." I wasn't really nervous to have pucks hit me, thankfully, because that seems like it could be big barrier to actually being a netminder.

"I've seen goalies on TV"
What was your experience being on goalie skates the first few minutes?

They're definitely different, that's for sure. I got around on them OK . I just cruised around to get a feel for being on the ice with different skates and double the gear. Not having any rocker radius was tricky. Once I was in the crease, I felt a lot less nimble than I am on player skates.

Where did you learn your stance?

TV, NHL video games, watching other goalies on teams I've played on, basically everywhere except any type of formal training or even tips from people that knew more than me. I play goalkeeper in soccer, so I had a pretty good understanding of positioning myself between the object used to score, and the yawning net behind me.

What were your feelings facing the first few shots?

Honestly, frustrating. Even though the people shooting on me were trying to give me nice, easy cupcakes to stop, I felt myself almost forcing a save attempt instead of letting the pucks come to me. It was pretty exhilarating though to have that frozen rubber flying at me.

What did it feel like making saves or seeing the puck go by?

Making a save was awesome. I didn't make anything spectacular, but I made a couple based on pure athletic ability alone that I was proud of. Watching the puck go by was tough, mostly because I didn't see them go by. Getting used to the mask, and looking through the cage to focus on the puck was a challenge. Every puck that hit my pads and didn't go in had me yearning for more. I couldn't control rebounds, and had a hard time knowing where the puck was when it dropped, but it was a little ego boost each time I looked in the net and didn't see pucks.

Can you talk about the physical challenges?

I'm sore in places I didn't know I had! Dropping down into the butterfly and getting back up was so much more exhausting than I could have ever imagined. Facing no more than 5 shots had me gassed to the point that I was bent over my leg pads sucking wind. Staying in a proper position - skates outside of shoulders, hands forward and glove up ready to make a save was just as hard as actually trying to make that save. Pushing across the crease once I was down was nearly impossible, and keeping myself from dropping down on 1 knee instead of 2 was a huge struggle. I'm not even going to mention the trouble I had getting back up if I happened to roll over on one side or the other, but a baby deer trying to stand for the first time comes to mind.

"Puck goes where?"
What were your takeaways from an hour in net?

Playing net is so much fun, but so incredibly frustrating. I would definitely try it again, but won't be hanging up my player gear any time soon.

What are two things you want to share with fellow players about being in net?

Never ever complain about your goalie's ability to make saves until you've tried it. Facing more than a few shots while the play is in your zone is exhausting in itself, never mind when you've given up 30+ shots to the other team.

Stop going in for breakaways during warm-ups. It takes too much effort to make those saves and doesn't actually help your goalie get ready for game time decisions. Most stops they'll face will come from further out, or will have defenders there to help try to block or interrupt shots.

Thanks Brian for letting me share your experience. I hope more players decide to try out being a goalie for a day. Maybe some of you will decide to stay between the pipes. The world needs more goalies.