February 23, 2018

Beer League Imposters

That's my buddy Zach on the left, standing next to me after a recent 'B' division game. He filled in for a team that didn't have a goalie for the game– a common occurrence that keeps goalies on the ice up to 7 nights a week if you want.

If you asked him, he'd tell you he's a solid 'D' division goaltender with aspirations to play full-time in 'C'. He'd tell you he's no 'B' goalie and has no business playing at that level. In this game he was an imposter.

When I came back to play net I struggled to relearn the position. Butterfly wasn't something in my vocabulary and my first few seasons were mired in beginner divisions. I struggled mightily and so did my teams. A little time passed and I started relearning the fundamentals, invested in modern equipment and was able to sub for a few teams in 'D' and eventually 'C'. Each time I played a game in a higher division I felt like an imposter. I had no business playing net in games where skaters could control the puck, shoot harder and faster and knew their own positions.

Today I mostly play in upper divisions including a state tournament in the 'A' division (a tale for another day) and playing with my regular teams I don't feel like an imposter anymore. That's because I have a team of guys who support me on and off the ice and they have come to trust me to be at least as good as a bale of hay in the crease on any given night.

I wouldn't be playing upper divisions without leaping into sub games and often failing. Each time I learned new things about the position and what it took to play. Eventually I stuck and now I get sub game offers from lots of upper teams.

Beer league goalies probably worry too much about letting teams down. I know I do. But most nights a team is just grateful they aren't skating 6 with nobody in net and so each of us should grab every opportunity to stretch our skills and find new limits. Be an imposter until you aren't.

How did Zach do in his first 'B' game? I was proud of my friend for taking the leap and he played a great game. I hope to see him in the opposing net again soon.

January 22, 2018

Falling Down a Mountain

Listen up beer league players. I'm going to lay down some wisdom you are going to want to hear.

Warm-ups are under way and you are either sniping your own goalie when he isn't looking or blasting slappers off the side boards. Do yourself a favor. Take 10 seconds and watch the opposing goaltender while he warms up.

Is he:
A. Drunk
B. Fat
C. Old

Pick any two and and it he fits, then I am going to give you the Recipe for a Win and maybe a goal or two off your own blade.

Playing goalie is exhausting. On a typical night, beer league goalies can see anywhere from 25 (low) to 60 (high) shots in a game. But watch your own goalie not the puck while you sit resting between shifts. For every shot that gets blocked or misses the net, at least half of the time he has to play it like its on net. Watch as he drops down to the ice as the puck goes down low and now he has to push from post to post as the puck cycles. Notice when it pops back to point, he's getting back onto his skates to square up for another possible shot. See how he has to shuffle across tracking the puck as it moves across the blue line? All of this takes a lot of energy.

Now imagine doing that for 30-60 seconds while your team fights for possession only to turn it over at your own blue line and the whole sequence starts again. Can't imagine it? Then strap on some goalie gear and go to a drop in.

To be certain there are young, fit beer league goalies who can play three back-to-back games and barely work up a sweat, I am not one of them and if you see someone like me instead of them in the warm up then here are your keys to victory:

  • Shoot early and often– who cares if its 4 feet wide? The goalie will play it and it results in an up/down for him.
  • Cycle the puck down low– Once he's down make him go side to side as much as possible.
  • Back to the point– Now that he's down on the ice, get it back to the point and make him pop back up.
  • Draw a penalty and repeat items above– its super effective when you are a man up.
  • Retain possession in the offense zone for as long as possible to maximize the effect.
If the opposing goalie is like me, then after a period or two of this he will not only be pretty tired but he will begin questioning the choices that put him into net.

If you follow the Ancient Netminder's Recipe for Success, then by the start of the 3rd period, he's been tracking 40+ shots and gone down to the ice and back up roughly 65 times in 30 pounds of gear and starts making hard choices about just how dangerous your weak wrister from the dots looks to him. That's your time to shine! Your backdoor snow-shoveling shots will never have a greater chance of becoming game-winning goals. Your back-hander that wouldn't hurt a fly will become the hatty you've always chased. Your along-the-ice-because-you-never-learned-to-lift-a-slapper will become a dangerous and possibly unstoppable shot.

Just make sure the goalie is drunk, fat or old– I know every night I'm at least two of them.