March 10, 2018

The Ceiling

The shot came from the right face-off circle. It was a low snap shot that I dropped down for as it clapped off my stick blade and straight up into the air. I spotted an enemy forward heading towards the spot the puck would be coming back down to earth so I decided to swing my stick into the air and knock it away. I made solid contact and propelled the puck back over my head and into the net. That was the 12th goal but it's not the story of the night.

The first goal was a rocket that beat me blocker side even after I moved above my crease to meet the shooter.

The second goal was...

Alright, I can't remember every goal of a 15-5 loss last night but something became even clearer in my mind. I have found the ceiling in my game.

By a series of comedic errors, the Puck Hawgs ended up playing in the top division in a recent state tournament and we played against ex-college and junior players and I got beaten early and often. I saw pucks go by me in tight spaces over my shoulder, slap shots that I had no chance of ever catching up to and moves in tight that left me lost and confused.

Last night in league play my team faced the top team in our division– again due to a comedy of errors we are playing against teams we weren't meant to. Again I watched as shots beat me with speed, accuracy and skill that I am just not good enough to stop.

Here is where I make a comment about how hockey is a team game and how the goalie is the last line of defense after the 5 players in front of him have done what they can but there's also another truth. I have found my ceiling.

Finding that limit stings my ego but this blog can't be just stories of all the good things that happen to me or it won't be an honest accounting of my return to hockey. For now I need to accept that my skills and abilities don't match up with some players who had college or junior careers. I don't have the tools or athleticism to hang with a few of the best players you can face in beer league.

I'll keep fighting against the ceiling and try to enjoy everything about my time in net for as long as this journey lasts. After all, 15 is a new high score. Time to celebrate.

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.