Books I Love: Open Net

This week, for Things I Love, I've picked out some books that were extremely influential to me in one way or another. Yesterday, I got my geek on. Today, I'm putting on the foil, coach.

I was never an athletic kid, as I've documented clearly (and painfully). When I was 16, though, I got it into my head that I really wanted to play hockey. I guess the chance of injury in baseball just wasn't great enough, or something.

I wasn't that big, so defense was out, I wasn't that strong, so offense was out. I was quick and flexible, though, so I decided to get some gear and learn how to be a goalie.

I know, I know. The thing is, over the years I've learned that some of us were just born to be goalies, and it's something that can't really be explained to people who haven't blocked a net in some sport. In fact, we can't even explain it to each other; it's just something we do because we can't not do it.

What makes this seemingly insane decision kind of noteworthy is that I was a scrawny geek who did all of this while living in Los Angeles, which isn't exactly known as a hockey town. Many of the rinks we played on were only half-jokingly compared to driveways with crushed ice thrown over them (Van Nuys, anyone?) or so small it was a real possibility that a goalie could score a goal for his team (North Hollywood, anyone?)

I loved hockey with a fever that no amount of cowbell could cure. The only thing I liked more than playing hockey was watching it, and when I couldn't watch it, I read about it. Because I had a subscription to The Hockey News. Which was delivered to my house in Los Angeles.

I wish I could remember exactly how I came upon the book Open Net, by George Plimpton. I think my dad may have given it to me, and even though I'm not sure, I'm going to imagine that it happened this way:

I was sitting in my bedroom, playing Dark Castle on my Mac while Morrissey sang songs about how nobody understood me.

There was a soft knock at the door, and then it opened.

"Do you have a minute?" My dad said.

"Hold on." I clicked my mouse furiously, throwing rocks at divebombing birds. I miscalculated and my little adventurer guy Duncan died. It was my fault, and I knew it was my fault, but I sighed heavily and acted like he'd messed me up. I dramatically pushed my hair out of my face and turned around. My dad held something behind his back.

"I found this book that I think you'll like. It was written by a journalist who would play professional sports and then write about them. He played baseball, football, golf, and …" he revealed the book. The cover showed a familiar-looking guy wearing a Boston Bruins jersey. "…he also played hockey with the Boston Bruins."

He handed the book to me. I realized that the guy on the cover was the same guy who was in all those Intellivision commercials and hosted Mousterpiece Theater, a show I wouldn't ever admit still loving to my peers.

"He played goalie, just like you," my dad said, "so I thought you would like it."

My carefully-crafted appearance of bored indifference cracked and fell apart. I spent a lot of time convincing myself that my parents didn't get me and didn't know anything about me, but with one gesture and six words, my dad turned that all upside down.

"Wow, that's really cool! Thanks, dad!" I forgot to be sullen, stood up and hugged him. It meant more to me than I could express that my dad had given me something like that, which he knew would really matter to me. I quit my game, opened the book, and read until it was time for dinner. After dinner, I read it until I had to learn lines for Star Trek, and then I took it with me to the set the next day. In fact, I took it with me everywhere, until I finished it the following week. I loved it so much, I read it again a few months later, and again about a year after that.

I loved how George Plimpton could transport me right between the pipes with him. I loved how he could turn a phrase, and how he always wrote like we were equals. I wondered if, some day, I'd be able to write about cool stuff that I'd done.

In a part of my mind that I didn't even know was there, a seed was planted and, very slowly, began to grow.

You know, now that I think about it … not that it matters, but most of that is true.

Also, I would be greatly remiss if I did not link to this wonderful song about George Plimpton by Jonathan Coulton.

Tomorrow: the tenth dimension

27 thoughts on “Books I Love: Open Net”

  1. That’s a great book! My favorite part was about the “goalie smell” he thinks he’s discovered.
    I read that book when I was a kid, too, and even though it was about the hated Bruins (I was a Whalers fan, pity me) I really got into it.

  2. Something can be emotionally true, if not factually so. I’m digging the Books You Love posts, and adding to my list of things to read.
    Dark Castle — damn, I loved that game, as hard as it was. My sister and I used to play it together; I’d man the keyboard to send Duncan up stairs and into walls, while she handled the rock-throwing with the mouse. Have you seen Return to Dark Castle?

  3. Totally not related Wil but I just got done listening to today’s podcast. I’m SO SO mad that they ended right when Tyco was rolling to hit the one guy in the place. (not to be too spoiler-ish)
    Talk about building drama.
    Plus is Scott ever going to mark anyone?!?

  4. oh my gosh i LOVED dark castle! i know that’s totally not the subject of this post but i talk about that game all the time and so rarely find other people who remember it. i especially loved the noise duncan made to clear his head after he fell or was stunned.

  5. A fellow goalkeeper, huh? Yeah! My brother and I both played keeper for our respective soccer teams – it’s not something you can explain. One of the players for the local professional team (Frank Barton of the Sounders) told my mom he felt sorry for her having to live with two goalies.
    Just an FYI, I learned recently that Anthony LaPaglia is a soccer keeper as well.

  6. I saw Return to Dark Castle, but I never played it.
    I tried to play Dark Castle on Sega, and while it looked mostly right, it felt totally wrong. I didn’t think I could handle a sequel or anything that challenged me to consider Change. WE FEAR CHANGE!

  7. Wil, I just got turned on to your blog (okay that sounds a little weird, but you know what I mean), and am enjoying it quite a bit. Good post about being a goalie. I’m the team photographer for the USHL team here in Indy (also _not_ a hotbed of hockey-dom), and am a soccer goalie, so I really identify. I always tell people that goalies are just a little bit nuts. You have to be to be a good keeper (must be something about being kicked in the head repeatedly). Haven’t read Open Net, but I’ll toss it on the reading list–anything about hockey _and_ goalies has to be good.

  8. It’s sadly not the same at all. Though I have to admit it’s not the same on a level that isn’t the developers’ fault, because my little sister and I aren’t coming to blows over failing to mash buttons at the right time. Playing it on my own is like trying to manage a duet by oneself. But it’s nice that they tried to bring it back.

  9. I’ve just bought The Hacker Crackdown…..I can’t read fast enough to keep up! I’ll add Open Net to my ‘to read’ list despite never have had any inclination to go in goal. I’ve picked up enough injures trying to get out of the way of the ball to consider intentionally getting in the way of it!

  10. I remember when I first got into hockey…subscribed to The Hockey News, read everything I could get my hands on (including Open Net). Took a “Hockey One” class (realized I was not cut out for skating). Of course I was in my late 30’s and a female when all this happened, but I do remember those days when hockey was such a passion.

  11. “…so small it was a real possibility that a goalie could score a goal for his team…”
    One of the best moments of being a Sharks fan was when Evgeni Nabakov scored an empty-net goal against the Canucks. He was the first NHL goalie to score a power play goal.
    Hockey is the only sport I’ve ever really gotten into, and it didn’t happen until I moved to California.

  12. Wil, [secret goalkeeper handshake] have you read Ken Dryden’s “The Game“? Dryden was my childhood hero, and the guy is likely one of the smarter nutbars to carry the big stick. He famously left the Canadiens for a year to do his law clerk duties(!) when he finished Law School (while playing, full time and winning Stanley Cups!)
    Do you still play at all? I had a cement-head D dump a guy, and himself… of course, onto me causing my right knee to bend in several unnatural ways. A career-ending injury. Mind you this was just a “beer league” game when I was an adult, but NOT being able to play is truly painful for me mentally. I always found goaltending to be such a Zen activity, requiring such total mental focus that it shut my “10,000 RPM” brain down enough so that I could actually function better when I wasn’t playing. Odd I know, but I guess you just have to have a brain like mine to understand… it needs to be turned off once in awhile. I’d trade just about anything for the chance to skate back to the crease and play again.
    BTW I was rummaging around in my basement a few weeks ago looking for something and I found a band-new, never used, un-taped stick, complete with “Curtis Curve” setup (that ring any bells?)

  13. “After dinner, I read it until I had to learn lines for Star Trek”
    Yeah, that happens to a lot of us. 😉
    (I hope you’re fully aware of what a wonderful — but peculiarly a-typical — life you’ve had.)

  14. I wish I still played, and I totally agree with you about the Zen aspect of life between the pipes. I will play again before the end of the year; this is one of my goals for 2009.
    Would you believe that I actually own a stick with the curtis curve? Played with it … twice, I think, before going back to my usual model.
    I can’t believe I never read Dryden’s book. I will correct that as soon as I finish my current read.

  15. Enjoy the read. In fact I’ll pull mine off the shelf and add it to my reading list.
    I loved the Curtis Curve. It provided a full-stick on-ice surface. I can not recall how many “OMG” saves I made off the handle, but it was a lot. The recurve at the top provided that extra atlatl “oomph” leverage to my shot that turned my wimpy clearing passes into full-fledged Hextall-like rockets. The design moved from one brand to the next, and I faithfully bought 2-3 sticks each year as it changed, giving up my lifelong (to that point) allegiance to Koho.
    For those that have no idea what we’re talking about, here’s a picture.

  16. So I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and have followed with interest your thoughts on being a parent.
    This is the first time, however, that I can remember you mentioning being a son.
    Funny, that.

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