Ask any goalie, in any sport that has them, and they’ll tell you about The Secret Goalie Brotherhood or The Keeper’s Club or some variation of that theme. I didn’t know it existed when I started playing, but once you’re in, you’re in for life, and it’s wonderful. Whether it’s a little kid on a pond, an adult in a beer league, a Vezina trophy winning veteran, or a 22 year-old playing his rookie season, we all have this mystical sense of kinship that unites us. When I was 17 or 18, I met Kelly Hrudey at Tip-a-King, and asked him to sign my goalie glove. He took it, and said, “You’re a goalie, too? That’s great. How’s your game?”
I couldn’t believe he’d said “You’re a goalie, too,” and not “you’re a goalie?” so I just mumbled something about how it was okay, but I wasn’t as good as he was. I’m sure he forgot about me the second I walked away, but I’ll never forget it. I met other goalies who played in the NHL, and it was the same every single time.
Large, often toothless men wielding sticks routinely blaze toward you, hoping to jam a fast, hard hockey puck an inch from your groin and into the net.
Sometimes, they come alone, with speed-of-sound slap shots that bend and blur. Sometimes, they come in packs. It’s your job to stop them.
You contort your body: pretzel-like, crab-like, spider-like. You push, pull, fight, claw, slash, and take beatings. All game long, you stop shot after shot. Then a puck caroms off an opponent’s helmet. Goal. Grim.
“It’s all very black and white. . . . Maybe that’s what draws people to it,” observed Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, who is 23 and a bright spot in a season that has offered a nice surprise: Though fading fast, the Kings mathematically remain in the playoff hunt.
Quick was supposed to be in the minors. Instead, he became a midseason call-up who thrived. He’s the first to admit that he’s no Martin Brodeur, who recently notched his record 552nd win. But Quick is sharp, humble and — here’s a critical part — reflective.
“Make the big save that wins the game, you might not be the hero,” he said. “Don’t make the save. Lose the game, and if you’re feeling like it’s all your fault, yeah, it’s like you’re on an island.”
For the rest of the column, Quick and sportswriter Kurt Streeter watch the third period of a recent Kings game against the Minnesota Wild, and Quick tells him what’s going through his head at various points in the action. While I read it, my heart began to pound with the memory of third period adrenaline that I haven’t felt in over ten years.
The Kings aren’t going to make the playoffs this season, but they have the makings of a team that will go deep for years, maybe even as early as next season, and I so dearly wish I could afford season seats again. I’m not an expert, but I think having Jonathan Quick and Erik Ersberg in goal is a huge reason they can become contenders.
Resolved: I will play ice hockey again before the end of this year, and I accept that I won’t be able to tend goal the way I did when I was 18. I just miss it too much to keep not playing.