LA Times: through a goalie’s eyes

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.

If my post about Open Net piqued your interest in goaltending, you’ll probably enjoy this story from today’s Los Angeles Times about what it’s like to stand between the pipes in an actual NHL game:

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.

27 thoughts on “LA Times: through a goalie’s eyes”

  1. Great post. I only play ball hockey, since I can’t skate, (an embarrassment for this Canadian) and when I do it is in net. I enjoy the position. You’re either the goat or the hero. There aren’t too many shades in between.

  2. Hola Wil,
    How are you doing? Just saw you at twitter and couldn’t believe it’s really you …
    All the best and big hugs,

  3. That was nicely written. Sort of breathless at the end. Big hockey fan. Only sport I really really get into watching to the point I’ll jump up and scream. (Note the double really there? That’s how you know I really really like it.)

  4. I’m all for your plan to play ice hockey again before the year’s out. Life’s way too short to not do what we love.
    I wonder if being a goalie is a bit like being a power forward in basketball — if you do your job right, you’re totally invisible. If you screw up, though, everyone notices, the team begins to erode, and you get hung out to dry. The center is big and impressive; the guards and other forward are quick and flashy and sink 3-pointers; but you just stay in the paint and quietly keep the key together.

  5. “I wonder if being a goalie is… if you do your job right, you’re totally invisible. If you screw up, though, everyone notices, the team begins to erode, and you get hung out to dry. “
    In a word, YES.
    Are we OK with that? Yes.
    Goalies are Geeks-on-skates… and we’re OK with that too.
    Good luck between the pipes Will, we look forward to reading about your “comeback” 😉
    [secret handshake]

  6. Just read the linked article. Well done. It brings up something I’ve always noted while attending hockey games. I LOVE to sit behind the net. For one thing it is how a Goalie sees the game. You really can appreciate the flow of the passing and skating game so much better from the end of the rink rather than the sides. Try it sometime.
    This perspective also helps you spot all your fellow goaltenders who are NOT on the ice. How? They are the ones who do not duck when shots hit the glass! 😀

  7. I join you in your resolution, Wil. It’s been too long since I’ve strapped the pads on. I hope they haven’t mildewed or dry-rotted in storage. Your mention of “third period adrenaline” brings back memories. That perfect, seemingly impossible, save. Also the hard-fought losses.
    One season I went out with an injury for 3 or 4 weeks. A buddy of mine subbed for me as the team headed in to the playoffs, and he did well. I healed in time for the final game, and walked into the locker room, and apparently nobody got the call that I was coming. I felt like a jerk, and I could tell some of the guys in the locker room felt the same, but I was damned if I was going to ride the pine in the final. My buddy graciously took of his gear and suited up to play D. It was literally the game of my life. I wanted to prove I deserved to be in net. I needed to show that they hadn’t made a mistake letting me in there fresh off an injury with the championship on the line.
    I let in only one goal that game. Late in the overtime period.
    As a goalie, “near-perfect” means jack shit.

  8. 😀
    I told myself I’d be playing again this season… so far I’ve only done step one: Got myself a new pair of skates this week!! 😀
    Kelly Hrudey is a sweetie. I’ve worked with him many times and he’s laidback and stress-free and loads of fun :)
    Also, Quick is amazing. Definitely Quick between the pipes 😉

  9. Closest I ever came to hockey was an intramural broomball league in college. I think I initially took goalie just because no one else wanted to, but after that it was like an addiction. I think it’s the control freak in me: I didn’t trust anyone else with the job.
    I gotta say, though, that as a New Yorker, it’s weird to me that there are LA kids who are into hockey. What’s next… lacrosse?

  10. As a goalie who hasn’t played in 37 years (Yeah, that’s right, I’m old. What of it. Now get off my ice!) I envy you being able to even think about playing again. Hockey is the greatest sport there is and goalie is the only position I ever wanted to play.
    I still skate a little now and then but my knees would never allow me the thrill of once more strapping on the pads and taking my rightful place between the pipes.
    Oh well, I still have my dreams.

  11. I went down to the used sporting goods store, dropped a couple hundred bucks on a set of gear (pads were about 2″ too small, but they were only $60!), and put on the pads for the first time in TWENTY years this winter, and it was probably the most fun I’ve had playing hockey in my life.
    At first it was just with other thirty-something guys from work, but by the end of winter I was hanging out at the rink with the high school and college rink rats in our neighborhood. I let in way more pucks than I stopped, but after a few sessions I was actually starting to get back into the swing of things. Now that spring is here and the outdoor rinks are closed, I’m trying to find a way to get my fix over the summer!
    So, yes, by all means get back in net this year. Even if it’s just an open hockey session at the local rink. You’ll be surprised at how happy players are to have a goalie show up–even one who’s 20 years out of shape.

  12. The last game of my beer-league season is tonight. After the game, we have supper, drinks, and poker at the arena until the wee hours of dawn. Tomorrow, my glove and pads will be aired out to dry and eventually they’ll be taken in for repairs before storage.
    Come next October, when I’m collecting my gear for the new season, I’ll be glad to help out by giving you some sassitude about not being prepared to hit the ice (should you fail to blog about your readiness by then).
    Perhaps even a Twitterverse maelstrom would ensue, who knows?

    #include "evil-smilie"
  13. My mother tells me that she actually played hockey with you once, long ago in Pasadena. That you had been brought in by their coach Craig (who’s last name I honestly cannot recall) to play goalie for them. She says they were told they should go easy on you, because you had to work the next day. 😉
    I have always loved being able to tell people that my mother plays hockey. Especially since she took it up so late in life. She plays nearly every Sunday, even though she often ends up incredibly stiff and sore, or limping around the house the next day. She’s in her 50s now, and feels like she’s probably getting too old for this sort of thing… but like you, she loves it too much to give it up.

  14. Jose Theodore of the Washington Capitals said the reason he became a goalie was … four older brothers who needed someone to shoot at. Seems to have worked out well for him, though.

  15. Good stuff, man. I’m sitting here at the day job a couple weeks out from a pretty severely dislocated right index finger (I cannot even begin to describe the suck-itude of having a splint on your mouse finger, x-box trigger finger, writing-with-a-pen finger, etc.) from getting the snot kicked out of my hand while in goal in an over-30 soccer match. While I was sitting in the ER waiting for the vicodin to kick in so they could pop the finger back in place, I swore off goalkeeping. Told my wife I was going to give away my gloves.
    That was two weeks ago. Now I’m trying to rehab the finger because I think I’m going to sign up for goal in the next session. :-\ It’s an addiction I tells ya.
    Good on ya for getting back between the pipes. We goalies are a little bit nuts-o, that’s for sure. And you’re exactly right about it being a secret society. We need a handshake or somethin’ (just make it with the left hand, I still can’t grip anything with my right).

  16. That’s how I got started as a soccer goalkeeper. My wife played, and I wanted to join in, but had no skills at all. I figured I could handle getting things kicked at me, so I went in net. Five minutes in and I was hooked. 😀 You’re right…the Type-A in me doesn’t trust anyone else as last-man-back. Hero or goat, it’s good to be a keeper.

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