It doesn’t take long to spot the parents of a goalie; they tend to sit alone. often seen in the opposite corner against the glass. Generally, often fidgety, seemingly on edge for no reason; then you see their pale anxiety ridden face come to life when the goalie on the opposite end of the rink makes a 5-bell alarm save. It is a moment where there is both excitement and relief. It is however short lived as the puck will soon be dropped 30’ feet from danger zone to start the game yet again….
Ok so the picture painted is one of extreme stress and that is truly what goes on from the outside. But, on closer observation, going behind the mask, you will find a calm, steely focused athlete that thrives under extreme pressure and finds joy with being on an Island alone on many occasions. It is a sport paradox playing goal. There are few team sports that have such a unique individual skill within the team game. They wear different equipment than their teammates, they don’t take shifts off, they play the entire game. The only time they are apart of the game is when the opposition has the puck. There is a strange relationship with the team. The players view the goalie as unique, perhaps strange, but to a person they all know the goalie stirs the drink if you are going to have team success. Championships are won on the back of the goalie; yet they rarely show up on any score sheet. Hockey in Canada is as much apart of our culture as the cold winter air is. They are like peanut butter and jam they just go together. It is what brings families together, life friends are born from this relationship.
Just ask anyone about their favorite team and at some point, the discussion about goaltending will pop up. Is it good enough? Can we win with our goaltending? Ask any NHL coach and they will say, “give me good goaltender and I will show you a great coach.” Winning at the highest level is the belief is you build from the goalie out. It is established from a young age how team success is directly related to your goaltending. At times, it is this relationship that can be stressful, fragile, and strained, but when it’s right there is a chemistry and a bond between the players and their goalie you will not find in any other sport.
So, what makes a goalie tick? They must have dedication, great work ethic, and enjoy countless hours of working alone. as their craft. Pressure to a goalie is like adrenalin. It pushes them to be great. There is a phrase in sport, you must have a bad memory and there is no other position in sport where it pertains to more. The “Bad” goal must be forgotten as soon as it goes in. A great save must be followed up with steely focus, because if you are still thinking about what just happened, the next wave of pressure will swallow you up. There is no other place on the ice that embodies “What have you done for me lately” like playing goal.
As Canadian winter sets in, you settle in for another hockey season. Enjoy the moments of stress, embrace the challenges your team will face, breath when it appears all is lost and know the goalie lives in this bubble everyday they are on the ice. Parents and fans try to go behind the mask and enjoy the ride. Like any roller-coaster it will bring sheer terror, but when it’s over and your body is drained, you won’t believe how much fun it was.
That’s a glimpse into a goalie’s eyes.