When a goalie goes down into the butterfly, his or her movements are deliberate. Practiced. They’re backed by years of hard work and dedication; mental knowledge of how a flick of muscle can send a puck skittering off a pad or stick and away from the yawning, gaping mouth of the net. It is an art, and it looks like one.
When I go down into the butterfly, I usually look like a drunk antelope.
I am 22 years old, and I began playing net a week and a half ago. My butterfly needs some work. My everything needs some work. At least I can skate. And most importantly, I don’t flinch.
Let me preface with this: my family? We’re all hockey nuts. My younger brother plays youth hockey, and when he has a game or practice we’re usually all there. Yeah, a large part of that has to do with the fact that there’s no NHL hockey to whet our appetites right now, but for my family, hockey is an everyday sort of thing. And as athletic as my brother is, so I am (was?) sedate. I mean, c’mon. I’m an Internet-dweller, working-an-office-job, please-don’t-make-me-run kind of recent college grad. I’m not exactly the healthy type.
But I do love my hockey.
For years I’ve been watching Mark play. He’s a goalie — that mystical, mysterious position — and a good one, for his age. And often, as I stood and watched his lessons, games, and practices, I thought, Damn, that looks fun. It’s not as though I was seriously considering doing the goalie thing. And in any case, I didn’t have any reason to pursue the issue. Then I heard about the annual Kids vs. Parents game my brother’s club puts on every year. My fate was assured. I looked at my mother and said, “I want to play in net for the parents.” (No one else was crazy enough to volunteer, obviously.)
I borrowed ratty pads, glove, blocker and knee guards from Mark’s goalie school instructor. When we got home, I strapped the pads on to my inline skates and staggered because holy shit, how do you skate in these things.
My brother laughed his ass off at me.
As I ‘practiced’ at home, my resolve grew. Why couldn’t I do this for real, on the ice? I used to figure skate. Sure, I’d never worn hockey skates of any kind in my life, but why the hell not? My family was practiced at this goalie thing. I bit the bullet, and bought goalie skates and helmet. It was expensive. It wasn’t exactly impulsive — maybe it was weird, but I was committed.
Question: is a goalie weird because they’ve chosen to play net, or do they play net because they’re already weird at heart?
The first time I stood in full gear on the ice was at a Family Hockey session at a local rink. My brother invited a bunch of his teammates to be shooters. These 12-year-olds gleefully shot me up. I was exhausted ten minutes into the hour; putting on all the gear had been exhausting enough. And, of course, I’d never realized before how hot it got on the ice with all the gear on. How could I have?
The session went like this. I’d plunk down into a bastardized butterfly, right leg not even fully extended. And they’d hoot and holler and yell, “Get up! Get up!” I seriously couldn’t get up. I’m not even a regular jogger. Only resentment fueled me into getting up on my skates again and again.
The second time I was on the ice in full gear was for my first goalie lesson. I’d emailed Mark’s first goalie coach, an instructor of the basics. Why the hell not, I thought again. I might as well try this out.
If I thought having a bunch of kids slapping pucks at me was tiring, I was wrong. T-push. Shuffle. Movements essential to a goalie, and it was all stuff I wasn’t able to do at all. I was floundering. Again, some kind of determination pushed me to the end. I was clumsy, and I kept catching the wrong edges on my skates, and my stick kept getting stuck in the net when I hugged the post. But it was fun. I didn’t want to stop.
A few days later (this was all over the span of one week, by the way), I played in the Kids vs. Parents game. I had no defense; the kids who played at a Peewee AA level easily slipped past middle-aged parents, even those who were obviously talented hockey players. I only had two days on the ice as a goalie under my belt. The final score? 19 to 6. Harsh.
For some reason, maybe because I’m crazy, the very next morning I woke up at 6AM to go to open hockey. I was nervous because I knew there would be regulars there, middle-aged guys who took the time before work to head to the rink and play the game. And I was a total beginner, a Swiss Cheese of a goalie, a short woman who matched a Peewee in lack of size. I didn’t know what kind of reception I would get, but I wanted to see.
I got to play. I rotated out every fifteen minutes with two other goalies, two big guys who were skilled. Everyone on the ice was good. They were understanding about the fact that I’d only been playing a week. With every clumsy save I made (and some inexplicably not so clumsy) they’d skate by, tap my pads and murmur, “Good save, goalie. Good save.” A shot hit in between my blocker and the too small chest protector I’m currently using. I got run over by two rushing forwards, sending the net askew. It was awesome. It was my first real game experience, and going had been the best decision I could have made.
That was two days ago.
This morning I woke up at 4:15AM for my second goalie lesson. I was on the ice at 6. My T-pushes were still awkward, but better. I wasn’t gasping for breath after only ten minutes. Something had changed over the past week. I went from post to point, two pucks over, back to the post, repeat. We worked on dropping into the butterfly and using the stick to redirect the puck into the corners. For the first time, my glove was successful: two trapped pucks. Progress. Another shot hit that same place between blocker and protector, right on the bruise that had bloomed there a few days ago. My grip on my stick weakened with pain for a moment. No matter; back up on my feet, and then back down into the butterfly, sending a puck into the corner with my stick. I felt good. I felt capable. I felt like more regular jogging was in my cards.
I know I have a long way to go. I have a lot of free time at the moment, leaving me open to go to these early morning sessions. I plan to use it. Hopefully, I can join a team of some sort in the following season. A women’s team? Who knows. I’d be fine with a men’s team too. I want to play.
I may not be great at it yet. But I am, for all intents and purposes, a goalie.