The goalie’s lament

A goalie's dread: the puck in the net. Pic: ibtimes.com

We might have lost one. The Icehouse Rookies, as our class of 2011 has taken to calling ourselves, is a member down after the weekend.

I am not standing in judgement. I want to make that clear from the start because this is a difficult post to write.

Summer league is currently happening and on Sunday the Tigersharks played the Devils. No sugar-coating, it was a massacre. The final score was, I believe, 20-0. That’s a goal every third minute, assuming it was a normal length hockey game.

The losing side’s goalie, Jason, appears to have hung up his pads in the wake of such a caning. I’m hoping that’s not the case and this entire post is premature but our Icehouse Rookies’ Facebook group (which rocks, btw, as a community) has been fielding requests for a potential fill-in goalie for the next game and beyond.

Jason must be in a bad place and it got me thinking about the attrition rate over the course of this year. As I wrote in my very first nickdoeshockey post, I have always felt just one bad fall, one vital broken bone, away from this whole hockey adventure crashing to a halt.

I’ve seen that happen too; players with broken collar bones or other nasty injuries. One woman in my second Intro class was a decent skater but landed hard on her chest during supermans, hobbled to the bench in pain (I have it on good authority this is chick equivalent of being kicked in the balls), cried a little and it occurred to me weeks later that I had never seen her again.

I’ve stepped out of classes right now because I felt exposed and potentially humiliated by my lack of skating skill (especially once most of a Division 4 team joined my Intermediate class for extra training, skating literal rings around me, and becoming frustrated when us lesser players couldn’t keep up with their drilled moves).

But this is the first case I know of where somebody has actually walked away from the game.

The reality is that us rookies are forever bordering on exposure as the starters we are, and the system, as it stands, doesn’t do much to protect us. It’s skate to keep up, or fail publicly. Of course, for the goalies, this is magnified hugely. I read a book while in America called “Open Ice” by a former Sports Illustrated hockey writer, Jack Falla, who had spent his youth as a goalie. He talked about the endless hours of taking shots, on the ice, in his driveway, anywhere he could absorb thousands and thousands of pucks/shots. I was doing other things for 45 years before January … and given my age as a rookie, I’ve been painfully aware of all the people who started skating 30 years or more before me. For goalies like Jason, it’s, again, magnified.

I wasn’t at Sunday’s game but, reading the Facebook accounts, Jason faced something like 51 shots on goal. So he stopped 31. In a NHL game, that’s a very good night’s work for a goalie. But of course, 20 got through, which is less thrilling and has apparently drained his self-confidence.

To have that many shots pepper a goalface is an impossible task for a goalie. It means the defence is not working, and the forwards are not playing each-way effectively (sorry to the Tigersharks – trust me, I’m not saying I would have done better. In fact, I’m sure I would have been worse).

But while those players will spend the week nursing nasty plus/minus figures and copping some ribbing from rival teams, Jason can know only the baseline figure.

Twenty. Compared to a shut-out. And feel responsible.

I’ve hung out with Jason at General Skates, stood on the ice with him while he explained new angles and ways of covering the goal that he’d learned in his first ever game the week before. It was a total voyage of discovery and there was no way of gaining this education without playing, and almost certainly losing.

He spoke with passion and enthusiasm, and I hate to think of him this week, deciding the sport is simply too hard. I really, really hope he connects with his temmates or the wider hockey community and realises nobody thinks badly of him for the weekend’s scoreline. We all get it. We will all have our bad days. The Wings’ stand-in goalie Ty Conklin is going through an NHL version of Jason’s angst right now. It never stops.

It seems to me that one of the major issues with hockey in Victoria is that there are a couple of badly needed missing-steps in the development path. Jason just tumbled off one of those unnecessarily large ledges. Summer League, and all the steps past Dev League, are fraught for newbies like us because we step straight onto the ice against potentially much better players. Players coming out of class want to join teams but might not be ready for genuine competition. With such limited ice time, for training as well as competition, players get squeezed into the same matches, and slaughters like the weekend become possible.

Some rookies, like me, are taking it cautiously. Others are charging into teams as fast as they can, on the theory that scrimmages and actual matches will improve them in ways rounds of Intermediate classes never will.

It’s a decent plan except that it means teams can be wildly mismatched, and results like last weekend happen.

Even drop-in hockey, where anybody can show up for an impromptu game at the Icehouse, is open to everybody. So last week, you had Intermediate class members, maybe even Intro players, out on the ice against or alongside Tommy Powell, Army and other Melbourne Ice players. Plus Shona, captain of the Ice women’s team. Tommy is set to represent Australia in Poland next year, but is skating against, potentially, me. This seems dangerous, relying completely on the Ice players to back off the throttle to cater for the L-platers in their midst, which they invariably do, but that must suck for them as well.

We definitely need Intermediate drop-in. We definitely need more ice time for rookie teams to wobble around and get their legs in games, even if we all understand there are only a couple of rinks and only so many hours in a day. But push is coming to shove. Devils smashing Tigersharks does nobody any favours.

ONE LAST THING:

Jason, if you read this, one last, left-field thing to consider. I hang out with a bunch of professional magicians and they have an understanding: if you choose to perform card tricks or other sleight of hand, for an audience or just friends, it is recognised that it will go catastrophically wrong probably 10 times in your career. I’m talking, no way out, complete disaster, self-inflicted, user-error, in-front-of-an-audience, floor-open-up-and-swallow-me-please humiliation.

Ten times.

So every time it happens – and oh God, it’s nasty when it does (I’m up to four) – you die a little, but you take a breath and say very deliberately: OK, that’s another of the 10 out of the way, never to be suffered again. It’s a rite of magical passage, so to speak, and is accepted. Hated but accepted.

By 10, you should have your chops.

And so, post-disaster, you lick your ego wounds, work on your card skills, figure out how you fucked up, and find somebody else to perform the same trick too. And you get it right and breathe again …

Put the pads back on, Jason. Nobody wants to see you slink away. You just endured one of the Big Ten. I’m going to as well. It would be awesome to see you at the rink.

Comments

  1. Tigershark Alternite Captain here. Just want to say that we all had fun in that game, and are not terribly upset by a 20-0 loss. Our defence was good (as evaluated by a profesisonal hockey coach who helped us out that day). Our goalie was good. Everything was good – except the mismatch of the skills of the opposition. We are all new (95% playing for the first time this year) but other teams have players from Division 2 playing. A few weeks ago we even – litterally – faced off against a player from the Melbounre Mustangs. We’ll learn from this season, but i really hope for the longevity and growth of the game in Victoria, that the IHV crack down on people ‘playing down’.

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