This is a cracking piece. Who knew a goalie could put words together? Turns out Jason Bajada is that guy. Welcome to life between the posts …
Stay out of my crease and we’ll stay friends
By Jason Bajada
I am a goalie. And I love it. And I hate it. And I hate you all. And you are my best mates. And I love it.
At any given time, none, some, or all of those feelings are true. Would be true. Have been and are true. Tense doesn’t matter.
There is a common understanding amongst hockey people that goalies are weird. I’m not going to try to explain why, but I will let you know what it is like being a goalie in a game – you can figure out if we are weird once you have read my story. There is a lot of swearing in this, because I really don’t know how to efficiently express myself any better. I understand the theory that “those who swear are less articulate, and therefore less intelligent, than others who do not”, to which I respond: fuck that.
When I am putting my gear on, I feel like I am two metres wide and I am invincible. During the warm-ups, I concentrate so hard on every single shot coming in, I hold my breath until the last shot is made. I wear myself out during the warm-ups because I am so wound up I can’t breathe.
And all I keep thinking to myself is that I am better than everyone else on the ice. And I believe it with every fibre of my body, every hair on my head and every exploding neuron in my brain. Actually, I don’t just believe it, I know it. It is a fact, and now I get to prove it to you all.
And that is what I am thinking during warm-ups. Because if I don’t, I can’t do my job.
And then the game starts, and the only thing I can see is the puck. Nothing else matters. Everything else fades into the background. In my peripheral vision, I see the blur of players in their jerseys, and instantly calculate whether or not they are on my team, and how far away they are from playing the puck, and if they are in a position to put the puck on net, and whether or not it will be a strong shot or not. And if they pick up the puck and start skating, I’m figuring out whether they are on their forehand or backhand, and whether or not their team-mates are moving into position to take a better shot, and whether my team-mates are moving into a position to help or hinder me. And if the shot is taken, I work out the trajectory of the puck, and where it has come from, and whether to drop to the ice or not, or whether to stick my arm out or not, and where my stick is, and where the puck could go after I stop it, and whether or not I have the chance to ice the puck, or if I have to move to make a follow-up save from the rebound.
And that entire paragraph takes place in my world in less than a second. And the next second, it might start again, or maybe it stops. But I also have to work out whether or not I need to get up or not. So the next second is always more complicated than the last, because I have to figure out how I am supposed to recover from the previous second.
Above and beyond all of that, every single second of the game I have decisions to make. And I regret most of them. I could have done something different, or better, or more efficiently. Even when I do make a save, I am never satisfied with it. The next save has to be better. And I fucking hate that.
Then I stick a pad out and watch the puck deflect into the corner. Or make a glove save as I am standing strong in the crease. Or take the puck off my face and have it land at my feet, so I drop and cover it up. I have conquered the desires of the opposition, and tamed to rage that fired that puck at me. I destroyed the dream of the goal, and have forced them to re-think how they play the game. I have beaten them, I am the victor. In that second, I have just proven to everyone there that I am the best there is.
And I can’t think of anywhere else I would want to be. And I love it.
The best part is when one of my team-mates sweeps out to the corner, corrals the puck I just deflected out there, clears it out of the defensive zone and creates a rush out of just one pass. It is poetry in motion, and everything just flows together like it was meant to be. The Hockey Gods have looked down on that piece of ice, stroked their beards wisely, and at that specific time, said to themselves, “Let’s make something magical happen.”
And it is at times like those that we are a brotherhood. A sisterhood. A hockeyhood. Time stands still, and everything is easy. And I love everyone in the building, along with all of those ancient hockey warriors who have fought on that piece of ice in years past. Everyone should get to feel this, and I feel sorry for those who don’t know what they are missing out on.
But as quickly as it started, the moment is over. The puck is back at my feet, and everyone – even the refs, it seems – is hacking away at it, forcing me to make save after save after save, never letting me take a breath to figure out what I need to do next. I see my team-mates – that same hockeyhood from seconds ago – standing in the way of the puck so I can’t see it. I watch the puck deflect off a team-mate and into the post. I scream – scream myself hoarse – at the player on my right to get the puck away from me. It is within a metre of the goal line and I have no control of it. It needs to leave, and it needs to leave NOW. Just fucking move it. Pass it. Skate it. I don’t care what you do, just MAKE IT GO AWAY.
NO! DON’T PASS IT RIGHT ACROSS THE …
The puck is now behind me. Players wearing the wrong colours are cheering and hugging each other. And you are yelling at me. Telling me I should have done better. That I should have made that save. Asking me sarcastically where the hell my stick was. You make the biggest bone-headed play in the history of hockey, and it’s my fault we are now losing.
And I hate you. I hate you and I want to hurt you. I want to hurt you so much you will be scared to play again. You were my team-mate, but after that play you don’t deserve to even share the ice with me. I don’t care, I hate you. Fuck off, and stay the fuck away from me before I rip your face off through that cage.
The very next shift, the centre wins the face-off, tears down the ice and goes top shelf blocker side to get that goal right back. After the obligatory fist-bumps along the bench, he points his stick right at me and yells “That one’s for you, buddy”.
I am a goalie. And I fucking love this game.