When I started playing beer league hockey about 6 years ago, I fulfilled a lifelong dream and switched to goalie. It was awesome. And I played a lot over the course of three-plus years. And I got....okay. Better-than-average (as compared to my beer league peers) on most nights. Stealing the odd game, even. I loved it.
Then we moved to Rochester, NY. Now, next to Westchester County (NY) I figured Rochester to be far more hockey-oriented - and it is. I figured I could find a game every night of the week if I wanted. And I did - just....not as a goalie. It's weird. There seems to be an abundance of goalies up here. So much so, and after a long time of not playing at all, that I did the previously unthinkable: I started skating out. I figured SOME hockey - even as a vulgar skater - was better than no hockey. And I grew to enjoy skating out (wing) and eventually got on a fun team and we have a blast. Additionally, I'm the rare beer league back-up goalie. Not too many teams at this level have a back-up on the roster. So there's a lot of pressure on the goalie to show up for every game because finding a sub can be a pain in the butt.
But, back-up in name only at this point. Sadly, my gear has collected far more dust than snow in the last two years. I played goal for our first game last year (September) - and sucked like nobody's business (we won in OT 8-7 - Mittens would have scored on me, I was so bad. Boogaard would have had a bloody hatty) - and I had only played once in the year proceeding that.
So, when I got the email from our captain that I was in goal last night, it quickly dawned on me that it would be my 3rd time tending goal in the last two years.
Now, interestingly, I had been getting the urge to get back in the net this season. If nothing else, I have invested a large sum of money on my gear and it had literally been hanging in my garage for over a year.
But, had I done anything about it? Gone to a drop-in? Nope. Oh, I tried to see if there was any beginner-level team looking for a goalie (there were not.) But did I actually strap on the pillows and get on the ice? Le non.
I made sure I got to the rink (10:15 game) extra early (hey, the Wild was winning 2-1 and everything was good, right? Ha.) I remembered how to put all my gear on, and in what order. Everything still fit, but man did I feel big. In a fotuitous twist of fate, the games that night were all running ahead of schedule so I was able to get out on the ice - alone - with about 25 minutes to "warm up."
Stepping out on the ice in goalie skates (as opposed to skater skates) for the first time in a long time is weird. First, the blade feels like it's two-feet long. And it's not pitched forward at all, so it's hard to lift your foot. I knew this going into it, but it was surprising just how different it was. Now, going from pitched to flat is easier. You're much more steady on your feet because your balance is more naturally distributed. But the combination of that difference plus all the gear means you're using different muscles in your feet and legs to skate, the result of which for me last night was shin-splints within about 7 seconds of stepping out on the ice. So, that was fun.
I took a couple laps, just slowly, trying not to fall on my ass. I moved the goal into position and on its pegs. And just tried to get comfortable in that get-up. A couple of my team mates came out pretty soon and were awesome about helping me with angles from different locations and some shots. The guys on my team are just good guys in general. They knew what they were in for with me last night. And they couldn't have been more supportive.
Game finally gets under way and we've got a bench of four while the other team (that beat us 6-1 in our first game this season) has a bench of about 12 - not kidding. We are so doomed. But we score before I even touch the puck. A couple moments later, they bear in on me for the first time, work it behind me to my stick (right) side and pop it out front for a bang-bang goal, five hole. Which I completely blew. I was glued to the post until it was far too late and then didn't even start going down to block the shot until it was already over. But then I made a few saves, got into the game a bit, and we finished the first 1-1.
The second period though, ouch. Back when I was playing goalie a lot, I got to be okay on breakaways. Good timing/spacing, decent patience, and enough lateral movement to stay with the shooter, wait him/her out and be able to have a reasonable chance of tracking with their move and making the save. As my team's short bench (and the other team's long bench) started to have the usual effect on the game, the other team started finding seams and springing guys. And I was huge fail. They nailed me for FIVE breakaway goals in the second period. And - most frustratingly - they were all the same move! Fake to stick-side, pull back to glove side, goal. Of course my guys were all apologetic ("Not your fault, we're just letting them dance in on you") but I'm still the one getting beaten like it's my job.
And once it starts, oh boy does it snowball. I was tripping over my feet, sliding post to post and way over-shooting it. Backing up and feeling for the post and it wasn't where I thought it would be at all. Going down too soon. Going down too late. Getting up with the wrong leg. It was a disaster.
You also forget how much work it takes to roll around in all that shit! I was tired.
So, it was 6-1 after two periods, the final was 7-1 (they took pity on us and largely mailed it in during the third, I mean it's not like the outcome was in doubt.)
You also forget how much harder it is to let go of a bad game (in particular) as a goalie than as a skater. I mean, unless you had the winning goal on your stick and you trip on your own feet and blow it, it's pretty easy to bounce back after a loss if you're on the bench. But as a goalie, the video clips of all those moments of mistakes just keeps rolling.
It was so much fun! I had definitely forgotten how awesome it is to play goal. To make a save (for some damn reason, my glove was on fire last night - breakaways notwithstanding) or to slide across in the right position and see the guy decide that he can't take the shot - to force him to do something else. Man, that's a great feeling.
So, I'm left with one prevailing thought: I've GOTTA get back in the cage more often.