Somewhere amid the clutter in my parents’ basement sits a pair of kids’ skates – size 2 – that haven’t been touched since 1993. There’s also a Hi8 cassette somewhere down there with embarrassing footage of my one and only appearance in a professionally organized ice hockey game as a six-year-old. (Let’s not get into that story.)
So with zero experience under my belt (a rarity for a Canadian, I would guess) I figured if I was going to take the time gearing up to make a fool of myself playing our national sport, I should do it spectacularly: as goalie for the Victoria Royals.
And what a fool I made.
Unjustifiably confident, I skate toward goaltenders Patrik Polivka and Coleman Vollrath, who immediately get a good laugh when they see I put my pads on the wrong legs. (I now know what a knee stack and an outer roll are, though.)
A quick lesson in goaltending follows – how to stand, how to hold the stick, how to make sure your pads are on the right limbs – but my nerves really kick in when the Royals offence lines up at the blue line to take penalty shots against me.
An intimidating Ben Walker quickly makes his way toward me.
“Do I look at him or the puck?” “Man, these pads are cumbersome.” “Is this a regulation size net? There’s a lot more of it to protect than I thought there’d be.” “Why’s he coming at me so fast?” “How do I know where he’s aiming?” “Oh God, don’t hurt me!”
And before I’m even able to react, the puck is flying by me, landing in the back of the net.
That series of events repeats over and over for the next half hour, before I finish the day with a 0.03 save percentage. (That’s right – I did stop a couple of pucks!)
“For your first time as goalie, you didn’t do that bad,” Walker tells me. “We strapped my dad up one time when we were younger and he was a lot worse than you. He was flinching, you could fake a shot and he’d actually fall backwards, so it was pretty funny.”
For complete transparency: the reason I didn’t flinch or fall backwards is I was so exhausted just standing there in a mountain of pads under the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre lights, there came a point where I literally only stood because I couldn’t exert any more effort to try and stop the puck.
I have a greater respect for the job goaltenders have. It’s a tough, complicated position to play, and – even when there’s nothing on the line – you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders.
Next time I’m watching the Royals, Cougars or Canucks, I won’t lay into the goalie too much if they let one or two in. I’ll just be glad I’m not in their position.