I’ve watched pro hockey since I was a kid. Everything about it is cool. It’s a fast-paced balance of finesse and brutality that’s as much about skill as it is about heart. But I’ve always had a particular love of all things goalie. There’s something so unique about the position; the cool specialized equipment, the sheer importance of the goalie, the way the teams seem to stick up for their netminders at all costs.
I knew for a long time that I wanted to be an ice hockey goalie, but it just didn’t seem to be in the cards. As a kid, we didn’t have the means, and I didn’t have the guts. As an adult, I thought the dream was impossible. Even if I could get my hands on all of the goalie gear, where would I learn to play? It’s not like there are classes for adult beginner goalies, right?
Thankfully, I was wrong. Adult hockey is growing like crazy, especially in my hometown, Chicago. And where there’s ice and a net, there’s a need for a goalie. After calling around to nearby rinks, I was surprised to learn that I could join a number of beginner-level classes as a goalie for free. All I needed to do was find goalie equipment and I’d be ready to go.
After almost two years in the net, I’ve learned that there are some awesome benefits to being a goalie. Whether you’re a skater thinking about manning the crease or a flat-out noob considering lacing up, I hope this list of the seven best things about being a goalie will help sway you in the right direction.
#1 – Nothing’s your fault
I’ll be honest. When I took the ice for my first scrimmage, I was terrified. A familiar phrase stuck in my craw: “Being a goalie is the most psychological position in sports.” I wasn’t worried about bruises or cuts; I was afraid of what my team would say if I let in a goal.
Eventually, it happened. A dribbling shot got through my five-hole. I was gutted. I thought I had it! When one of my teammates skated over, I was prepared for the worst. “Sorry about that,” he said. Sorry? Why was he sorry? “I should have had that guy,” he said.
That’s the thing about skaters, especially defensemen; they think it’s their job to stop shots from happening. After a shot on goal, you can usually count on a defenseman to skate over and apologize. “It won’t happen again,” or “My bad,” or “That one was my fault.” I usually just let them apologize. If they knew how much fun it was to face a shot, then they might stop covering the slot, and I’d probably look a lot worse out there.
#2 – You play for free (or at a big discount)
Skaters pay a lot to play in a leagues, rat hockey, camps, and clinics. But typically, goalies skate for free. There are often other related perks, like skate sharpening discounts, free jerseys, and free parking for goalies (I’m not kidding). I think it’s part of a much larger misunderstanding that being a goalie is a torturous, thankless task.
I try not to correct this misunderstanding. I mean, I like playing for free. Usually, players will say things like, “Yeah, but you had to pay a lot for your gear.” That’s true, but I’ve more than made up for that initial cost with all of the free hockey that I’ve played over the last two years. It’s like a story problem in math class. Gordie initially pays $250 for his hockey gear and then pays $300 every four months to play hockey. Terry pays an initial $800 for his goalie gear and then plays hockey for free for the rest of his life. Or at least until he wants to buy some new…
#3 – Gear!
Goalie gear is the best. It’s expressive, colorful, and makes you look like a bad-ass. Players have to buy gear, too, but then they hide it under their jerseys and socks. Goalies get to wear their gear with pride. And, if they’re like me, they get to paint their masks.
Many of the goalies I’ve met are true gear heads. They like to talk shop about pads, skates, and sticks. But that also means that they’re always looking at new equipment. Fortunately, that means there’s almost always a supply of used equipment available at a reduced price. I started out with all used gear (except for my mask—that’s definitely something you want to buy new). Over the past two years, I’ve swapped out nearly all of my gear for new (or newer used) gear. That’s part of the fun. Remember, it’s a battle out there, and you want to be prepared.
#4 – A save feels as good as a goal (and you can make dozens of saves in one game).
If you watch SportsCenter during hockey season, you’re bound to see a Datsukian deke or an Ovechkin-esque slapper on the highlight reel. But you’ll also probably see a how-did-he-do-that goalie save, too. Making a save is one of the best feelings on earth. Even routine, run-of-the-mill saves make you feel like a superstar. There’s no better feeling than stopping a breakaway and hearing your teammates go nuts on the bench. Plus, you’ll probably make dozens of saves in a game. For skaters, a hat trick is something to brag about. Three measly goals? I typically snag 20+ saves in a game — each one a gem!
If you’ve ever skated out as a player, you’ll know how frustrating it is to see your beautiful shot get snatched out of the air by a goalie’s glove. Glove saves are God’s gift to goalies. One good glove save will overcome any negative feelings you may have about a bad game. Even after a tough loss, my teammates will remember a killer save later in the locker room.
#5 – More ice time
Despite what players may say, being a goalie is exhausting, even in a boring blowout. But you’re on the ice longer than anyone on your team. Technically, you play every shift; you’re on every line. You get to play with every player on your team, and you get to face the opposing team’s whole roster, too. Talk about getting your money’s worth. Wait, you didn’t even have to pay, did you? You lucky schmuck.
#6 – They can’t play without you
I’m sure you’ve heard the analogy that goalies are the bass players of sports. It’s funny, but not completely accurate; you can have a great band without a bass player (I’m looking at you, Doors and White Stripes), but you can’t drop the puck without a goalie. I like to think we’re the lead singers of the team, but we’re probably more like the drummers. We’re the backbeat of the team. Without us, the team might as well be playing in a coffee house somewhere.
This MVP status has its perks. Teammates buy me drinks after the game. They hold the door for me. And once, when my car broke down, a teammate offered me a ride to and from the rink for a month. “We can’t play without you,” he said. It’s true. Like I said before, skaters believe that being a goalie is a thankless task. They must think we tend the net out of the goodness of our hearts. At rat games, skaters always thank me for playing. It’s like they don’t get that…
#7 – It’s the most fun you can have on the ice
Honest! Try skating out as a goalie and tell me that it’s not a blast. See the above list for proof. Even in a boring game, you still have the best seat in the house.
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