In the Line of Fire

The Pressures of Being a Minor Hockey Goaltender

contributed by Jeff Emerson (Brantford, ON)

IN THIS DAY AND AGE, you might think of minor hockey as one of the safest sports around. After all, the equipment of today is lighter and more protective than ever.

The irony is that while the padding players wear is more advanced than it has ever been, the pressure that players find themselves under has only escalated. The player under the greatest stress on a daily basis is the goalie, the last line of defence. Once the puck gets past the grasp of the goaltender, a goal is scored, and the pace of the game changes immediately.

While some goalies handle stress better than others, the bottom line is that the tension always exists, and, unlike the rest of the team the person in net has no one to fall back on.

bigstockphoto_Ice_Hockey_Gatekeeper_2230125I know that when I played, my teammates often looked to me to keep them in the game, even bail them out when they fell short on their play. I accepted the responsibility as a requirement of being a goalie, a position I’d fallen in love with as a five-year-old.

After a team wins when the goalie exits the dressing room, he is often praised by every parent within eyesight, which feels both surreal and wonderful. However, when the team doesn’t come out on top, it’s often a different story; folks tend to look the other way when you pass by, or worse, they make unkind remarks about your level of play. Unfortunately, many young kids deeply internalize their feelings about these post-game events, which can affect their school work, or even their sense of self-esteem over the long-term. The words of coaches, teammates, and parents can have major implications on a young goalie’s confidence.

Aside from the obvious pressure of the game itself, is the goalie-to-goalie competition where two goalies compete make the same squad then spend the season competing against one another for ice time.

It’s easier when there’s only one goalie on the team, but in many leagues, each team has two goaltenders, which, if the coach’s philosophy is to play the net minder who’s “hot” can result in a season-long battle to oust a teammate for the spot.

Goalies are often referred to as a “different breed” for good reason; not every kid is up to the awesome task. Behind the pipes, the goalie is often the last hope that a team has and can make, or break, the outcome of a game, and sometimes the greatest game-to-game competition they face is to a chance to play in the crease.

Goaltending is definitely not for the faint of heart.

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