Where it all began
I still remember watching my first hockey game. A family friend was at the house, and he was a big Blackhawks fan, and the Hawks were on TV. In those days we only got to watch Hawks games if they were on the road. I was in the third grade, and waiting to go to a Cub Scout meeting. I had my uniform on, then when the National Anthem began to play I went in the other room so I could stand at attention, while still hearing the vocalist.
I didn’t have much to do with hockey until about a year later when my sister had a friend over one Friday night, and my dad asked us kids what we wanted to do. Out of nowhere I asked if we could go ice skating. This was pre-internet so my dad got the phone book out and called the rink up to see if they had open skate. We were in luck – they did! We piled into the car, and made the first of what would be many trips to the south Chicago suburb legend Southwest Ice Area, better known as SIA.
We got to SIA, and dad rented some skates for all of us. My rentals were a pair old hockey skates from the 1970’s with no ankle support. My sister and her friend got figure skates. I figured I’d been rollerblading before, this couldn’t be that bad. Two steps onto the ice, and I was on my backside. I was a board hugger that first time out, and my dad helped hold me up, but I loved it. I wanted to go back the next day, and the day after that, and well you get the point.
Another family friend of ours played men’s league hockey and helped my parents pick out my first pair of skates, a pair of Tour forward skates. Mom and dad then signed me up for Murray Bannerman’s learn to skate at SIA. I went from being a board hugger, to an ankle bender real quick. By the time the clinic was over I was a descent skate who couldn’t stop.
After signing up for another learn to skate clinic, I was ready for my first season with the St. Jude Knights hockey club. Mom and dad signed me up for the Squirt house league season. St. Jude would field three teams to play in the league that featured 2-4 teams from three other programs. During tryouts we were asked if any of us wanted try playing goalie. I couldn’t throw my hand up fast enough. That is all I wanted to do.
When the season started I was on the Sharks, with me and another kid volunteering to play goalie. The association provided goalie equipment. I don’t know what brand the leg pads were as they were so old the lettering had worn off, but they were some old school brown leather pads filled with deer hair. After a practice or game they weighed twice as much compared to walking into the rink. The chest protector was two pieces. My arms were covered with nothing more than felt sleeves filled with minimal fluff. My body was covered by what looked like a baseball catcher’s chest protector. My glove and blocker were some 1970’s Winnwell black leather antiques.
I didn’t know much of what I was doing between the pipes, but I loved it. It helped that my team was pretty good too. I earned my first shut out the day after Christmas. Our coach set the goalie rotation so that we played every other game. The games we weren’t playing goal, we skated out. I think this was inadvertently a valuable lesson for me as I learned the game at the same time.
My second year of playing, I was a peewee on the Canadians. I was also the team’s only goalie. This was when my parents knew I was sticking with goaltending and bought me a pair of Cooper Durasoft leg pads. They even bought me the matching glove. I still had the old Winnwell waffle board blocker though. This was a good season for me as our association brought in a goalie coach who put on weekly clinics for us, and I learned the basics of goaltending, things like skate saves and two pad stacks. I continued going to the coach’s summer goalie camp as well.
My third year playing I was a bantam playing for the Blues. As a Hawks fan I hated our team name, and jerseys. Our team was an interesting mix of junior high kids, and high school kids. We had two players on our team who also played for their high school teams. I wasn’t the only goalie so I had to share the net, but I continued going to a goalie clinic, and was turning into a pretty good goalie for my age.