Washed Up Goalie

After stepping away from the game because my daughter was born, then 15 months later my son, I still had the itch to play. It’s hard not to when watching an NHL game on TV, seeing a goalie make a save, and remembering. I finally got back on the ice when talking to a co-worker at the time mentioned they needed a fill-in goalie for their skate that week. He asked if I’d be interested, and I said sure. The kids would be asleep so it wasn’t an issue. After two years, I wasn’t as rusty, or terrible as I anticipated, but boy was I sore the next day because my mind was telling me I could still do things, that my body later told me I couldn’t since I wasn’t stretching and playing every day like I previously had.

I filled in every few months during the season, but summers were pretty scarce. As my kids got older, and getting them to bed was easier, I started to look for groups to skate with. The guys I knew who skated all had goalies, but my number was quickly getting on the back-up list for a lot of groups, allowing me to skate every few weeks, but nothing regularly.

We started going to a new church around the time my son was born, and I was eventually recruited by a friend from the church to play on the softball team. While playing, I was talking to one of the pastors about wishing I could find a men’s league team, and not just random fill in opportunities. He mentioned there are a group of guys from the church who play in a league, and they were looking for a new goalie.

I didn’t have high expectations for this men’s league team, but the players were descent. The problem was we usually only got five to six skaters a game. Despite our low turnout, we did win two games that season, and were never blown out. I played OK for a men’s league goalie, but knew I could play better. I was just happy to be playing regularly again. Unfortunately when the next season came around we didn’t have enough guys to make up a team. I was back to being a fill-in.

About a year later we moved into a new house. I took my kids to the local fire department for their fire prevention week open house and saw a familiar face. One of my teammates from Saint Mary’s University was there. Turns out he lived about five minutes from me, and was on the fire department. We exchanged numbers and went about our day. I spent the season skating pretty regularly as a fill-in at pickup games. Over the summer my teammate sent me a text asking if I’d be interested on being the goalie for a men’s league team made up mostly of firemen. The team is aptly name The Hosers. I didn’t even have to think. I said yes.

Three years ago I showed up for my first Hosers game at the Schwan’s Super Rink in Blain, MN. The Super Rink is the world’s largest ice rink with eight sheets of ice, and is the training home to the USA Women’s National Team. The Super Rink is also home to a pretty darn well run men’s league that features several divisions.

I didn’t have high hopes for our team after my experience with the church team I was on, but this turned out to be a descent team. We get close to two full lines on a consistent basis for games, which is a huge plus, but we’ve also had games where we’ve had five or six skaters. Our season is broken up into two – a fall season, and a winter season. Our fall season is usually a bit tougher to get guys out for, and our record reflects that. We’ve been a bottom tier team in the fall, then a top tier team in the winter each of the now three years I’ve been part of the team.

That first fall with the team I was still getting back into the swing of skating regularly, but also learning the tendencies of a team. I was learning which defensemen I could count on covering my weak-side post, and which I couldn’t. I had to learn who could make crisp passes, and who couldn’t. I was also adjusting to the speed of the league, and learning opposing teams. I’d like to say I was lights out that year, and stole our team a few wins. The reality was I was a serviceable shooter tutor, and my body was pretty sore.

I stretched over the summer so I wouldn’t be so sore, and my second year with the Hosers was much better. Our fall season we finished right in the middle of the league, but our winter season was better.

The highlight of the winter season last year was when an opposing goalie tried getting into a fight, and was tossed with 8:00 to play. They didn’t have a backup (nobody does in beer league hockey), and my team did our best not to put any shots on goal unless there was no other option. We were already up something like 9-2 when the goalie was ejected. Despite me yelling for the puck the entire 8:00, it wasn’t until there was 0:32 to play when it dawned on one of my defenseman my intentions when he was skating out of the zone with the puck. He passed me the puck, and I let it rip to the empty net. My teammates finally realized what I was trying to do, and got out of the way of the puck. Opposing players were in the way, and could have stopped it, but they moved to see if I could do it. The ref quickly skated to the empty net in hopes of indicating a goal, but to puck went wide right by about two inches. We were in the top half, and I backstopped the team to the championship game. We probably would have won the game if it wasn’t played on Mother’s Day. Because of the scheduling our team only had six skaters, compared to the opponents three full lines. Mother’s Day in Minnesota marks the opening of fishing season, so many of our players were up at their cabins fishing. Our low turnout had nothing to do with guys staying home with their wives, or visiting their moms. We hung in there well, heading into the third period tied 1-1, but fatigue finally caught up with my guys, and we fell 3-1.

Playing in the winter league championship game energized me for this year’s fall season. I knew we’d have a short bench, and we’d probably be in the bottom half of the league, but I looked forward to it. This fall season I played the best I have in years, and I brought some consistency to my game. I can only point out two games I played bad. Now I’m looking forward to the winter season as a few guys who couldn’t play in the fall are returning, and we may pick-up another player or two from another team in another division that is disbanding.

What I’ve learned playing beer league hockey is that it’s ok to just play the game for fun, and not worry about your performance, or the outcome of the game. When I first started playing beer league hockey I’d get down on myself like I would in my competitive days, or get irked if my teammates weren’t upset after a loss. Then I took a step back and realized that we’re all still playing – at our different skill levels – because we love the game, not to win or make it to the next level. For us the next level is being healthy enough to play the next season. We now say that if nobody gets hurt in a game, and we all have fun, then it is a victory in our book no matter what the scoreboard says.

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