Well, it looks like we've officially got another goalie in the family.
With my 6-year-old lad's Tyke house league team struggling to make the playoffs late in the season, Theo stepped in to slap on the pads. He went between the pipes for a few regular season games and played really well, so his coaches asked if he'd mind tending the twine for the stretch run. It was a no-brainer, really, as Theo is just an average player at forward or defence. His mom, in fact, hung a nickname on him this season - "The Referee". Not the most aggressive kid in the world, Theo often skates alongside the other players who actually have the puck looking, yes, like a referee who's keeping a close eye on all the action.
So, "The Referee" headed to the crease and, lo and behold, his team promptly reeled off six straight wins, culminating with a triumph in the championship game. A lot of parents often talk about how nervous they get watching their child play goal. But having played the position myself during my hockey days, I was pretty calm watching Theo do his thing. Firing shots on him down in the basement through the years, I knew he was a pretty good little goalie and I actually found it much more nerve-racking (and frustrating!) watching him perform as a skater.
Playing goal is a lot safer than lining up as a forward or d-man. Six-year-olds don't fire the puck that hard and even if the odd little wizard packs some punch, it would literally take a bullet to dent the armor that modern goalies strap to their bodies. In the old days, arm and chest protectors were much more flimsy and, even in minor hockey, goaltenders were nothing more than one big bruise. In addition, musty old gloves and pads were made out of leather, which meant they retained a ton of water. You'd play in a tournament and by the second game of the day, your trapper was so heavy you couldn't even lift it to snare a rising wrist shot. Today's net minders, on the other hand, are lightening quick and extremely confident as they move around in their lightweight, ultra-protective gear.
Still, being a puck stopper isn't all peaches and cream. Let in a bad goal, for instance, and you stand out like a sore thumb. Playing junior and college hockey, I can still remember riding home on the bus after a bad game with my guts churning as I relived some of the stinkers I allowed. The regular skaters on the team never seemed quite so tortured. Sure, they might have been upset by a defeat but after a few minutes of stewing over it, they'd quickly bounce back.
"Yeah, we lost," they'd tell themselves,"But, hey! I still scored and besides, it was the dumb goalie's fault."
Fortunately, Theo is only six and with a championship in the bag during his first season as a goalie, he hasn't had to suffer very much yet.
His day will definitely come, of course. But up in the stands, at least he's got a battered old goalie to help him get through it.
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