"Three cheers for the goalie!"
My six-year-old son's Tyke house league squad had just captured the league championship last spring, and the celebration was in full gear inside the dressing room.
Granted, little Theo did play well. A regular skater (and not a very good one!) most of the season, he took his turn in goal at one point and impressed the coaches enough for them to ask him to don the pads for the round-robin playoffs. Since he really wasn't accomplishing much up front, we decided he could best help his team by heading for the goalie crease and, most importantly, he really enjoys stopping pucks.
Fortunately, he blocked enough shots to result in a championship for the "Mighty Rangers" and the coaches and kids were very complimentary about his netminding efforts.
But while the "three cheers" routine was nice, I was worried about how long it would last.
Theo has moved up to Minor Novice this season, where he's now playing "Select" hockey, and yes, he's back between the pipes.
Whenever you suit up for "Select" hockey, the expectations rise and the goalie becomes a big part of the focus. Even in the seven- and eight-year-old ranks, I've heard coaches complain about their goaltending. "We would've won if little Johnny would have stopped a little more rubber!"; and I was concerned with how Theo would react to the increased pressure of playing an advanced brand of hockey.
The goalie's dad, meanwhile, is also under a bit of a microscope and, unfortunately, I failed the first test in miserable fashion.
On the night of Theo's "Select" debut with the Toronto East York Bulldogs, I still hadn't figured out how to put his gear on. I was a goalie myself "back in the day", but the equipment was a lot less complicated—just slap on a few straps and away you'd go.
But the modern tools of the trade?
Straps everywhere, with complicated lacing systems and high-tech gadgets. I thought I'd finally figured it all out, until Theo skated out and literally hit the ice, falling on his butt again and again.
"Dad," he said to me as I ran down to the bench, "There's something wrong with my skates!"
But it wasn't the skates. It was the fact that I had strung the straps UNDERNEATH his skate blades that was causing the problem. So there I was, sliding on the ice in my dress shoes to re-strap him while the impatient referee hovered over me and the players, coaches and parents looked on with raised eyebrows.
"Man! The guy's son is a "Select" goalie, and he doesn't even know how to put the poor little guy's gear on?"
I felt like I'd just arrived in Canada from a hockey-starved Eastern European country, perhaps like my native Hungary.
"In Hungary, we play soccer! Shoes and ball, that's all you need! What's with all these fancy straps?"
Eventually the team's goalie coach got Theo's straps in the proper place and it was game on. We didn't win, but Theo made a few good saves and after the game, and guess what?
Theo's coaches and teammates didn't give him just "three cheers", they gave him five. The extra "hip hip hooray's!" were probably for being forced to cope with an incompetent goalie dad.
But the good news is, everyone had a smile on their face as I took some good-natured ribbing for my rotten equipment manager skills.
And the best news of all?
Theo had a big goalie grin on his face, too.
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