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Cornered Coach: The Legend of King George

A bronze goalie towers over Max and Theo Toth at the Hockey Hall of Fame. In this week's blog, Mike Toth introduces us to a budding goalie legend donning the pads for the East York Novice Penguins.

We won!

After two losses to start the season, my gang of 8-year old Novice Penguins (including my own little guy, Max) defeated the Oilers to notch our first victory of the season.

I felt good for the guys – especially King George. He's our goalie, George Amaro, who is playing his very first season between the pipes. George is a ball hockey wall, but tending the twine on slippery ice is a whole different world. In his first-ever game a few weeks ago, George let in the first nine shots he faced. But instead of getting discouraged, he kept battling and ended up making some great saves down the stretch. My favorite part of the game, in fact, was when our guys on the bench, unsolicited from the coaches, started pounding the boards after one of George's stops even though we were getting hammered. It’s pretty impressive for a group of 8-year-olds to be aware of the situation and encourage a teammate learning a brand new skill.

I played goal myself, competing at the Junior and College level, but that was thirty years ago and the position has really changed. For one thing, the equipment is a lot bigger, but also much lighter. In the old days, leather gloves and pads soaked up snow and sweat like a sponge and by the end of the game, your gear was as heavy as a Zdeno Chara slap shot. Maybe that's why old-time goalies were discouraged from going down, since they might not be able to get back up again. A few goalies, such as Hall of Famer Tony Esposito, played the "butterfly" style and dropped to their knees. But for the most part, it was all about standing up and making Ken Dryden-style toe saves.

With that said, there are some puck-stopping concepts that have stayed constant through the years, and at our first few practices George and I worked on a few techniques, such as standing at the top of the crease, lining up your belly button with the puck and keeping your glove open and ready. There was a time when most goalies were left to fend for themselves at practice, and it really helps to have somebody from the "goalie's union" helping you out.

The bottom line?

George was ripped and ready to face the Oilers. During the game, I shouted at the troops to "Protect King George! We must not let King George Fall!" That, of course, resulted in some puzzled eyes staring back at me through the bars of all those helmeted cages on the bench. But thanks to some beautiful work by George, and some top-notch back-checking by his buddies, we ended up winning in a 13-3 walk.

However, not everybody had a good time. Right after the game, I was approached by a red-faced Oilers' coach who accused us of "running up the score".

Welcome aboard my first crisis of the season. I'll tell you how it all shook down in next week's blog.

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