They perform to the beat of a different drum. They are stationed between two pillars as solitary sentries who guard a net. In a book, they are a chapter of their own.
They are the goalies. They are the quirky kids. They are for the most part and thereabouts among the smartest kids on the team. The good ones are wired to channel and put into perspective the risks and rewards that come with the position. Because, unlike any other position, they can win or lose a hockey game on their own.
More so than size and skill and technique, the mental mindset of the goalie — regardless of age — is what can separate average from good, good from exceptional, status quo from advancement. As an example, Shannon Vit who owns Unified Wellness in Sault Ste. Marie and works as a professional mindset coach, is of the notion that being a hockey goalie is 90 per cent mental. To be sure, there is learned merit to what she says.
By and large, and in the general run of things, I love goalies. I have watched and met and interacted with — and written about — more than a few over the years as both a street lad and a hockey scribe. They are the earth, wind and fire of the game.
I had two separate childhoods. One was in Sault Ste. Marie, first on Maple St. in the downtown area, then in the east end of town on Retta St. The other was in Windsor, Ont. between the gritty, old neighbourhood streets of Howard and Lillian — and the alley way that separated them — less than a block from Erie St. E. In those formative years of elementary youth, I played hundreds of games of street hockey with kids younger and older and meaner and stronger. When it was my turn to be the goalie, stopping rubber balls and tennis balls made a smaller kid like me feel like a road warrior. I didn’t have a mask — but I didn’t need one when I was game on and in my own little world.
I loved hockey from the time I can remember. I had favourite players who were forwards and defensemen. But there was something about the goalies. Maybe because, even though I was always surrounded by so many people, I was a loner at heart. You want to hear about wanting to go off on your own for a while? When my family was in Windsor, we stayed with my aunt and uncle and their four kids in an upstairs apartment of the family-owned Grand Tavern on the corner of Howard and Erie streets. That meant, in total, eight kids and two sets of parents. But to me anyway, 12 people around the dinner table was like two hockey teams on the ice.
Back to the goalie position.
As a kid, I played road hockey in Windsor against a blond haired Italian lad by name of Eddie Mio. He lived on Lillian St. and he was about a year younger than me. He took his turn as a goalie just like me and my cousins Steven and Jeff Ilijanich and the other street urchins who joined us did. So, when I scored a goal on Eddie from time to time, it did not register as anything special. That is, until Eddie went on to be a junior hockey goalie with the Windsor Spitfires. And then got a scholarship to play hockey at Colorado College. And then the ultimate — Eddie became a National Hockey League goalie of many years with the Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings.
To the point. I remember, even back then, asking a psychologist friend of mine how Eddie ever rose from street hockey in Windsor to becoming a legendary NHL goalie. And the reply was simple and to the point: “Because Eddie Mio had the mindset.”
By and large and en masse, goalies are the smartest of the swarm of hockey players who I have come across in any way, shape or form over the years. To be sure, as a writer, I have encountered a few morons who play the position. But primarily and principally, the goalies are at the top of the intelligence quotient ladder. Which is somewhat paradoxical, given that one might not conclude that someone who signs up to get pucks shot at their head is of overly sound mind. My guess is that most goalies are dare devils of the utmost savvy and sense that a puck is but a mere challenge to their aptitude and brainpower.
Some of the smarter goalies who I have encountered at higher levels of play include Mark Locken, formerly of the Hamilton Fincups and Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, Gene Chiarello who tended twine in the OHL for the London Knights, and Kevin Hodson who won a Memorial Cup with the Greyhounds and a Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings.
Hodson, who now runs a highly successful wealth management firm in association with RBC, borders on genius. Yet he is a down to earth dude who one can sit and sip wine or drink beer with and feel totally at home and comfortable with even if he is a tad on the jittery side. My wife and I have our funds invested with Kevin and have done well by the old puck stopper.
Being a goalie is not for the faint of heart, that is for sure. But being the parent or a relative of a goalie is not easy on the nerves either. The ones who seem most affected are the hockey moms. Next time you are at a local minor hockey game, look for the hockey mom. She is likely to be the least relaxed and most tense of any of the average parents. She may also be the one ordering the extra glass of vino.
Meanwhile, even if I wanted to, I can’t distance my self from goalies. My niece’s son is one. I love the lad and I love watching him play. Does he dance to his own music? Absolutely.