I tell any new goalies that I meet that the first 3 months are the hardest ever. I’m a former athlete (swimmer) and played goalie in soccer growing up. But starting out goalie in ice hockey was a completely different experience. I’ll whine about starting out in this post, so that in the next post I can list some great goalie resources and web sites.
Your first time out there in goal is a surreal experience. Putting all that gear on is like isolating yourself in a special bomb safety cage with a small viewing port with which to see the world.
It’s hot in all that gear — like really friggin toasty. In fact, it is so hot that you’ll be tempted to pick snow off the ice and shove it down your chest armor, into your helmet and inside your pants. You’ll want to lie down on your exposed backside during breaks and leave behind a melted puddle. But don’t you worry, after a few months your body (re)learns how to sweat profusely and you’ll routinely lose 4-5 pounds of water weight in a game (in spite of downing 2lbs of water during the game to offset the expected loss). The downside in all this is that I now sweat simply at the sight of hockey gear!
Speaking of weight, goalie gear is heavy. Think about it, you are routinely asking yourself to put on skates and go out in a getup which as much ventiation as a plastic bag. Silly as it may sound, imagine doing 50 lunges on the slippery ice in that outfit — easy cheesy. But all that is just too dang easy to be interesting enough for your average Canadian, so line your plastic bag with about 30-40lbs (16kg for the rest of the world). Now add a time-based component, as your gear will only get heaver and heaver with sweat and water throughout your little “workout”. On the bright side, the next time you go backpacking, your 40-50lb pack won’t bother you one bit and you’ll be capable of deep knee lunges at 10,000feet.
Simply put, gear smells and tastes funny (especially borrowed gear). The helmet is its own little biodrome and you get to smell and taste everything you (or the person you borrowed the helmet from) have had on your face or hair for the last few weeks. Once again, don’t worry, you’ll soon lose the ability to taste the yeast growing inside the gear. In fact, I have a theory that all this helmet yeast fights off rhinoviruses quite well.
The first few times you get out there, you quickly find that you can’t stand up correctly in those bloody goalie skates. You see, goalie skates are missing something that player skates have an abundance of — ankle support. You’ve watched other goalies go side to side and you want to do the same. However, there is something unnatural about taking a long metal blade and making it go shortways on the ice. On top of that, if you are unlucky enough to go out the first few times in player skates, be sure to take out ankle and knee insurance. Player skates hate going sideways more than goalie skates, and the extra ankle support is actually a problem when you start to work on butterflies and recoveries. Eventually, you’ll get yourself goalie skates and build some ankle strength and your slides will be as natural as ever. As an added bonus, your edge control will be outstanding and your hockey stops in player skates will be greatly improved.
::…In A Bunch::
Just when you think you’ve gotten a little used to all the confinement, a piece of your gear will start twisting around. Sometimes it’s your chest armor, sometimes it’s the body armor below and occasionally it’s your socks, jock or cup. The amazing thing is that in spite of the heat exhaustion and other distractions (pucks) you are even able to notice the twisting and bunching. Alas, the annoyance of twisting gear never seems to improve — you simply get better at finding ways to keep it from happening.
Does being a goalie hurt? Sometimes. Depends on where you get hit and how hard you get hit there. When you first step out there, you are pretty darn convinced you are covered head to toe and you feel a wee bit invincible (albeit Michelin Man uncoordinated). Don’t worry, you’ll soon find out you how wrong you are with prompt and immediate feedback. The feedback often comes with a bonus reminder in the form of a nice square puck-sized bruise.
Case in point, like touching a hot stove, you find out that turning your back to a puck is a bad idea. Lifting your chin and exposing your neck is also a bad idea (oh, the road-tracks on my kneck from that one lasted a week). Opening up your elbow lets your jealous armpit and rib cage catch a glimpse of the puck. A fancy kick save with an open leg might grant your groin a souvenir. Above the knee and below the pants is a nice spot for blocking pucks with flesh. In fact, even a correctly angled puck will find a way to slip up the bicep and under the shoulder caps. You soon become familiar with that sickening fleshy thump-sound of a puck finding something other than gear (the dull aching pain follows a few seconds later).
And even if the puck does manage to hit your gear square one, some gear is better than others and you’ll find yourself upgrading out of the beginner gear soon enough. Charlie-horsed arm after taking a shot — upgrade. Entire hand going numb after catching a hard puck — upgrade. Heart stopping when you get hit in the sternum — upgrade. Mandatory 15 minute “rest” after a slapshot to the “groinal area” — upgrade.
The inside one of a goalie helmet is an acoustic travesty. Unlike player helmets, goalie masks lack ear holes. This makes comprehension difficult to say the least. Since you’ve typically got a piece of reinforced thermoplastic in front of your mouth, your fellow skaters are all but guaranteed not to understand a word you say (forget smiling at them, they won’t see it). This is why goalies are always taking off their helmets to talk — it’s pretty much the only option.
To up the ante, after a couple of throat hits, you might want to –upgrade– to a dangler. A dangler is a curved little piece of polycarbonate that hangs by a couple of shoelaces from your helmet. On the plus side, danglers are great for stopping the errant puck (or stick blade) headed for your carotid artery. On the down side, it’s akin to arhythmic banging on your helmet with a giant plastic drumstick.
And to close off this section, I’d like to mention that getting hit in the face mask is not so much painful as it is L-O-U-D!
::Get Me Out Of Here::
Did I mention how tired you’ll be? A different kind of sweaty, full body exhausted can’t walk kind of tired. So tired that when you are done with the “session”, you stumble to the locker room and suddenly experience an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia. As in, “Get this gear the hell off of me, it’s so hot and wet and stinky and confining that I have to be free!”.
You’ll be tempted to bring a knife with you and simply cut the straps and ties that bind. Don’t do this — it’s the expensive way out. Trust me, the chest armor is the worst, and once you get that off, the panic will subside. And after a few months, you’ll almost get used to lounging around in your gear — the familar smell and warmth of home.
Oh, and the muscles. They hate you. They revolt against you. They despise you. They haven’t been this yanked, tugged, abused in over a decade and they refuse to let you forget about it. You thought you stretched, but they disagree. Your new friends are Advil, Tiger Balm, Polar Lotion, a hot shower and even more stretching.
It’s no wonder they say “goalies just aren’t right…”