For the past seven months, all of us on my beginner rec hockey team have been waiting anxiously to celebrate our teammate Gwen’s first goal. She only started playing hockey in settings other than pickup when she joined our team at the beginning of this past summer season.
Gwen (we call her Wayne Gwenzky) has been playing wing and is always in the right place near the net when we are attacking. Her line mates have been so determined for her to score her first goal that they will often not take clear shots and pass her the puck instead. For months we have been starting our games with the announcement that “Project Wayne Gwenzky” is in effect, so that we all know our main objective is to get the puck to her so she can score.
It’s been a roller-coaster ride for all of us, especially on the bench, when we see her get the puck right in front of the opposing net and take a shot that is either saved by the goalie or ricochets off someone’s skate. I can feel the whole bench collectively holding its breath and then wildly exhaling with exasperation when the puck does not go in.
After every game, we would tell her, “You ALMOST had it! You’ll get it!” And she had become so disheartened after months of “almosts” that her cynical response of “Yeah, right” began to sound like a natural refrain.
Last week, I had to miss our game as I was out of town. On the TeamSnap chat, there was the usual banter from everyone, including Gwen, which included her assurance that she would try to score her first goal in the upcoming game. I told her she wasn’t allowed to score if I wasn’t there—I was joking of course, but after the months of anticipation, I truly didn’t want to miss THE GOAL.
Sure enough, I got a message from one of my teammates that night after our league game with a picture of a smiling Wayne Gwenzky proudly holding a labelled puck. I picked up the phone and called her. I wanted to hear the details and let her know I was as excited as she was.
Or as excited as I thought she would be.
She started with, “Well, I am not actually sure who touched the puck last. It might have been someone else on our team.” I could sense a tone of disappointment in her voice—the long-awaited sensational top-shelf, water-bottle-throttling post clanger was just a muffled bumble, apparently. She explained that there were so many people around the net trying to get a hold of the puck that no one, including her, knew who actually put the puck over the line. She said her teammates said it was her, but she wondered if they were just trying to give her the sought-after first goal.
I was at a bit of a loss for words. I didn’t know how to respond to her disappointment. Then I recalled my first goal.
A few years ago, I was playing in my first season. I had only just learned to ice skate a few months before, and I never had played ball hockey or street hockey. I was a true, true beginner. So, at that time, I, like Gwen, was eagerly anticipating my first goal and the celebrations and praise from my teammates. There I was, about eight games into my hockey career, standing wobbly near the opposition’s net as I had been taught. Suddenly, my teammate shot a puck from a crazy angle near the boards, it bounced off my chest protector and into the net. The ref called the goal. The game had been a somewhat aggressive and a relatively bad-tempered affair, and as I stood there in shock waiting for the goal celebration, all I saw was my teammates skating away chuckling at their luck, and all I heard was the other team’s players complaining in disbelief, “You’ve got to be $%^#& kidding!!”
I went back to the bench in shock, although I am not sure if I was more shocked that I had just “scored” or was more shocked that the goal was so fluky. No one got the puck for me.
I told Gwen this story and said that sometimes first goals aren’t all we expect them to be. I explained that even though my first goal, though memorable for the wrong reasons, was not nearly as memorable as the time, the following season, when I had my first two-goal game and my team won that game 2-1. And it wasn’t as memorable as the time when I scored with seven seconds left in a game and my team won 1-0.
Sometimes new players get so fixated on scoring their first goal that when it does come, it may be a let-down. It’s kind of like when you plan a vacation for months and when you finally arrive at your destination, it’s not as amazing as you had expected. And then, after that, the memory isn’t really one that evokes happy feelings.
Maybe it’s better to view the first-goal achievement as a gateway to bigger and better things, an initiation or rite of passage of sorts. Once you have that accomplishment checked off the list, you will feel less pressure and, with a little more confidence, open yourself up to the other more exciting and likely more important goal scoring opportunities.
I hope at least when Gwen does get her first game-winning goal or has her first two-goal game, I will be on the bench, or better yet, on the ice to celebrate with her.