“Jen, why did you choose to be a goalie?” It’s a question I am frequently asked. Even though the days of thin chest protectors and never-healing bruises are long gone from hockey, somehow it often seems that the goaltenders are still regarded with a degree of caution and/or amusement. And it’s understandable; after all, it’s not a natural human instinct to throw oneself in front of hard, fast projectiles. Who would willingly choose to play such a position? I still hear the comment “oh, she’s normal – for a goalie” from time to time. And there are times when (after taking a few hard shots off the head) I even think to myself “Jen, you are a bit crazy.” But there are few things in my life I love more then playing goal. I am living my dream!
I’ve loved hockey from a young age – growing up Vancouver certainly was instrumental in that. My desire to play goalie goes back nearly as far. I often trace it back to a couple of NHL games I watched on TV in the late 90’s. Even now I can clearly recall Dominik Hasek guarding the net for the Buffalo Sabres and being mesmerised by his mask and goalie pads. As I watched him skating around before the game, I kept thinking about how cool the gear was and how much fun it would be to wear those big pads and hold that big stick.
In the particular games I watched, Hasek was brilliant in the net, making unbelievable saves with his usual acrobatic flair. I was hooked. Soon I was taking out books in the library about goaltending and reading as much as I could about playing the position. The more I learned, the more playing goal fascinated me. Everything about it – the gear, the movements, the mental aspects of the game – seemed so interesting! I never really had a desire to play forward and score goals. I’d imagine that one day I would be wearing goalie gear and playing hockey for a real team.
My family couldn’t afford to put me in ice hockey, so I turned to street hockey to live out my little dream of playing goalie. When I played hockey on the deck with my brothers I would pull on a battered old helmet with a rusty cage that looked more like a football mask. I had a huge wooden stick with a broken blade that my dad had nicely bolted and glued back together. My trapper was a baseball glove and I would use rubber bands to hold my makeshift cardboard pads on my legs. How excited I was when I got a pair of street hockey goalie pads for my birthday – no more snapping elastics! Eventually the pads were followed by a CSA approved player’s helmet, a new stick, and a lightly used blocker and trapper. As wonderful as those games were, I still wanted to play “real hockey” – on the ice.
My chance to play on the ice came about quite by accident. In November 2009 I found out from a friend of mine that a group of girls from my church were getting together to rent some ice and play shinny. One of them mentioned they had no goalies. I thought that this might be a chance to try being a goalie on ice, so I packed up my flimsy street hockey gear and old skates and volunteered to be the target for the morning – without any arm protection save my Canucks jersey (yes, I am a little crazy). Stepping onto the ice to play goal for the first time was almost indescribable. I will never forget how much fun I had that day – not getting scored on was a bonus!
I played a few more pick up games with the girls, and each time I became more determined to find a league to play in. After carefully saving some money, I bought a full set of low end goalie gear and I signed up for a local goalie camp. While at camp, I met another adult female goalie playing recreational hockey and she directed me to the Adult Safe Hockey League in Burnaby. I quickly found a team to play on – I soon discovered that there is a goalie shortage – and in September 2010 I finally realized my dream! I lost my first ever game 2-1 in overtime, but the final score never bothered me; I was playing hockey! Ten games later, I got my first win. Those special moments will be remembered forever.
Two and half seasons later (I missed the second half of last season due to a shoulder injury), my love of goaltending grows stronger all the time. There is something great about the feelings you get after a big save or a hard fought game. The camaraderie of the teams I play on is something I wouldn’t trade away. When I am asked why I’m between the pipes, I guess the simplest answer is that it was just meant to be. The crease is my space, my passion is stopping shots. As I often tell people, the reason I don’t like playing basketball is because goaltending is a foul!
As a postscript, there’s a reason my jersey number is #39.