It's a strange relationship.
Two goalies on the same team – partners playing a unique position, and yet competing against each other at the same time.
But before we delve into the specifics of this fascinating dynamic, here's a point for goalie parents to ponder. I don't believe young goalies even need a partner before they reach the Bantam level. Growing up as a young netminder, I always flew solo until I completed my Pee Wee years.
Owning the crease was a great opportunity to play a lot of hockey without having to worry about riding the pine if you happened to suffer a bad game. Win, lose, draw or stinking the place out, you were the only goaltending option; a fantastic education when it came to learning how to overcome adversity and continue to battle no matter the score.
This season, my 10-year-old goaltending son will get the opportunity to experience flying solo. Last year, playing in the Toronto Minor Atom AA ranks, he had a great goaltending partner who jumped up a year early to play against older competition.
This season, however, the little guy is staying in the Minor Atom ranks to play against kids his own age. On one hand, my son will miss his buddy. They had a tremendous relationship, which included a mutual admiration for Carey Price – a pretty fair puckstopper in his own right. But there's also an upside. My guy will now get to play all the games, as the team decided not to add another goalie. Also, from a selfish parental standpoint, we'll no longer have to make those long city drives through nightmare traffic, only to watch our son sit on the bench every second game.
Still, there will come a time when a return to the two-goalie system will be inevitable. As the shooters get bigger and stronger and the hockey becomes more intense, it's kind of nice to have a buddy to share the burden with. Heck! Even Carey Price can't play every game, especially when you consider some of the injury problems he's had to endure over the past few seasons.
So, what's the secret to forming a a strong bond with your masked mate?
As a minor hockey goalie who eventually jumped up to play at the junior and collegiate level, I was lucky to have enjoyed positive relationships with all my netminding cohorts. Goaltenders have an obvious bond right off the hop because of the distinct nature of the position they play. I always say that goalies don't even play hockey – they play goal. You use a totally different set of skills than the players up front, and your mindset is completely foreign to most skaters. A forward, for instance, can be part of a losing effort and still be happy because he picked up a couple of points. But a goalie carries the weight of the world on their shoulders and, unless the team wins, there's absolutely no sense of comfort or satisfaction.
The bottom line?
The goalie is always under the microscope and, generally, gets too much credit if the teams wins and too much blame if they lose; it's all part of the job.
Every goalie accepts that burden, but it's nice to have a partner to share the load of expectations. However, there's also a dark side to the goaltending partnership. Only a single goalie can play at a time and while one masked man is kicking pucks out in spectacular fashion, the other goalie is riding the pine wondering if they'll ever get the chance to go back between the pipes. The fact is, if your buddy is standing on their head, it could be awhile before you get another chance to play.
So, how do you deal with that awkward situation?
With honesty and honour.
It's okay to acknowledge that you're in a competitive environment. Yes, you want to play a lot and play well – but remember, your goalie partner feels exactly the same way. So, you can use that reality to push each other and take both of your games to a higher level.
Also, respect the special nature of the position you both play and show that respect by being positive and encouraging to your netminding partner. Cheering for their sensational saves and being there for them when they're struggling will go a long way in gaining the appreciation of your teammates and coaches and will influence them to go the extra mile for you when it's your turn to step into the cage.
At the end of the day, both goalies want the same thing; the opportunity to play, to perform well and to help the team realize their goals.
Remember, you're in the battle together and when the day comes that you have to share that battle field, you can make both of your lives easier by embracing the opportunity to help one another as you go about forging one of the tightest bonds of your entire hockey life.
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