The last time I put on a set of goalie pads, I was in my 20s. Now at 48, I got the urge to play hockey again a few months ago.
Here’s the deal: From the age of 18 to about 28, I was a roller hockey goalie. I picked the game up pretty quickly and played for my university’s club team. I hung around in the men’s leagues for years after that.
I gave hockey up because of my ridiculous number of hobbies and my desire to experiment with all sorts of other activities. But coaching the defenders and goalkeepers for my daughter’s soccer team gave me the urge to get back into a team sport.
I wound up switching to ice hockey because all of the roller rinks where I played have closed. The only ones still around are 40 minutes away. My wife pointed out that there’s an ice rink about 5 minutes from us. I resisted the idea at first because I’d need some new gear and I’d have to learn a bunch of new techniques. But I realized this was the best way forward.
I started going to adult rookie classes at Oceanside Arena in April. The classes include coaches to lead drills, and they usually have a goalie coach.
Here’s what I’ve learned since my return to the pipes.
1. Being a Hockey Goalie is More Work Than I Remember
Every week, I lift weights. I go to a hot yoga class. I ride my bike (I’ve ridden close to 10,000 miles on road and mountain bikes in the past 3 years).
But man, playing goalie is a different type of fitness. My first time on the ice, my heart rate shot up every time I dropped into the butterfly position. I’d try to do a slide or a t-push, but I’d go nowhere and just wind up wearing myself out. Even worse, I’d feel little pings of pain in the quads that told me that I was right on the edge of a cramp or a sprain.
My second session was a little better, but I overheated like crazy for some reason. I had to take a break and even remove my mask and jersey before I was ready to do anything again.
By the fourth session, my legs felt rock solid. I was able to do shuffles, t-pushes, butterflies and slides with far more efficiency. I started to feel like my old roller hockey self, but with new kinds of saves to make!
I also have a good pre-skate routine. I have a good stretching/warmup routine that I do at home. It’s based on yoga and HIIT movements.
2. Drinking Right is a Huge Help
When I ride my bike, I’m a hydration fiend. I credit hydration with going from the back of the pack of the 70-mile category of El Tour De Tucson to getting into the upper third.
But my first session out for ice hockey? No electrolytes. I figured “hey, it’s nice and cool in there!” I also figured that my days playing in outdoor roller hockey leagues would make this a breeze.
Well, that was some prime dumbassery.
I need electrolytes, and that’s all there is to it. My current formula is the same as I’ll use in each bottle for a bike ride: one Gu tablet and a scoop of Ultima in a 20-ounce bottle.
This took me from praying for the end of the ARC session to staying for the adult skills class afterward, all with enough energy to get me by.
3. The New Hockey Goalie Equipment is Crazy-Different
I still have all my gear from retiring all that time ago — my Franklin THT 8255 pillows, Vaughn chesty, Van Velden mask with a sweet-ass custom paint job, a Louisville Fang catch glove that wasn’t even broken in, and all the other bits.
I questioned the wisdom of using this old stuff considering what I saw on various goalie websites and watching the ASU women’s ice hockey team (which I love — they are so much fun to watch, and I love taking my 7-year-old daughter to see them).
I started collecting some used gear along with a few new bits — I opted for new with a stick, cup, skates and mask. I went used with pillows, pants, chesty and gloves.
Here are a few thoughts on my new gear.
My poor Louisville Fang catch glove lasted only two sessions before it started to rip in all the wrong places. Some of the internal plastic bits also started to crack.
I went to my local hockey shop to check out gloves, and I hated every single one of them. They all seem to have this weird short cuff that makes me feel like the glove is wearing my hand for protection.
Also, they’re super-stiff and pull my fingers in weird directions. There wasn’t a single glove I liked at any price.
I wound up grabbing a vintage matched set of Brian’s Beast gloves. They were only used enough to break them in. Even better, I realized they were very close to the old Phoenix Roadrunners colors! This also meant they matched the paint on my new mask. And my god, that catcher absolutely inhales pucks. If someone shoots anywhere in the vicinity of that glove, it gets Hoovered right into the webbing. Just like the Brian’s Thief I used at the height of my powers!
Leg pads have totally changed since the old days. When I hung up the skates, the idea was for the pads to deaden puck rebounds so the goalie could smother the puck.
These days, leg pads (and blockers) are designed to fling the rebound way the hell into low-earth orbit. Many of them also have a flat side to seal to the ice and prevent pucks from going under. Even better, rather than buckles, current pads use hook-and-loop fasteners — this makes it far easier to put them on and take them off.
I was dreading having to pony up for pads. But I found a pair of Brian’s Genetik pads on OfferUp from a former junior hockey goalie about my size. He charged me $80 and also threw in a CCM chesty that’s far more modern than my old Vaughn.
If you know anything about goalie gear, you know this guy did me a seriously huge favor. I’ll have to pass that along in the future.
I have to say, I absolutely LOVE the new style of pads. They’re stupid light, seal the ice and go on and off in a flash. They require some adjustment since they’re designed to go up higher on the thigh. I’ve had them interfere with my pants a few times, but that’s happening less as I adjust.
The Modern Goalie Chesty
The chest and arm protector — aka chesty — isn’t a flashy piece of gear. The other players won’t notice cool custom graphics. All it has to do is keep you from getting your arms and torso from being battered by flying pucks.
Modern chesties are far bulkier than my Vaughn, as I discovered while wearing the new-to-me CCM and then trying to pull on one of my old jerseys. I looked like turn-of-the-century Britney Spears. Just look at nearly any photo of Andrei Vasilevskiy and you’ll get a sense of how monstrous the modern chesty makes goalies look.
The modern chesty is also a little less mobile. But they also have some back protection, which is comforting. The CCM I’m wearing is pretty solid, with only one weird angled shot stinging the hell out of the outside of my arm just above the elbow so far.
Getting A New Mask
I love my old Van Velden mask. But I didn’t want to trust my head to a mask I had made in 1995 or so. I went to my local hockey shop and tried a bunch of masks — I would’ve bought a Bauer 940, except it wasn’t available in my size (I tried a 950 in my size and it was very comfortable).
It would be months before I could get a hold of the 940, so I started contacting other mask makers. After getting emails back from a few of them, I decided on a Promasque.
I prefer supporting smaller companies. I try to buy stuff from people I like.
Matt at Promasque was the guy who seemed the most pumped-up to get me into a mask. I gave him as much info as I could and he came up with the recommendation for which of his masks would work, and in what size.
As a bonus, he’ll also include a coat of any single color he has in the purchase of the mask. I wanted copper because I’m from Arizona — the closest he had was silver, so I wound up with a Mandorlian-looking lid (yes, I added a Grogu sticker on the back).
I’ve taken a few pucks off of the Promasque and I haven’t felt a thing. It’s a tad heavier than my Van Velden, but the fit and view are both excellent. He also had the mask to me in less than two weeks.
If you want a mask, seriously consider Promasque. They’re reasonably priced, offer a lot for the money, work well, and you’ll support a small business that will appreciate your support and treat you like more than a number.
4. I Have to Learn New Types of Saves
In roller hockey, goalies have much less ability to move laterally. Against a good goalie, you’d either have to make a perfect shot or get them moving side to side to score*. If they go down to make a save and give up a rebound, they’d have to dive to make the save where an ice hockey goalie would push with their outside leg to slide over (that’s the butterfly slide).
There’s also this thing called the Reverse Vertical Horizontal, or RVH, for protecting against wraparound goals and shots from the goal line.
Now, the goalies I watch on TV make stuff like this look like child’s play. It’s physically more difficult to learn than you’d expect. There’s also the small matter of remembering that I’m playing ice hockey, so do ice hockey goalie things instead of roller hockey goalie things!
There are probably many other moves I’m skipping and don’t yet know about, but these two are pretty huge and often talked about.
*Some new bits of roller hockey goalie are making it possible for goalies to slide somewhat, but I have to guess it’s still harder for them than it is for ice hockey goalie. Some companies like Passau and Kenesky make roller hockey goalie gear with sliders that decrease the friction and can make it feasible to do moves like butterfly slides.
5. Dialing in My Pre-Game Goalie Diet
One time, in between games of a roller hockey tournament, I stuffed myself at an Indian buffet. I realized the error of my ways after suiting up for the second game. There are few things worse than having to take your goalie gear off, hit the toilet and then be on the rink on-time for face-off.
This lesson has always stuck with me. I avoid bulky, heavy, spicy stuff before I play. These days, I’m opting for a smoothie about three hours before it’s time to hit the ice.
6. It’s Awesome Playing Hockey At Oceanside Ice Arena, But …
Shortly after moving to Arizona in 1980, my parents took me to see the old Phoenix Roadrunners play an exhibition game against NAU at Oceanside. I’ve had more than a few dates at open skating sessions, my daughter has gotten hooked on the ASU women’s team, and I started playing ice hockey at this old rink.
Does it have the best amenities? No. Does it have the best ice? No. I can’t even carry my goalie bag on my shoulder through the narrow front door.
Still, I will always love this place.
Unfortunately, it’s gonna get torn down next year. The owners sold the property.
I have no idea where the Oceanside crew will go — to the new rink ASU is sharing with the Coyotes next year? To Arcadia Ice? Somewhere else?
I dunno. But it won’t easily replace Oceanside.
7. It’s Way Easier To Improve Today
The goalie coach (and the other regular coaches) have helped me tremendously over these few months.
And so has YouTube. From dialing in the fit of my gear to how skates should be sharpened to developing technique for butterfly pushes, there are a bunch of YouTube videos that are helping me improve on a weekly basis.
It is awesome that people share their knowledge. It’s also great to know that other people have the same questions and problems that I do.
During my last go-around, there wasn’t much info available to learn to be a better goalie. Most of my help came from my old teammate Woody, who knew the ins and outs of every position. We also wound up with a former NCAA player on our team who came up with some drills for me. But that’s about it.
8. Video Helps So Much
I’ve been taking videos of myself for the past few sessions. I’ve gotten some awesome saves (like the one in the video below), seen how I got scored on, and also seen some areas for improvement. Here are a few:
- In one clip, rather than shuffling or t-pushing from one side of the crease to the other, I did a hop like I had to in my roller hockey days. I haven’t done that since.
- I can see the gaps when I attempt an RVH, which means I can work to correct the problem.
- I can also check my angles. Everyone thinks stopping shots is about quickness, but angles are a way bigger deal. A slow goalie with great angles will stop more shots than a super-quick goalie with no spatial awareness.
Since I’m alternating in the net with other goalies, I can also share the footage with them.
9. Goalies Are Absolutely Bonkers About Custom Graphics
OK, we all know dudes who love to talk shit about women who are into shopping for shoes or purses.
Well, join an online goalie community. Some of these guys are like Mugatu from Zoolander over the colors and graphics of their pads. They obsess over this stuff! Which is OK.
I have to admit, it’s amazing to see what’s possible in customizing pads. And I get why it’s fun.
Me? If I ever get a new set of pads, I’m going retro tan. I love the look of modern pads made to look retro. They also go with the uniforms of any beer league team. Plus I’m really into some of the more positive traditions of hockey, and paying tribute to those is pretty cool.
9. Goalies Are Also Really Damn Cool to Each Other
There’s a core group of 6-7 goalies who come out to each session at Oceanside. We always egg each other on and share tips. It’s a very supportive group, for sure.
I see this online, too — people share videos of their week’s best save or photos of their new or new-to-them gear. For the most part, everyone is pretty cool.
And let’s not forget the goalie who hooked me up to equip me with non-Jurassic gear.
If you’re thinking about trying to be a hockey goalie and you’re concerned at all about being treated like a noob, don’t let that stop you. The other goalies will be there for you if you’re even remotely nice.
The Bottom Line: Being A Sort-of New Goalie
I honestly should’ve gotten back in the net years ago. If you’re on the fence about trying hockey, no matter what position, this is your time. Go do it!
Thanks to ARC coaches Scott, Lance, Stef, Fry Guy and any others whose names I don’t know.
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