Teaching kids how to be `the last line of defense' on ice

Hockey: Clinic helps young goaltenders learn the techniques of the position.

Howard At Play

January 18, 2004|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Jacques Plante, one of the greatest goalies in National Hockey League history, once summarized a goalie's job nicely.

"How would you like a job," asked the Hall of Famer from the 1950s and 1960s, "where every time you make a mistake, a big red light goes on and 18,000 people boo?"

Children who play goaltender don't have to worry about 18,000 people booing their mistakes. And, usually, no big red light goes on. But the pressure remains the same for goalies at all levels. A good goalie can help carry a team more easily in youth hockey, especially when offense is harder to find.

"In the beginning, 95 percent want to be a goalie," said Frank Valenza, who coaches young goaltenders (those 7 to 10) in the Howard Huskies youth program. "Then you weed them out. As a goalie, it's like being a catcher in baseball - you're in action all the time."

And that, Valenza said, is why goalies need a different temperament than other players.

"They can't take [being scored on] personally," Valenza said. "You have to let it go."

Goalies also have to be incredibly focused and able to make lightning-quick decisions during a game, said Laurel resident Josh Land, who has coached for Nelson Hockey at the Gardens Ice House in Fairland Regional Park, just south of the Howard County line.

"Goalies have to know where a play will develop and [understand] what they're seeing in front of them better than other players on the ice," Land said. "The goalie is your last line of defense and has to play that way."

What makes the job tougher, especially for younger children, is goalie gear. Putting it on often requires 15 to 20 minutes. The equipment can add 25 percent to a player's weight. For the pros, that weight could total 50 pounds.

All of it can cost parents more than $1,000 - a price to protect against serious injury from a hard rubber puck that can be shot from any angle at speeds, even in youth hockey, of 50 mph or more.

Goalies wear helmets and masks that protect the head while letting players see the game. Many wear a neck protector that hangs from the mask. A chest protector also covers the elbows, arms and shoulders, and goalies wear pants with padding around the hips, thighs and legs, not to mention the large leg pads, which come in many colors and sizes.

Goalies wear an extra-protective athletic supporter. Skates have a larger blade that makes sliding side-to-side, an essential move in the nets, easier.

Goalies wear an oversized glove, similar to a first-baseman's mitt in baseball, on one hand and a "blocker" - which has a flat, hard plate inside - on the other. Catch with the mitt, deflect shots with the blocker.

Goalie sticks come with a variety of curves.

Goalies also need an oversized bag. Many like to use the rolling bags that make it easier to carry a lot of equipment.

Philip LoPresto is a 7-year old first-grader at Talbott Springs Elementary in Columbia.

This is his first season in goal, and he loves every minute of it.

"I don't get nervous when the other team shoots," he said. "I like having that big stick, the blocker and the pads. And, I like watching the game from there."

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