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Unmasked

Vasilevskiy, Anderson share stories of why they became goalies

Cool gear, chance to play hockey with older brothers among reasons for going in net

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- The journey toward becoming an NHL goalie has several common starting points, each unified by one theme.

Most goalies fell in love with the equipment before the position. Others were forced into the net by older brothers eager for a target. Some chose the position because they never wanted to come off the ice. One recent Vezina Trophy winner was looking to skate less.

The unifying theme for sticking with the position is the inherent ability to influence a game's outcome more than any other position.

Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson wanted to be a difference maker when he gravitated to the position in minor hockey.

"I knew I could do it better than the other guy that was playing," Anderson said, recalling the start of the journey that led to his profession.

It didn't start the same way for Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, but he soon learned to embrace the pressure that accompanies the position.

Video: ANA@DET: Howard makes back-to-back saves

"My dad was a high school coach in my hometown and I was always around the dressing room, so I was a rink rat and I always gravitated towards goalie equipment," he said. "So when I first started playing it was more about the painted masks, the cool equipment, different color schemes. But as I started playing I fell in love with being that last line of defense out there."

Like Howard, Anderson was introduced to goaltending before embracing that aspect of it. Anderson says he was 5 or 6 years old when he discovered he could play with his brother, who was four years older, and his friends by volunteering to play goalie for ball hockey games in the driveway.

"That's kind of where it started, the passion, just being the guy that was too small to play and found the position just to kind of hang out," he said.

It became serious when Anderson started with organized hockey. There he says he quickly tired of rotating with two other players between defenseman and goalie.

"I remember one game I was playing defense and I refused to go on the ice because I just wanted to play goalie," he said. "We were down maybe 6-0 after the first period and my dad had the gear in the car and the coach came over after the period and said, 'Hey, your son won't play unless he plays goalie,' and ever since that's kind of the deal."

Video: OTT@TOR: Anderson turns away Nylander's bid

The younger-brother origin story is rife among NHL goalies. A story in Sports Illustrated last season identified 10 NHL goalies who cited an older brother forcing them into the net as the reason for getting started. Anderson was not on that list, and neither were Mike Condon nor Eric Comrie.

Comrie, who is with the Arizona Coyotes after four seasons in the Winnipeg Jets organization, cites a save off his older brother, Paul Comrie, as the best of his young career. Eric was 5 at the time and Paul was 22 and playing for the Edmonton Oilers in 1999-2000. Another brother, Mike Comrie, is 15 years older than Eric and played 11 seasons in the NHL between 2000-01 and 2010-11.

"[Paul] told me, 'You will never ever stop me, and he got a back-door pass and I make an unbelievable glove save, and my brother Mike picked me up and carried me around the house and Paul was dejected, on the floor," Eric said. "I still think that might be the reason I became a goalie, right there. That moment, that save. It's all I needed."

Condon's brother, Zach, is five years older.

"We were in the driveway to play street hockey, and if I want to hang out with the big kids I've got to play goal because nobody else does," said the 29-year-old, who is with Syracuse, the Tampa Bay Lightning's American Hockey League affiliate. "And I want to hang out so I stood in there. We didn't have great gear; I think it was those Mylec pads that are just basically big rectangles. They were nice enough to use a tennis ball. They weren't cruel enough to use those orange balls, but they were shooting it pretty good."

Each of these stories is familiar to Carolina Hurricanes goalie James Reimer.

"Every younger brother wants to play with their older brother. I'm pretty sure that's human nature," said Reimer, whose brother, Mark, is 3 1/2 years older. "He shoved me in net and we'd play road hockey, street hockey, floor hockey, kitchen hockey, everything. And he's older so he's stronger and his motor skills are better, and it just pushed you as a young kid to try and keep up."

Equipment likely is the second source of goaltending inspiration for beginners. More than a dozen NHL goalies have discussed being drawn to the position in part because of the unique gear or being inspired by getting a particular piece for Christmas.

Curtis McElhinney of the Lightning is one.

"No one else had anything like it and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world," the 36-year-old said. "So it was definitely a gear thing, and it still is to this day. That's the joy of goaltending, is that you have a choice and a lot of the equipment that you can wear."

McElhinney's playing partner, 2019 Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy, is an outlier. He didn't cite an older brother as an influence nor an infatuation with customizable equipment.

Video: FLA@TBL: Vasilevskiy sprawls to stuff Dadonov

He wanted to stay in one spot on the ice.

"I played forward a couple years when I was 8 or 9 but I told my dad it was too tough to be skating that much and I wanted to just stay in the blue paint and make saves," Vasilevskiy said, laughing at the memory. "But now I understand goalie is much, much harder than to be a player."

With or without an older brother shooting on you.

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