Uh, who's that last guy? My older brother Jim played shinny hockey at our local outdoor "rink" in suburban Chicago, basically a basketball blacktop at the local park with lipped walls to allow a pool of sprayed water to freeze during parts of the winter. The older kids ruled that ice, uneven as it was most of the time, at night under lights were not exactly NHL wattage.
I usually tagged along for two reasons: One, my brother never once told me to shoo, instead delivering a kindness to my young self that stamped my lifetime ticket as an optimist. If Jim let me hang with him, converse with his friends, darn it, all was possible. Two, I was the sort of kids who loved sports so much, especially hockey and baseball, that if I wasn't playing, I was watching others, the pros, college, high school, sandlot, blacktop ice.
Thus, I was positioned in sideline snowbank one January night as a third-grader, watching Jim and the big kids play their usual game of five on five plus goalies in between goal "posts" that were frozen mounds of snow. No nets, just about a foot of snowbank behind the goalie. If the puck didn't plunk the back snowbank, it was too high and no goal was the call. This system allowed the goalies to wear park-issued, beat-up shin guards only to play the position.
That particular night, someone had to leave earlier than usual. The other players were upset, since that kid was one of the goalies. An exasperated bigger kid commanded a teammate to play goal. No go, said the teammate. Same for a second and third teammate. At this point, I stirred from my parka-mittens-snowpants-double hat getup. I stood up. The bigger kid pointed and said, "how about Condor's brother plays goalie?" My brother smiled. He likely knew that was one of my sports fantasies, to play with the bigger kids, any sport, any time. He waved me in. I jumped up, dusting snow off my jacket and stomping my galoshes. I giddily put on those shin guards.
The rest of the night is a blur, but I stopped a lot of shots and I'm pretty sure our team won. I don't even remember if Jim was on my side or the opposing team. I walked away a regular part of the park game that winter, as long as Chicago's freezing temperatures would cooperate. I was hooked (doomed?) from those first moments of stopping pucks, teammates tapping my shin pads, say good job, even the bigger kid (!).
For Tony Esposito, the goalie days started as the requisite shot-blocker while his older brother Phil took the shots-even if Tony is only a year younger than Phil. Both brothers were inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame during the 1980s, Phil in '84 and Tony in '88.
"The great thing about it is, we were so close in age that we were able to do things together," Tony told NHL.com's Dave Stubbs. "It wasn't like a three- or four-year gap; we had somebody to play with all the time. We'd go down to the one outdoor rink in town, early in the morning or late at night. We'd use a flashlight to light our way."
"I remember putting Tony's equipment and mine on a toboggan and dragging it down to what I think now is Esposito Park [in Sault St. Mario, Ontario)," said Phil. "Our old man would say, 'You guys walk, it's good for you.'"
For his part, NHL star and older brother P.K. Subban was never easy on younger sibling Malcolm, who made his NHL debut with Vegas and is now on the Chicago Blackhawks roster. Malcolm didn't mind; in fact, he had to talk the brothers' father, Karl, into allowing Malcolm to play goal. Karl resisted because Malcolm was actually the best skater on the organized youth team the dad coached.
Underrated fact about goalies: They are much better skaters than most fans realize, way better.
"I'd always play goalie in the hallway [of the Subban childhood house]," said Malcolm to NHL.com columnist Nick Cotsonika on a night that Malcolm's Golden Knights defeated P.K.'s Nashville Predators. "I remember P.K. shooting on me, telling my dad, 'Hey, he's pretty good. He should play [goalie].' My dad's like, 'No way. Not a chance he's playing goalie.' "
Malcolm revolted at age 12, telling his dad he planned to quit hockey if he couldn't play goal.
"That's when we sort of got out of his way, or I did, anyway," Karl Subban told NHL.com.
Taylor Crosby actually chose the goalie position because of her father, Troy, who played goal during his hockey days in Nova Scotia, including a formidable showing in the esteemed Quebec Major Juniors Hockey League and getting drafted by the Montreal in 1984. Taylor says "I was always a little weird, so it kind of fits."
Her brother and NHL star Sidney is about 10 years older; he left to play hockey for Shattuck St. Mary's prep school when he was 15 and Taylor was 6. A decade later, Taylor followed her brother's path to play for Shattuck St. Mary's, earning an invite to Team Canada training camp as a U18 prospect. She played college hockey for Northeastern and St. Cloud State.
For Ohio State goalie Lynsey Wallace, hockey started early in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights. She fell in the love with the sport her father, brother and sister Alyssa playing before her.
"I started playing when I was about three years old," Wallace explained to the Ohio State athletic department website. "I was a player for the first few years, and then I went through a little phase where I wanted to do everything my sister Alyssa did. She became a goalie and I said, 'Oh! I want to do that!'"
In high school, Wallace shut out Ohio perennial high school boys state champion St. Edward with 47 saves on her school's senior night. She was the only girl on her Padua High team (teammates accepted her and even blasted her favored Taylor Swift music during car rides to games and practices) while St. Edward is a one-gender school. St. Edward coach told reporters, "Lynsey has always been the hard worker on any team she's played on. She leads from the front and is never afraid to be counted on."
Despite high school stardom, Wallace didn't get hockey offers from Division I NCAA women's programs. She followed her sister-and brother and father-again, choosing to pursue a military career by attending the ROTC program at Ohio State, which also featured an animal science program that fit her dreams of becoming a veterinarian. Then a referee, of all people, told Ohio State coach Nadine Muzerall about Wallace because the college team was short a third goalie for practices and in case of injury to the two goalies who dress for games. This was a few months into Wallace's freshman year.
"I knew that we needed a goalie in that moment," said Muzerall. "Very rarely do I like listening to referees, but I did this time around!"
Wallace didn't even have I didn't even have my gear at school. She hurried home to grab her pads and skates, serving as her university's third goalie during freshman, playing four games as a sophomore and notching a winning record as part of Ohio State's first-ever Western Collegiate Hockey Association title during her now completed junior season. The commitment makes for a crowded daily schedule during the hockey season: 5:30 a.m. ROTC workouts, pre-veterinarian classes during school hours, then two-plus hours of hockey practice and conditioning before making sure she is asleep by 10:15. She is thrilled to be back on the ice.
I got my gear, one thing led to another and I was never told to leave," she said. "So I stayed! And the rest is history."
Next Sunday, May 10: True or False: Goalies are weird