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Goalie Union Tie That Binds Stars, Fellow NHL Netminders

by Steve Hunt / Dallas Stars

Anyone with even perfunctory hockey knowledge agrees goaltenders are a different breed. That statement makes sense considering netminders at any level must possess nerves of steel as someone who faces pucks traveling well over 100 miles per hour between 20 and 30 or maybe as many as 40 times a night and also because they play a position where they patrol a patch of the ice which they can truly call their own.

So considering the unique job description, it’s not surprising that there is a strong bond between them, which some have dubbed the “Goalie Union.” That bond is definitely in full effect with the Dallas Stars, not only with starter Kari Lehtonen, backup Richard Bachman and goaltending coach Mike Valley, himself a former netminder at the college and professional level, being the members of the local chapter.

“It’s a very sacred thing. It’s goaltenders taking care of each other,” Valley said. “Everybody has each other’s back and everybody jokes around about it too because goaltenders in general, everybody’s pretty tight. So it’s more of just a fun thing that guys joke around about.”

However, it’s not strictly a Stars thing. No, the Goalie Union is something that is talked about around the National Hockey League. “Any goalie can be in that circle. You have a unique bond because it’s such a specialized position,” Bachman said. “We help each other out if a guy needs something and another has a connection or can help you with something, they’re always there to help you out no matter what team they play for. So it is a position wide thing.”

Valley agrees: “It doesn’t matter what team you’re on or where you’ve played. For the goaltenders in this league, everybody has a lot of respect for everybody and everybody looks out for one another. It’s kind of an interesting thing,” he said. “More of joking around than anything, but at the same time kind of true.”

Whatever the reason, the bond is strong between Bachman and Lehtonen, so strong in fact that each Stars netminder has experienced their fair share of success so far this season. In 43 games, Lehtonen is 24-15-3 with a goals-against-average of 2.32 and a pair of shutouts. Bachman has also made a strong contribution as a rookie as the Utah native has a 7-3-1 record with a 2.58 goals-against-average and one shutout in 14 games.

The Stars’ chapter currently consists of Bachman, Lehtonen and Valley but there is one position player who could be called an honorary member, center Toby Petersen.   

“Yeah, I can’t divulge any secrets or anything like that. I’m an honorary member of the goalie union,” Petersen said. “Basically that just means don’t hit them in the head, know who’s starting, take it easy on the starter and hit your spots in warm-ups so they get warm. That’s about it. Don’t pay dues, no. Do get to go to dinner with the two of them. That counts for something.”

However, one member of the group feels that calling Petersen an honorary member might be a big premature.

“Well, Bachman being a rookie maybe jumped the gun there a little bit. Petey’s working on getting into the union but as Kari (Lehtonen) said, it’s an 18-step process to actually become a union member and Petey is maybe on step four,” Valley joked. “It’s promising but he’s working towards it. (Stars assistant coach) Paul Jerrard thinks he can get into the union, but we always like to say that he has a chance, but the reality of it is he’s got no chance.”

Like most outsiders, Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan doesn’t know much at all about the Goalie Union, but that didn’t stop him from weighing in on it.

“Not much, it’s pretty secretive. It’s a tight union. You get a tidbit over there but it’s all you get. It’s league wide, so it’s not just here. It’s rampant everywhere,” Gulutzan said. “It’s like The DaVinci Code. They work so closely together. Most people think goalies are weird in hockey anyway. They stick together.” 

But even though the Goalie Union is a real thing, there isn’t much in the way of structure or club rituals to speak of. “No, there’s no secret handshake, but it’s not an easy club to get into, that’s for sure,” Valley said.

No one can actually pinpoint when the term first surfaced, but all members agree it’s an organization that has been around for some time. “The goalie union has been around forever. It’s funny, everybody talks about it,” Valley said. “(Ottawa’s) Alex Auld actually had an idea once. He wanted to start a website that was just called the Goalie Union and only members of the union could be involved in it.”

But the most junior member of the Stars chapter remembers exactly when he heard the term for the first time. “The first time probably would have been last year. We started talking about it a little bit, gave our group a little name to describe how we have each other’s backs, how we always want the best for each other, root for each other and helping each other out. We don’t let anything come between the goalie union,” Bachman said.

However, “Bachs” thinks it was Valley who first brought the term to his attention. But no matter who first mentioned the Goalie Union, it’s safe to say it has stuck with him.

“I don’t even know who came up with it. It might have been Vals but I don’t know. It just started one day and I kind of rolled with it. It’s been a good thing. It’s been fun,” Bachman said. “We let (Petersen) in on the union a little bit because he helps shoot on us sometimes but it’s a strict process to get in there. It takes a lot to get in the union but it’s been good. It’s a good thing to have, just the three of us.”

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