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It’s tough being a goalie. Six-time Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Jacques Plante famously asked, “How would you like it in your job if every time you made a small mistake, a red light went on over your desk and 15,000 people stood up and yelled at you?” As if in response, Hall-of-Fame goalie Bernie Parent explains, “You don’t have to be crazy to be a goalie, but it helps.”
Still, goalies like multi-Olympic gold medalist Roberto Luongo maintain “I don't fear stopping a 100 mph slap shot. I fear not stopping it.”
Given the incredibly difficult task goaltenders face, netminders require as much training as their counterparts on offense and defense, if not more. Unfortunately, goalies face many barriers that other players do not when looking to develop their skills. The average goalie helmet is generally double the price of a forward’s helmet. The average goalie gloves are often triple the price that other players pay. Don’t even ask about goalie pads compared to shin pads.
Besides cost, goaltenders typically receive little goaltending-specific training during team practices. Meanwhile, the forwards and defense can expect to receive most of the attention from coaches. Many goalies will never even meet a goalie coach unless they spend extra time, money, and energy in order to find camps or private lessons that teach the position. Even former NHL goalie and current Minnesota Wild goaltending coach, Bob Mason, never received specific goalie training until he made it to the pros in 1984. Despite the additional challenges netminders face, goalies are often the first to receive blame when the team performs poorly.
Look no further than criticism of the Penguins goalie, Tristan Jarry, after a recent 6-0 loss: goalies can steal games but they can’t win if their team doesn’t score. Many young goalies stop playing because of obstacles like cost and limited coaching. Those who do make it to higher levels of goaltending must have the money, ice-time availability, and social connections in order to overcome the hurdles that have become a part of the position.
Goalie issues are unique in the sense that other positions don’t experience the same disadvantages around cost and access to training. The plight of goalies, however, helps underline a more common theme in the sport of hockey: players outside of the majority are treated poorly. For example, players that aren’t from wealthy families get pushed away from the sport, an issue that is amplified for youth choosing the expensive goaltending role. Registration fees for top programs can be upwards of $10,000 per year, not including any other expenses like gear, travel, or hockey camps. Like goalies, this means that few players can afford the training necessary to develop their skills unless their families have plenty of disposable income. Players with older, cheaper equipment can expect to have more insults hurled at them from opponents and teammates, as described by former pro player Akim Aliu. Even AAA programs designed to make hockey more accessible like NextGen Hockey in Toronto report that the average household income for families with a 12 to 18-year-old player in their organization was $110,000 in 2019, much more than the city's household income average of $49,800. For families living at or under the poverty line, hockey expenses make up a much greater proportion of their income compared to affluent families. Similar issues related to expense and social ostracization come into play for any player considered to be on the outside of the hockey-playing majority.
Women in hockey receive a similar treatment. Women’s entry-level gear is often more expensive and much more difficult to find than men’s gear. Training designed for and by women’s players is less common than training designed for and by men. Women in hockey are also disproportionately criticized for their efforts. In 2015, Olympic medal-winning coach, Shannon Miller, was fired from her head coaching role at the University of Minnesota Duluth because of alleged budget cuts, while the men’s coach kept his job. This decision came despite the fact that the salary for the men’s coach cost the university significantly more and despite the fact that the men’s coach had won only a single national championship to Miller’s five in the same amount of time. The United States District Court in Duluth ruled that her dismissal was illegal, but Miller did not return to coaching at the university.
Virtually any player who seems “different” will face more barriers and spend more money to have the same level of success as peers. This problem affects all players. After all, where would hockey be if no one could afford to play goalie? Where would we be if there were no women and no one besides the wealthiest playing hockey?
There are many issues facing goalies in the hockey community, but they are still insignificant compared to the ones faced by women and people with fewer economic resources. Specifically, playing goalie is an activity - it can be paused whenever convenient. Other aspects of life, like wealth, are harder to control than choosing to play goalie. Though everyone is treated differently in the hockey world, women’s goalies without significant disposable income experience a wide range of difficulties that other goalies will never know.
Goaltenders and players outside the “mainstream” hockey community have adapted in order to be accepted, but they have little control over whether they will be welcomed. Instead, the responsibility to change falls on the shoulders of people already established in hockey culture. Playing goalie doesn’t have to be so tough; being different doesn’t have to be either.