Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Netminder

Last fall, when Eli 9.10 first started playing goalie for the house team, he was one of four goalies, and at best, he was third out of the four.

The best goalie was a kid named Stewart (name changed, obviously). Stewart was much bigger than Eli and had three years more experience, and he was good. He was much better than Eli.

He was also pretty cocky, and loved to draw attention to himself.

Eli hated admitting that Stewart was a good goalie.

"Look," I said, driving home from practice one night, "Stewart almost never makes a great save. But he always, always makes the saves he should make. It's not flashy, but it makes him very effective."

"I know," he grumbled, "but why does he always have to brag? He's always telling everyone how good he is, and he rubs it in every time he beats me."

"I know that's hard," I said, "but some day you're going to be better than he is, and you're going to beat him, and you know what you're going to do?"

"What?" he asked.

"You're going to walk up to him and say, 'Stewart, good game'," I said. "And you're never going to brag, because if you're good, you don't need to brag, and if you're not good, you've got nothing to brag about."

"I like that," he said.

That was about six months ago.

In summer, the kids still get together once a month (even the ones who aren't playing in the summer league) and have an hour-long scrimmage. It's intense--there are referees and timekeepers, and the kids play very hard.

In the May game, Eli was in goal against Stewart. I wrote about that--it was the day he hurt his thumb later at soccer practice, but he'd beaten Stewart 4-1 earlier in the day.

On Sunday, we were driving to the rink for the June scrimmage, and Eli wasn't very confident. He was facing Stewart again, and he'd only played in goal once since getting his cast off. "I don't think I'm beating Stewart today," he said.

"Why not?" I asked.

"I haven't played!" he said.

"You knocked the rust off on Monday," I said. "If you just do what need to do--stay on your angle, be aggressive, and stay focused--you'll play great. And this is a good challenge, because you're not always going to feel sharp going into a game."

As I was helping him get dressed out, I asked him how he was feeling. "Confident," he said, and he smiled.

In the first five minutes, he had five saves, and three of them were quality saves. I knew then that he was going to play well. He was playing at the top of the crease or higher, using his quickness, and he was dominating.

After thirty minutes, his team was head 6-2, and the two goals he gave up were on excellent shots. Stewart complained to the referee that it wasn't fair, that he was facing too many shots, so he switched ends with Eli.

Shortly after that, there was a faceoff in Eli's end, and the opposing team player took a shot on the faceoff. I could see the puck heading toward Eli, and there was no way he was going to get down in time. And he didn't, but he neatly turned his left skate sideways and blocked the shot.

At the next stoppage of play, he looked at me and turned his skate sideways. I guarantee he had a huge smile inside his helmet, too.

Eli beat him in the second half, 3-1. It was so much fun to see him play so well.

Final goalie score: 9-3.

I was helping Eli get his gear off after the game. "Dad, he asked the referee to switch teams because he couldn't stand to get beat," he said. "Can you believe that?" He was talking under his breath.

"I know," I said. "And it didn't matter. You just went about your business."

I finished getting his gear off, and he stood. "Dad, I'll be right back," he said. He walked about thirty feet across an open area, over to where Stewart was taking off his gear.

"Stewart, good game," he said.

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