Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Tryout (part three)

"Dad, they didn't take six goalies," Eli 14.7 said as he scanned the weekend cut list. "They only took FOUR."

This was a big deal.

"If I can just outplay two of the three," he said, "I'm going to Salt Lake City!"

Then he laughed.

"That sounded way easier than it actually is," he said.

The three goalies remaining, besides him, were two AAA goalies and a kid who I think is the best AA goalie in Dallas. Plus, he's a super nice kid, and he and Eli talked all weekend.

The format for the weekend was basically 70 minutes of run-clock hockey. Referees stopped the game for almost nothing, unless the goalie trapped the puck for a faceoff. Any penalties they called (very few) would be resolved by a penalty shot.

There are two kinds of speed to adjust to when kids are playing at this level: shot speed and game speed.

Shot speed is more straightforward. Eli has had ex-college players shooting on him in practice sessions for three years. Plus he'd seen national-level shooters at his goalie camp for the last several years as well.

Game speed was different. Passes are much faster at this level, and kids make decisions much more quickly. So the puck moves much more quickly, and there's much more passing down low. It's much closer action.

I didn't know what was going to happen. Eli looked so good right now, but this was a stout, stout challenge. Still, though, he looked fine. "Dad, I feel great," he said. "Don't worry about a thing."

Fat chance.

The game started on Saturday (in the single coldest rink I've ever been in), and while I had no expression on my face, I was eating broken glass inside.

Eli, though, was fine.

The puck was flying around, but so was he, and his crease movement was so smooth. He was staying square. He looked in control.

He was composed.

I'd like to have some hugely dramatic incident to write about here, but there wasn't one. He faced about 15 shots, and he gave up one goal and zero rebounds against the best competition he's ever faced.

I was so happy for him, and so proud. He knows that I'm proud of him as a person, not as an athlete, but he had just eaten a gigantic pressure burger and never even flinched.

I bumped my fist against his glove as he skated off with a big smile on his face. "You were in control of everything going on out there," I said, smiling.

"I just felt great!" he said. "Man, that was fun."

I'm biased, but I thought he'd looked the best out of the four. He was the only one who was always balanced, who always controlled the puck.

As for the judges, I just didn't know. At worst, though, I thought he was still in the mix.

We had dinner, went back to the hotel, and he got his standard "solid eleven" (as he calls it) of sleep. He sleeps huge hours on hockey trips, just to make sure he's fully rested.

One more day. One more game.

Tomorrow: the final day.

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