Goalies: They’re all Keepers

West Haven Hockey Goalie J.P. Withington

West Haven's JP Withington - Image Copyright: burtsville.com

If you’ve ever been to a rink, you’ve probably heard them all: “Sieve”, “Red Light”, “Swiss Cheese” – All colorful euphemisms to describe the play of a hockey goaltender.

The position of goaltender in ice hockey is one of the most challenging in all of sport. It is often mentioned in the same breath as other “pressure” positions such as quarterback in football or baseball pitcher: the player who’s got all eyes on him; whose performance can make or break a team. The hero or the scapegoat, with very little room in between.

Great goaltenders are often celebrated as leaders who can single-handedly guide their team to victory. (Think: Patrick Roy, Billy Smith, Ryan Miller and the like.) While this is true in a lot of ways, people forget one thing: goalies can’t do it alone. Unlike quarterbacks who can run it in for a touchdown to put their team ahead, goalies can’t score the game-winning goal. (Ron Hextall and Marty Broduer fans, please sit down.) For as many spectacular saves as the goaltender makes, if his teammates aren’t producing, the best he/she can realistically achieve is a 0-0 tie. Not very rewarding.

When talking of the best Connecticut high school hockey teams in 2010-2011, most attribute the play of their goaltenders as a major reason for their success:

  • #1 New Canaan has got sophomore sensation Tim Nowacki
  • John Galiani has posted six shutouts this season for Fairfield Prep
  • The duo of Christian Marchi and Ryan Serksnas have a combined 2.11 GAA for South Windsor High School.

However, in addition to goaltending, each of these teams also boasts a potent offense, balanced with a solid defensive corps.

What happens if an above-average goaltender plays on a team that’s “rebuilding”, though? Just ask JP Withington. Coming off of a 17-4 season in 2009-2010, West Haven High School lost most of its top scorers to either graduation (John Ascenzia, Lou Bisighini, Ryan Bruneau, Vin Berti) or transfer (Tim Baylis). While they’ve put together a very respectable season this year so far (8-4-2), Withington, considered by many to be the top goaltender in the state, is regularly expected to stop 30+ shots per game in order to keep his team in it. (Including 53 saves in a 3-3 tie with Hamden)

How about if the team is having a down year in terms of skill or numbers? (it happens to all of us) In this scenario, each game can turn into a virtual shooting gallery where the goalie is essentially left to fend for himself. Case in point:

Fitch-East Lyme-Ledyard co-op is currently winless at 0-13-0. Their goaltender, Alden Burns, has been making a tremendous amount of saves just about every game this season:

  • 68 saves – @Rockville/Manchester/Stafford (2/10/11)
  • 62 saves – Newington-Berlin (2/9/11)
  • 50 saves – @BCL (2/4/11)
  • 49 saves – Milford (12/29/10)
  • 43 saves – @Norwalk-McMahon (12/30/10)
  • 36 saves – @E.O. Smith-Tolland-Windham (12/18/10)

All those saves and not a win to show for it. Does that mean he’s the problem? Maybe on some nights, sure. If you dig deeper into the numbers you’ll also see that the Falcons aren’t exactly burning up the scoreboards with their offensive production this year (19 goals scored in 13 games played).

The moral of the story here is that hockey is a team sport. While the efforts of one or more individuals may stand out (good or bad), it takes a locker room full of players working hard toward a common goal to achieve greatness.

Celebrate your successes. Learn from your failures. Get better – as a team.