Thursday, April 25, 2013

Diary of an E League Goalie

Hi. My name is Dr. Brainsmart,* and I am an E-League goalie.

First, an explanation of terms. In the hockey league I play, there are four divisions, labeled "AB" through "E." A-league (strictly speaking, it's a division within a league, but we just call them all "league") is typically a checking league made up of college-aged kids who have played since they were infants and who will basically wear you completely thefuk out in about one shift, leaving you wishing you could just catch your breath long enough to allow you to throw up. B-league is (or was) what they called "Intermediate," which basically just meant guys who were a little too old to fit in with the A-leaguers anymore but could still smoke pretty much everybody else... but there apparently aren't enough A and B league players in northern Colorado to create two separate leagues, so they've been combined into a single "AB" league. C-league is "Advanced Recreational," with D-league being described as "Recreational."  Finally, E-League is the "Novice" division, which despite the name does include some players with a lot of experience, just not enough to bump them up into the next division.

Being an E-League goalie usually means one of three things: either (1) you are a person who's never played hockey before, (2) you have played hockey at some level but have never played goalie before, or (3) you have played goalie for a while and are no longer a beginner, but have been talked into playing with beginners because they don't have anybody from categories (1) or (2) to choose from. I fall into that third category... I have never been, and will never be, good enough to play in AB league, but I rate as an average C league goalie and a pretty decent D league goalie... yet at the moment, I'm a E-League goalie.

While there are plenty of adults looking to learn to play hockey, there are a couple reasons why there aren't really a lot of adults just begging to learn to play goalie. It is a position with a lot of built-in difficulties for the beginner. First, and probably foremost, it's scary. There aren't many positions in sports in which the task is to stand in front of people whipping a hard rubber disc at you. Now, no beginner player is going to be zinging Pronger slapshots at you (in fact, attempted E-League slapshots and their aftermath are often a source of amusement for the rest of the players on the ice), but that doesn't make it any less scary. And even a fat, old E-leaguer who's never skated in his life can accidentally get ahold of one, and it doesn't have to be traveling at 100mph to leave a nice bruise.

Another thing that prevents a great number of people from jumping in to beginner goalie is the cost of the equipment. Hockey is a sport with a fairly high startup cost... if you're joining a softball league, you can go get some shoes and maybe some batting gloves and you're all set, and with basketball you don't even need the gloves. Tennis requires nothing more than a racket and the right shoes, and if you want to take up golf, you can get a used set of clubs fairly cheap and play in your sneakers until you get good enough to invest in the fancy stuff. Hockey, though, requires the works from day one, and the shopping list doesn't exactly include a lot of items you're likely to have just lying around the house: helmet, shield, shoulder pads, elbow pads, gloves, pants, shinpads, and of course skates and a stick. It adds up fast, and even buying used gear one can spend $500-$1000 in the blink of an eye. When you consider that a goalie blocker/glove combo and a set of entry-level leg pads can easily be $1000 all on their own, we're talking about a significant investment before that fat, old E-Leaguer even takes his first wobbly shot at you.

Coming into this winter season, I had made the decision to skip a year of hockey altogether. Too expensive, games too late at night, and too much wear and tear on a body that seems to be aging at an exponentially hastening rate all of a sudden. So when, like every year, I received the email from our league practically begging for goalies willing to play in E league, I ignored it. I also ignored the next, more desperate one that explained that for the four teams they had planned, they'd only had one goalie sign up. And when a good friend who had volunteered to captain an E-League team contacted me asking if I'd play, I politely declined, explaining that I'd already considered it and made my decision.

But eventually, they made me an offer I couldn't refuse: half price on this season's registration fees (a $200+ savings), a credit towards half of next year's fees, and a promise to be on a team with that one friend, my cousin, and my sister. So at the end of the day, I had learned that -- much like the mafia -- you can get away, but you can't stay away from E-League hockey. They keep pulling me back in!

*. The author does not hold a PhD; "Doctor" is an honorary title, much like the one bestowed on Colonel Sanders, the Red Baron, and Queen Latifah.

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