Crease for 1

It is the time of year when many elite goalies are riding the bench, anxiously awaiting playing time.  Many of these are darn good goalies, but sitting on the bench is as much a part of being a goalie as is getting off the ice between shifts is for a skater.  Sure the crease is often shared on youth teams with multiple goalies playing each game.  At collegiate levels and beyond, one goalie plays and one (or more) goalies sit.  Perhaps the most interesting part of this reality is how goalies are somewhat comfortable with it.

Content they are not, embracing of the waiting, practicing, and battling they are.  This sounds like quite an idealistic mindset… but if you are a goalie is there any other option?  Sometimes an athlete studies, listens, and is mentored to mental toughness… other times the situations in which they are put teach it to them.  The unfortunate part of the latter option is that those unwilling to embrace the situations and challenges of their sport too often relent before their full potential has been fulfilled.

What have the great goalies learned from the “situations” in which they found themselves (and they found themselves in some… very few, if any are the starting goalies have been the first off the ice every year of their career)?  They have learned about love.  O.K. that sounds a bit dramatic and a bit too warm and fuzzy for competitive sport.  They have learned about friendship… true friendship.  Still this sounds a bit far-fetched.

Consider the broodings of Platonic philosopher Drew Hyland on the subject.  The greatest potential of sport is friendship.  He is not talking about any of this politically-correct cooperative games stuff or any sportsmanship hullabaloo.  He is talking about competitive, high level, best in the world, best of yourself sport.  A true friend pushes another towards excellence.  A true competitor wants to be pushed towards excellence by a competitor.. a partner in performance.  Great goalies get this down to their bones.

A true competitor wants to be pushed towards excellence by a competitor.. a partner in performance.

Again, let’s be clear, goalies do not like opening the door on the bench during the game.  They would much rather be in the crease.  Yet when all is said and done, they are not against their fellow goalies and really harbor little ill will.  Quite the contrary they are with them and incredibly supportive of them.  Great goalies have egos.  They believe the crease ought to be theirs, but they understand that some nights it is not theirs to have.  Restlessness to play is the sign of motivation, patience during the competitive journey is maturity and an appreciation of the importance of sporting friendship (i.e. outplaying a teammate today, so they will try to outplay you tomorrow).

Goalies that succeed on the journey to greatness reframe the waiting game from a set-back to a true push to greatness.  Lots of ice is nice, but without a battle for ownership of the net maximum growth is tough to achieve.  When the puck is in play, they crease cannot be shared.  Good for the guy on the ice.  Good for the guy on the bench.  It just takes some healthy discontentment and perspective.  Perhaps this attitude is best summed up by Jay Atkinson when discussing a pair of high school goalies battling for the crease in Ice Time, “The two are best buddies and their friendship will survive.”

Great goalies grow because there is only room for one in the crease – they see it as an opportunity and a teacher.  Finding the truth of friendship in competition is valuable to fully embracing being stressed towards excellence.

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4 Responses to “Crease for 1”


  1. 1 Dr Geek December 8, 2010 at 5:45 am

    A fantastic post; there’s a similar situation in the Scottish national rugby side at present. Scrum half is a highly specialised position, and you only have one a side. We currently have 3 international class scrum halves, who not only compete for the position but for the captaincy. As a result, their drive to improve is ever present because if they waver there’s not one but two contenders to take their place. When interviewed, none of them complain about the situation. They focus instead on how the competition drives them forward. In contrast, we’ve always struggled to find more than one Fly Half, a similarly specialised position and that lack of competition has made it more difficult for the best player to reach his potential.
    It’s also seen in soccer, where it’s not uncommon for a club’s goalie and his understudy to fulfill the same rôles at international level. This would be very unusual for any other position, but the relationship shared by these players is seen as a positive benefit for the squad.

    Another fascinating post- thank you.

  2. 2 AHNaylor December 8, 2010 at 10:15 am

    Thanks Geek for making the transfer of the idea to rugby and soccer.

  3. 3 Mason December 8, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    I had two frosh competing for #1 singles. At the end of pre-season, they had run out of time in closely-contested challenge matches twice. I basically had to flip a coin. I think they really pushed each other all season and contributed to each other’s success. They both went undefeated in dual matches. Surely it’s a little different to be playing #2 compared to sitting on the bench. It makes the decision more about recognition, and thankfully allows both players to continue to improve (though most #2 opponents are considerably weaker). (Oddly, the player who played #2 all year won conference POY, while the #1 won Rookie of the Year.)


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