It looked like he had an egg underneath the skin on the side of his neck, I thought as I looked down at our fallen goalie as he lay writhing in the goal crease. Not good, not good at all. The “he” in question was one of the two goalies on our high school hockey team. He had just taken a hard snap shot off the side of his neck just under his mask from close range at the very start of an after-school hockey practice. He was really writhing in pain. I was concerned. Really concerned.
Not so much for him, but for our team. Not so much for the high school team, since this was only a practice and we didn’t have a game for a couple of days and we did have another goalie. No, what I was concerned about was that this particular goalie, classmate and good buddy of mine, who was in what could be mortal pain and circumstances, was also the goalie (the Only goalie) of our house league team and we had our opening game of the finals that night after supper. 7:00 or 8:00 PM if I recall. Only a few hours away. Tough to win in the finals (it was a 2 out of 3 series I think) with no goalie and it was unlikely the league would allow us to postpone because our goalie was hurt (or worse) – they just didn’t reschedule for stuff like that. Not back then, not ever.
However, after ten minutes or so, he was able to get to his feet and we got him off the ice so the practice could continue. I don’t really know what kind of care he received. I’m not sure if he went to the emergency department or his family doctor but given the times, I suspect he just went home. Anyway, a few hours later when I arrived at the rink again for the first game of the finals, our trusty goalie rolled into the dressing room, bag in tow. It was a great feeling. We all felt good he wasn’t dead, which from the perspective of some of us on the ice shortly after he got hurt, appeared to be a real possibility. Mostly however, we were just happy none of us would have to play net that night.
There was one minor problem though. He couldn’t really move his head very well. In fact, he couldn’t turn it all in one direction. We thought and then we strategized, as all teams do prior to the finals, and we decided we would work extra hard to limit shots to that side of him. Good plan. We felt better. Let’s go! Argh! Out of the room we went and on to the ice. We were ready!
It was a great game. Tight checking, great goaltending, incredible shot blocking and defence from our side. We lost 3-2 with the deciding goal coming on slapshot from centre ice to the bottom corner. Our guy never saw it.