Good luck. That's all I have to say. No, I'm kidding.....but seriously. There's honestly not a whole lot of good things I can say about being with a goalie. More often than not, it's work.....a lot of it. Hell, I feel exhausted after games sometimes, and I'm just sitting on my butt in the stands watching. If you think I'm joking or just plain don't believe me, read on.
Every year I hear "I don't know how you do this" on multiple occasions. That's coming from the other wives and girlfriends who aren't dating a goalie. Please, don't take that wrong. I have no idea what dating a defenseman or a forward is like so I can't assume it's easy. I'm sure it's not. I just know that most of the girls are marveling at the crap I have to put up with.
At the beginning of the season one of the girls in Norfolk looked over at me during a game Mike was playing and shook her head. "You make me nervous. I'm never nervous unless I sit next to you." I guess I'm a bit of a disaster when he plays, just exuding bad energy. The same friend was sitting next to me when Mike got his first NHL shutout in Tampa that year. She had to remind me to breathe a few times that night.
I try to be social with the girls at the games. Sometimes it's the only time I see some of them because they live out of town or have young children and don't go out with the rest of us. If Mike is playing that night, then you can forget about having a decent conversation with me. I'll talk until it's a penalty kill or the puck is in the defensive end. At those times I completely zone out, mid sentence, and don't tune back in until play is whistled down. It's off-putting sometimes, but most of them get it.
I HAVE to wear fake nails. Not kidding. I'm a nervous nail biter and have been my whole life. You'll never find me more nervous than I am during one of Mike's games. Also, I'm not lying when I say I've bitten down on my nails hard enough to break them off it's that bad. I wish I could be more relaxed, but I can't. That's my fiance on the ice. It's his livelihood. Everything in our lives depend on how well he plays. Ultimately, I'm not a fan of all the money spent on nails each year.
A goalie is either the hero or the zero. There's no way around it, and that's so much pressure. Obviously if they couldn't handle pressure they wouldn't be a goalie, but it's still difficult. I hate that if a team loses a game, or even has a bad season, it's always on the goalie. Sure, sometimes goals and games are their fault, but at least the majority of the games I've watched, that's just not the case. There's so much to goaltending that most people will never realize or learn, and because of that, their blame is most often misguided and wrong.
I've been a hockey fan. I grew up with season tickets to the old Adirondack Red Wings in the 80's and early 90's. I went to my first game when I was 4 months old and never stopped. I'm the only wife/girlfriend that I've ever met that will willingly, and usually suggest, putting televised games on, no matter who is playing, to watch at night. Hockey doesn't bore me. I love it. I always have. I get the game. I thought I got goaltending. Then I met Mike.
I was shocked at how much I didn't understand about goaltending and about how much there is to it. You'll almost never hear me call a goal a bad goal anymore. I know what to look for on replays. Was it deflected? Was he screened? Did the puck come off the shooter's blade strange? Was the puck knuckling or rolling? Did the shooter put the puck in a basically impossible to save spot (close to the ear, glove side, for all you people who think those are bad goals)? Did the play get screwed up? Did the D or forward miss his assignment? Was it a rocket of a shot? Did the shooter miss the shot he was going for, and so the puck slid past a goalie who read the shot the guy was trying to take? There are so many more things I could list.
If I think a goal looked bad, and even on the replay I still think it looked bad, I'll ask Mike before making a judgement. There's always something I didn't previously know and can learn. I want to learn. I want to know what I'm talking about when Mike gets home after a game. I don't want to be the girl that just tries to reassure, but be the girl that can really talk and help him out if he decides he needs that. I can't do that if I don't understand what I'm talking about. I'll sit with Mike when he goes over his game tapes and watch him rewind and rewind the same play and let him explain to me what he was thinking on each goal scored and why it went in.
I guess that's why I get so aggravated when I hear people complain about a goalie. I'm willing to bet that 98% of the goals fans think are bad, aren't bad at all. I keep my mouth shut knowing that trying to debate a goal with anyone is useless, but I can still wish that people would shut up unless they really knew what they were talking about. All of the "You suck!" and "Get him out of the net!" comments I hear from the team's own fans are horrible. The guys don't hear it, but I do. I have to sit there and listen to people who more often than not don't know what they're talking about tell my fiance how terrible he is. What's fun about that?
Then there's also the other team's fans. Going into another team's barn is always an experience. They get on the opposing goalies like it's no one's business. Most of the jeering I can handle, not because I think it's okay, but because I had to learn to thicken my skin. When you date a goalie, it's part of what you sign up for. If you can't handle a fan yelling at your guy, stay home. It's going to happen.
In college I used to work the hockey games. I stood at the top of the stairs in the visiting team's ticket section and made sure that everyone sat in their seats. Basically, I was an usher, but I didn't care. I got paid to stand at center ice and watch a game I was going to attend anyway. One night a guy on the other team made a nice move and beat Mike. A guy on the aisle in the top row jumped up cheering, looked at me, and said "That was my son!" with a big grin on his face. I smiled back at him and said "He just scored on my boyfriend." The guy could tell I wasn't upset and we ended up laughing about it and chatting for a bit. That kind of stuff is fine and kind of fun. Nothing like a little good natured ribbing.
Mike's first year pro he was playing a game in Albany. We were doing long distance because I was finishing my senior year of school, and this was as close as he was going to get to me, so I drove the 4 hours just to go to the game. As I sat in the stands, watching him play what ended up being a shootout loss (more on shootouts later), there was a guy sitting just a few rows behind me. He was yelling at Mike the whole game. Not just a few times, literally almost every play. I gritted my teeth and kept my mouth shut until....."Even your girlfriend thinks you suck!" I simply turned around and said "No, actually I don't." That jerk didn't say a word the rest of the game. I didn't have to flip out to get my point across. These guys are people and have families and loved ones in the stands. Keep that in mind. I've often wondered if I ran into that guy while Mike played in Albany last season.....
Mike's even had my name chanted at him during games in college. Still wondering how the Cornell student section knew my full name before things like Facebook even existed.
I've given some fans glares, and even done the "real nice" comment after some things, but really, you just have to suck it up and deal. There's always going to be an asshole yelling at someone you care about when it comes to sports, and goalies are right up there as far as how bad they get it. There's nothing fun about dealing with that.
Then there's after losses. It's not fun to be home after a bad game. No matter what happened during the game, Mike will always say it's his fault, and he'll always be upset. That's just what you get when you date a guy who has the entire game placed on his shoulders. Like it's not bad enough the fans and media will tear him apart, I have to deal with him tearing himself apart as well. Usually I just stay quiet until he decides he's ready to talk. More often than not he needs a little bit of time to himself before he starts discussing the game. Maybe other players do this, I wouldn't know. I doubt this is only something goalies do, but how do you convince them that the loss wasn't their fault? It's never easy. Honestly, the best thing I can do is let him be, talk about it if he wants to, and refrain from getting upset at him at all costs. Nagging him is only going to set him off, no matter how much what he did pissed me off.
Then there are shootouts. I LOATHE shootouts. There just really isn't much I hate more. In my opinion, it's a ridiculous way to decide a game. I could care less how much fans enjoy it. It's horrible. Way to take a team game and make it about one person. I get the point of penalty shots in games. You'll never hear me complain about them (unless they were totally unwarranted). Shootouts are a completely different story. Aside from my passionate dislike for their purpose, I also can't stomach them. I literally get nauseous as the last seconds of overtime tick off the clock. I will literally shake throughout the entire shootout. Best advice I can give you for spending shootouts next to me? Leave me the F alone. I will take your head off if you try to talk to me during one. Unfortunately for me, Mike somehow always ends up towards the top of the league in shootout shots faced. Just my luck, right? Thankfully, he also somehow always ends up towards the top of the league in shots stopped in shootouts. For whatever reason, he's always been good at breakaways and shootouts. Of course, if he loses one, that makes it so much worse. Those are the nights when I'm thrilled if he's on the road because he won't be coming home angry and the nights when he's home that I'm terrified to go back.
Sound fun so far? I didn't think so.
There's the pulling the goalie part of the game that really tops it all. Some coaches do it too often, some almost never. More often than not, I don't think there's a good reason to pull a guy. What are the odds the team is going to come back when enough goals have been scored to justify pulling a guy? Sure, it has happened, but really? Not to mention, the guy coming into the game is cold. He's not warmed up, and they get next to no time to warm up. It's not like it's a pitcher who's been throwing in the bullpen for the last inning and a half and then gets another batch of pitches to throw before play resumes. They're lucky the refs give them 30 seconds. Guys can get hurt going in cold. They also faced next to no shots in warm ups and haven't seen shots at all during the duration of the game. It takes a while to get into a groove, which is why so often they get scored on pretty early. The guy who comes out is pissed off, and the guy who goes in is pissed off. Also, I'm pissed off because I chose not to fly to Long Island to see the first game Mike dressed because he wasn't playing and I wanted to fly to Pittsburgh to see the first game he played just to see him get thrown in halfway through the game against the Islanders on TV. I'll never get over not being there in person, but I digress.
Also, there's the danger. They're throwing themselves all over the place trying to keep the puck out of the net. Anyone who says their equipment needs to be smaller has no idea what they are talking about. They don't get to see the bruises and raised bumps I get to when he gets home. Some are downright horrible looking. Mike's goalie partner with the Devils had his throat slit two seasons ago, which is horrifying. He came within like 1/4" from having his aorta hit. It's terrifying to see them go down. It's like that for every player, but goalie's are prone for so much of the game that the danger never goes away. It's why you'll never see me fly off the handle more than when someone runs a goalie, especially Mike. It's the only time in the middle of a period I will be out of my seat, and you better believe a string of curses are being hurled at top volume down towards the ice. Then there's things like this video. I mean, come on. He could have taken that off the face!
There are upsides, as few as they are, to dating a goalie. Things like hearing the crowd's reaction to something like this.....
Those are the times that I can't stop smiling. Watching and hearing the crowd go absolutely bananas cheering my guy on is an incredible feeling.
I can remember the first incredible save I ever saw him make in person. It was his second year in Vegas. I was sitting almost right on the goal line and watched in horror as the shot went wide, hit the backboards, and kicked back out the other side onto another guy's stick. It was a sure goal and I was pissed even before the shot. Then the red light didn't go on and Mike jumped up, and tossed the puck into the circle for a faceoff. What?! What just happened?! They showed the replay over and over again the rest of the night. Somehow Mike managed to go post to post and literally caught the puck on the goal line. They stopped the replay to show the crowd exactly where he caught it, and if it was another half an inch back his glove would have been in the net. The fans went nuts, and didn't stop the rest of the night. I also couldn't keep the smile off of my face. I proudly stood and cheered at the top of my lungs along with everyone else, my heart racing with adrenaline. The best part? Being close enough to see the grin on Mike's face after he made the save. Here's the picture.....
Oh, and the shutouts. Is there anything better for a goalie? I watch every game Mike plays on the road on the computer. Yes, I pay the $6.99 a game to watch a terrible quality stream so I can see him play. If there's a problem with the stream, I have the game on the radio in the background as a back up. I think in the over 7 years we've been dating, I've missed 6 games he's played and they were all for extremely legit reasons. I don't miss games. I've also never missed a shutout.
I'd just gotten into Tampa after a 2 day 14 hour drive from Norfolk. I was tired and nervous. His family flew in, and an old coach of his was also there. I sat with them and the previously mentioned friend. I don't think about shutouts, and I WILL lose it on you if you say the word while the game is still going on. The Islanders took a penalty with just a few minutes left in the game, and I let myself think about it. My heart was racing, and I started imagining what it would be like. Then Kyle Okposo came out of the penalty box on a breakaway. I stopped breathing, cursed myself out for thinking about a shutout, willed Mike to make a save, and almost broke my friends hand all in the few seconds that passed. Mike made the save, along with another extremely difficult one before the buzzer sounded. The only time I've ever cried harder in my life was when Mike proposed. I couldn't function. I think I left my hands over my face forever. I got to meet all of the other wives and girlfriends that night with make-up streaks and bloodshot eyes. It was amazing. Watching him get the star of the game and his interview after was surreal. It had really happened and the place was jumping. Even if the rest of that season didn't go so great, I'll never lose that moment.
I suppose there is one other perk to dating a goalie. Flexibility. Mike can practically do a full split. Sorry if this is TMI, but hoooooly is it hot. Before every period, when he's stretching, the split will be the last thing he does. I make sure I'm always watching. A few people have told me they think it's weird, but come on. Just watch it and tell me it's not hot. You'll never convince me otherwise.
I tell people that some games I just wish he won't play. Obviously I want him to play as much as possible, and as well as possible, but I need a break once in a while! I'm a much different person when someone else is playing than when Mike is. I'll talk, I'll laugh, I won't break your knee cap when I grab onto your leg during a particularly dangerous play. I might even have fun.
Bottom line, I spend most of my life stressed out because of the position my fiance plays. It's not usually fun, it's never easy, and a fair amount of the time, it sucks. I think it takes a special kind of person to really be able to date a professional athlete of any kind, and an even more special person to date people in such high pressure positions. We often compare a goalie to a pitcher in baseball, or a QB in football. The game rests on your shoulders, and the significant others of those guys carry almost as much of the weight. I wouldn't recommend it. And yes, I'm also aware this sounds extremely negative, or like I'm complaining. I'm not. There just wasn't another way to explain and word things without it sounding like that. It's my brutal honesty and my reality. If I hated it so much, I wouldn't live it. I knew what I was getting into when I started dating Mike, and I won't ever turn my back on someone I love simply because it isn't easy. There are certainly advantages to my life, ones I may touch on in a later post. Even so, if you knew all of this ahead of time, would you still want to date a goalie?