Column: Goaltenders deserve more admiration

A coach in my Under-10 soccer days once gave me some valuable advice: “The goalie is an obstacle, not a target.”

Someone probably should have given the San Jose Sharks of the National Hockey League that same bit of knowledge last week when they hammered 59 shots at Edmonton Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens, who saved them all. Scrivens shutout was the most saves by a goalie in a regular-season contest, besting Phoenix Coyotes netminder Mike Smith who previously held the record with 54.

Edmonton is a team that has struggled with offense, player injuries and a bevy of coaching changes. Scrivens’ shutout is a small glimmer of hope for a better season and future for an otherwise struggling team. As most NHL fans know, whomever plays between the pipes often has a daunting task of not only earning the approval of his teammates, but securing the approval of the fans.

We love our goalies after their shutouts and incredible saves. Jonathan Quick was Los Angeles’ hero after their 2012 Stanley Cup playoff run and win. Despite strong offensive production from guys like Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter, Quick’s three shutouts and stellar play earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy.

On the other side of the spectrum, we talk trade and back-up options when they let in weak goals and can’t seem to find their confidence. Those who undertake the challenge of putting on a mask and stepping between the pipes must be a special type of strong (or crazy), because the plight of the NHL goalie is not an easy one.

Rewind to last year’s playoff series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins and you’ll get an entirely different picture. In game seven the Maple Leafs were up 4-1 heading into the third period and primed to move on to the next round.

But Boston roared back and won 5-4 in overtime. In one of the most famous photos of the 2013 playoffs, Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer lay face down on the ice. All of the blame for the third period collapse couldn't be put on Reimer, yet the picture of Reimer face down was front page in the Toronto Sun News the next day under the scathing title, “The Choke’s On Us.”

Poor Reimer couldn’t even step out onto the streets of Toronto to enjoy a nice order of poutine without angry fans giving him the evil eye.

If you’re a lifelong NHL fan like myself, you’ve likely gone what I like to refer to as goalie pains. There’s usually two scenarios. One, some rookie from the club’s farm team affiliate comes up to replace an injury or serve as backup, then goes on an amazing winning streak posting a 1.95 goals against average.

Then the collapse happens, and that poor soul is back on the bus to whatever AHL team he came from.

Second scenario is the team invests in some big name superstar and gives him a fat, $65 million contract for nine years, only to soon realize the money wasn’t worth it and now you’re stuck with a contract too big and a goalie you don’t want.

Just ask the Philadelphia Flyers. Ilya Bryzgalov’s contract is probably still leaving a bitter residue in their mouths.

NHL goalies don’t have it easy. There are pucks flying at you at 85 miles per hour, the constant bumping and shoving of players fighting for the puck in your crease and who can forget the “accidental” snow showers that are given when a player hits the brakes just a little too hard.

And then there are the fans, who either sing your praises or start wondering who might replace you.

As fans, we owe a special bit of admiration to our goaltenders because despite what my soccer coach said, they make themselves targets every day. They’re the last line of defense on the ice, and the only ones who play the entire 60 minutes of one of sports’ most brutal games.

And if nothing else, admire them because they’ve undertaken a task that the rest of us probably wouldn’t.

As goaltending great Bernie Parent once said, “You don’t have to be crazy to play goal, but it helps.”

What responsibility is designated to the goaltender after a loss like that of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ in last year’s NHL playoffs? Email and let Adee know what you think.

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