The Washington Capitals open their National Hockey League season Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. Caps fans are hoping their team will make a serious run at the Stanley Cup.
That might depend heavily on the Caps’ goalies. Washington signed veteran goaltender Tomas Vokoun to team with Michel Neuvirth in the Washington net.
Goalies are super important in hockey. In last year’s playoffs, Tim Thomas was terrific in the goal and led the Boston Bruins to their first championship in 41 years.
Thomas blocked almost 94 percent of the shots on the Bruins’ goal last season, making him the best first-team goalie in the NHL. The worst (Nikolai Khabibulin of the Edmonton Oilers) stopped only 89 percent. While five percentage points might not seem like a big difference, it can mean as much as a goal a game. Lots of NHL games are decided by one goal.
Sometimes goalies are blamed for letting in goals when it’s really the whole team that didn’t play good defense. Maybe that’s why some kids don’t want to play goalie — in hockey, field hockey, soccer or lacrosse.
When I coached soccer, I would ask, “Who wants to play goalie?” Some kids, including many who would have been good goalies, said, “No way.” One mistake and everyone says you lost the game. That’s a lot of pressure.
There are tough spots — positions where there is lots of pressure to do well — in other sports, too. For example, in baseball, the pitcher and catcher are in on every play.
Being the team’s catcher is hard work. Catchers have to wear lots of equipment and stop pitches in the dirt. If the catcher lets too many pitches get by, the team is in big trouble.
There’s even more pressure on the pitcher. If he has a bad day, it’s tough for the team to win. Maybe that’s why they put a “W” for “win” in the box score next to the winning pitcher’s name.
In basketball, the point guard has the ball in her hands on almost every possession. She has to be steady and get the ball to her teammates for good shots. The point guard is like the quarterback on the court.
In football, the cornerbacks and safeties try to keep the other team’s receivers from scoring, much as goalies do in hockey. One mistake, and the other team is celebrating in the end zone.
Some important jobs in life and in sports — like goalie — are among the toughest. But if you want to help your team, maybe you’ll want to give the tough jobs a try.
Fred Bowen is the author of 17 sports books for kids. His latest chapter book, “Quarterback Season,” has just been published.