CALGARY -- Ever since I stuffed pillows and telephone books down my pants legs to man the goal in pond hockey games on Long Island 25 years ago, I've always enjoyed perusing the price of pads in the hockey section of the local sporting goods stores.
In Washington, hardly a hockey hotbed, that usually doesn't take too long. In Calgary, I've found hockey heaven.
A few steps across the street from the Stampede Grounds here, Lorne Bell and his daughter Devra run The Goalie Shop, the only store of its kind in North America that caters strictly to equipping hockey goaltenders. There are sticks, pads, helmets, masks, gloves, pants, sweaters, tape, even shoe laces that only fit goalie skates. And if anything breaks, Bell has a repair shop, too.
Bell, a man in his late 40s who coaches and plays goalie for a local senior men's team, started the business six years ago and now estimates he grosses $400,000 a year. He has a mailing list of 500 goaltenders in Calgary alone, where he estimates as many as 75,000 people play hockey from pee wee leagues to the seniors.
His clientele ranges from little children trying on their first set of pads right through to professionals from all over the National Hockey League who wander in rather regularly before games in the Saddledome.
Last week, a half-dozen Olympic goaltenders came in to look at the merchandise and talk shop, and Vladislav Tretiak, the legendary Soviet goalie, stopped by for an hour to autograph his new book. "Playing goal is 80 percent psychological, 10 percent art and 10 percent luck," said Bell. "If you don't have the confidence, you're dead.
"It's amazing how many guys come in here and say they saw so-and-so with a new glove or a new mask and they just have to have it. They'll take it even if it doesn't feel right. I'd like to make the sale, but I tell them not to do it. If you're not 100 percent comfortable out there, it just gives you something else to think about."
And for all aspiring goaltenders, think about this: Bell estimates that to outfit a goaltender head to toe and all points in between costs about $4,000 for top-of-the-line equipment, including $1,500 for pads alone.
Pillows and telephone books were always a lot cheaper, but it certainly can't hurt to look.