Hockey story

I posted this as a comment on Chuq von Rospach’s blog, but I enjoyed writing it so much that I figured I’d share it here. I haven’t written enough hockey stuff anyway, so here you go. A discussion of hard shots to the groin started it…

In my goaltending days I was an equipment modder. Taking Jacques Plante’s lead, I did my best to fill in every gap (pucks are very good at finding gaps in armor!) and beef up parts that mattered. The cup was a wonder of Red Green style handiwork. I had a nice air-padded goalie-style strap, with a metal cup. Around the metal I added some closed-cell foam strips, and carefully wrapped the foam and attached it with… Duct Tape! That stuff has amazing impact-absorbing properties. I played with some guys with some pretty damn hard shots, and never even lost a breath over a cup-shot.

Speaking of hard shots: I did scare the hell out of a bunch of guys on a casual-hockey night once though. I played for a while with a group of guys here in Seattle on a couple of weeknights back in the 80s, several ex-pros and college players. One of them was a guy named Jim McTaggart, who played two or so years in the NHL (Caps IIRC… yep Google sees all!)… anyway, great guy, and a ton of fun to play with. Jim had a real hard and heavy slapshot that he rarely fired off… mostly because he didn’t want to hurt anyone in a casual drop-in game. But the game had gotten intense and he broke out of his end and found himself with nothing but ice between him just outside the blueline, and me… way out in front of the net. He cocks the stick *way* back and *boom!* lets one fly.

The problem is… I can’t see it.

(the following sequence of events happened in milliseconds, but in that odd goalie-time, it seemed like minutes to me at the time… I still recall every moment)

Instinct tells me it is going for my head… so I start rising up to take it in my chest. Usually changing the viewing angle, even just a bit, will allow you to pick up the puck in flight again. Basic trigonometry. I raise up, but still can’t pick out the puck(!) I KEEP going higher and higher, hoping to give that puck a nice fat chest protector to bounce off of, but STILL can’t see the damn puck. I have popped up so fast that I’m now off the ice, in mid-air, with that weird shoulders-up, head retracted-to-hide-your-neck posture that we assume when we sense a puck flying high towards the noggin. Like a “Rock’em-Sock’em Robot”… on ice.

Sure enough, I finally make out the puck… in perfect clarity (it had “Made in Chekoslovakia” in raised letters on the side, slightly lower than halfway down the left side)… about a foot from my nose. It was as if it teleported there.

I’m five feet eleven inches tall, with another inch or so in my skates, about four inches off the ice, in mid-air, with a (very) fast moving puck now eight inches off my nose, closing fast.

My brain stops thinking like a goalie, and reverts to pure, animalistic “fight, or flight” and my brain’s not really in a fighting mood. My body has in all likelihood reached the apogee of it’s short-hop vertical takeoff, but my head, with the brain in the lead is beating a hasty retreat. They say your head can move very quickly… faster than any other part of your body, when properly motivated. I swear mine jumped back a foot. Unfortunately the puck was moving faster. At that point I closed my eyes.


The puck hits squarely on the vertical bar that runs down right between my eyes, and ricochets off straight up. My helmet and cage go flying off my head – straight back and into the net. My body, likely thrown more by my high-speed cranium retreat than the impact of the puck, lies out horizontally and I fall straight down to the ice, in what would be called a belly-flop, were I face-down.

Jim swears to me later that he firmly believed that he had shot my head off.

I open my eyes in time to see virtually everyone on the ice, Jim being the first (on his knees and with abject panic on his usually cheerfull face) come to a stop over me in disbelief… both in what they saw, and in the fact that I was perfectly fine, with no injury whatsoever.