Smokies seek consistency between the pipes

Being a goalie isn’t easy. I was one once – for about 20 years.

Being a goalie isn’t easy. I was one once – for about 20 years.

You have to be tough mentally and you either get that way pretty early on or you don’t play goal.

I can’t say I loved the position, it was more of an addiction that worked its way into my system. As a netminder, you live for the big save, the tension, the competition and pressure and the good ones would rather take a bullet to the head then let a puck go in.

I’d get nervous about two days before each game and physically sick on game day, and it never got better, it was the same at 18 as it was at eight.

But when the puck dropped, it all went away. When you’re on, it’s the best feeling there is, you’re invincible and not even Gretzky can score – or so you think.

When you’re not, well that’s when it’s torture and you spend most of your time fighting the puck, guessing and lunging at everything that moves, analyzing every angle and speculating non-stop about how to get it back – then remembering – don’t think.

When a team like the Beaver Valley Nitehawks is winning every game, few notice who’s tending the nets, but when a club such as the Trail Smoke Eaters are losing night after night, the focus shifts inexorably to the crease, the ice tilts and the blame all runs downhill.

Just ask outgoing goalie Reed Vogt or last-month recruit James D’Andrea who played great the first few games for the Smokies but then seemed to sink into the insufferable chasm of mediocrity.

Is it the team that dragged the goaltender down to their level, or is the goalie the major contributor to the Smokies woes?

As one of the fraternity, I sympathize with the goalies for we often become the scapegoat as the losses pile up.

I’m not suggesting that it is the case with the Smokies  but  any team needs to  keep the shorthand situations down, the odd-man rushes to a minimum, clear rebounds, block shots, score goals etc. in order to win.

On average, if a team only allows between 20-30 shots per game, it will have a winning record.

But once they get up into the mid-30 to plus-40 shots per game, we’re talking breakaways, odd-man rushes and power plays where quality scoring chances and success-to-opportunities ratio goes way up.

In 26 games this season, Trail allowed less than 30 shots on goal in only two matches. In fact the team concedes an average of close to 36 shots per game and in six games, they were peppered with more than 40 shots.

Of course that doesn’t mean the goalie is off the hook either. In a stretch of four games this season Trail goalies allowed two goals on 30 shots then seven goals on 30 shots the very next game. In the two games prior, opposition scored two goals on 35 shots, then netted11 goals on just 33 shots.  Two of the four games were outstanding, the other two abysmal.

To survive in any league as a goalie, consistency and confidence are crucial.

Making a big save at an opportune time can give a team a huge lift, much like new Trail goalie Lyndon Stanwell did in the second period of Saturday’s 3-1 Trail win.

Conversely, letting in a couple soft goals is like giving your team a sucker punch to the gut, especially one as fragile and desperate not to lose as the Smoke Eaters.

In the end, they say it’s a team effort, unfortunately that is not altogether true. A good player can make a difference and a good goalie even more so.

Stanwell illustrated that the other night, displaying poise, great technique and a ton of patience.

Whether the team played better because of him or he played well because the team played better, is subject to debate, but either way lets hope it continues.

Stanwell may not turn the Smokies season around but at this point I think all the team is asking of its goaltender is consistency – and of course the odd game-saving miracle.

Not much at all.

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