Reformed uberdiva Ray Emery needs a moment alone

I think most everybody has a little diva in them. It’s the part of you that says, “Bitch, please!” in the face of perceived injustice. The part that says, “I can TOO do this!” in the face of glaring adversity. It’s a good thing to let your inner diva out occasionally to wag her finger at the world.

But, of course, letting your diva out too much leaves you prone to drama and self-absorption. Divas are strong but sometimes so willful, they get in their own way.

No position in hockey is immune from diva-tude, but goalies (and I shamelessly include myself) seem to be just a titch more prone to it.

After all, we have special rules to protect us, our own spot to stand and defend, our own completely different set of gear, and even our own sub-group of puck bunnies (again, strangely enough, I shamelessly include myself).

And we also have our own special set of indignities, which I think really fuels the diva fire. Our gear is super heavy and hot, we are careened into and fallen on in awkward positions, mocked by obnoxious celebrations, forever memorialized on YouTube getting deked and dangled out of our jocks, and hammered by bone-shattering shots all game long.

While players get to celebrate their goals, we are frowned upon for celebrating particularly sweet saves*. We must stoically hand over the puck to the ref and prepare for the next shot. Our only celes come with a win (which we may or may not get). Otherwise, we don’t get to celebrate at all.

*I do it anyway.

We are The Goalie. We are special. We are put-upon. We are the nest-protectors and the martyrs of the sport. Goat, hero, goat, hero: pick a day. Hell, pick a minute.

So teammates, coaches, refs, and fans all tend to look the other way to an extent when it comes to certain excesses.

Slashing, tripping, retaliation might get a “hey, watch yourself” warning from a ref, where a skater would certainly get 2 minutes in the box o’ shame. Being moody, aloof, or even straight up gong show crazy is a-okay with teammates and fans, IF you can stop pucks.

Hexy: Cool as the other side of the pillow, until you piss him off

For me, that’s part of the appeal of the position. There’s a certain line you don’t really have to toe if it’s not your nature, and the history of the game is littered with goalies for whom toeing that line isn’t their nature.

Ron Hextall, one of my all-time favorite bad boys, was never really constrained by the bounds of the blue paint. All my enduring mental pictures of him are, in fact, somewhere else on the ice getting into trouble, or so far out of his crease to cut down the angle, you could drive the Zamboni behind him.

With cojones that big and a temper that trigger-happy, I suspect he would have spent his entire career as a forward in the sin bin.

We’ve all watched as Tim Thomas has grappled with his inner diva, where he would occasionally get caught lobbing a blocker at a guy instead of focusing on the puck. I remember reading once that the only thing really keeping him from playing a balls-out, Hextall-style game is the inevitable retaliation factor and the vulnerability goalies have in net.

He’s learned to cool his jets a bit on the ice (though I miss the hotter-headed version), but the whole White House Visit Snub and the “I don’t have to explain myself, either” way he handled it was a textbook diva play.

And while I hate to beat a dead horse, can you picture Ilya Bryzgalov whizzing around in player gear? Perish the thought, for so many reasons.

Personally, one of my great joys in rec league is getting to unabashedly shove and poke anybody who’s a) within reach and b) keeping me from seeing the puck or being in position. But even I had to learn to turn my Diva Dial from a shrieking 11 to about 5 when I play.

Still, in the growing expectation that goalies have their heads more firmly attached to their shoulders than in the game’s earlier years (god forbid a goalie take a penalty that potentially hurts his team, because skaters never, ever do that), too many goalies have muffled their inner divas to their own detriment.

"Okay, I'll move back here, but I'd like my stapler back."

For years, I’ve watched Wild goalies get run by opponents, and for years, the team in front of them too often fails to take issue with it. Just once, I’d love for Nik Backstrom to get up and wail on a guy. Screw the penalty. Screw Finnish stoicism.

Similarly, the Incredible Shrinking Roberto Luongo lets his space around the crease get chipped away, and it’s especially frustrating from a bigger goalie.

Ultimately, it’s probably a wash: A few get past you because you’re allowing guys to intimidate you in your net without any retaliation, or a few get past you because you’re too busy retaliating to stop the puck.

But it just feels SO GOOD to give it back, to put your skate down and say, “Get the hell off my lawn!” to those sniveling skaters and their big butts in your face and their sneaky dekes and their slapshots to the grill.

I know the ethos of hockey is “team first” and whatnot, but tending goal has its own ethos of taking, not giving. A little diva-like selfishness, like a little dark chocolate or red wine, can be fun and good for the goalie soul.

Comments (3)

  1. From one goalie to another: Great article!

    I miss the days when “goalie” was the hockey version of “jager” : Said matter-of-factly, it was a one-word answer to any question about odd personal behavior. Now, not so much.

    And it’s the great conundrum of hockey… We fans want our stars and heroes to be visible, to be noticeable, to be put out front in center in NHL marketing. And yet, we want our athletes to talk about team and “the Game” and to be thoughtful and mindful of their place in it.

    Show too much emotion or personality or not enough deference, you’ll hear the cries of “purists” bemoaning the fact that they don’t want hockey to be like the NFL or the NBA.

    It’s really quite sad actually. And it makes me miss Ron, Curtis, Arturs, Eddie, Dom, and Patrick even more. Those days are fast coming to an end.

  2. As a keeper and an Isles fan for life, I’ve got Billy Smith enshrined very highly in my diva, “take no crap” Goalie Pantheon. Forget for the moment (if you can) his routinely skipping handshake lines after playoff rounds because he felt it was phony to hobnob with guys he’d been trying to flatten for seven games (and vice-versa)… I think the most fitting tribute to Battlin’ Billy was this hockey card celebrating his 500th game in the NHL. They didn’t choose a picture of him making a kick save or hoisting a Cup; they used one of him clobbering Buffalo Sabres.

    But even I give the diva crown to Patrick Roy. “I couldn’t hear Roenick because I had my Cup rings stuck in my ears” has got to be the greatest goalie smackdown in history. And he had the game to back it up. Even when he made a spectacular blunder, he was the same goalie, with the same unshakeable self-belief. The man once stickhandled to center ice and pulled a spinarama around a New York Ranger; I have no doubt that he would have steamed all the way into the zone and tried a move on Richter, given the chance.

  3. Who would win an inner diva fight, Thomas’s diva or Rask’s?

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