Bobby Goepfert is a professional goaltender who I got to know in college (he was with St. Cloud), and our paths crossed again at a camp for the Hershey Bears in 2008-2009. He’s spent time in the American League and the ECHL, and has been a starter in the DEL (German Elite League) over the past couple seasons – he’s heading back there this year too. He’s a pretty darn good goalie, and also a great Twitter follow.
He’s written for Backhand Shelf in the past (you can still check out his post responding to my post about abusing goaltenders from the blog’s early days), so with the European season about to kick off, he needed an outlet for his energy and hit me up.
Hockey pucks hurt, I can confirm this. But I’ll let him tell you more about it below.
-by Bobby Goepfert
The hockey puck. You elusive, deceiving, unforgiving spawn of vulcanized rubber. To the naked eye, it doesn’t look like a formidable foe. One inch thick, three inches in diameter and weighing in at 6 ounces, it hardly boasts the dimensions of a menacing adversary. However, this small, unassuming sliver of hellish frozen rubber can travel up to speeds of 100+mph. (*Sidenote* In all honesty, that’s really only during the certain occasions when a 6’7″ defenseman really gets into one, or if you’re dumb enough to wonder in front of the net during the hardest shot event at the Skills Competition while Chara is going. Most of the hardest in-game, or practice shots us goalies face would be anywhere from low 90′s to high 90′s.)
People always say that us goalies are absolutely crazy for wanting to put ourselves in front of these flying bastards, actually trying to get a body part on it. Well…maybe we are. But I say to you, we are the most protected players out on the ice (or on the bench). The defenceman or forward battling in front of the net when an incoming rocket is headed our way wear no face mask, the shoulder pads Reggie Dunlop wore, and have an exposed abdomen. Are they not crazy? Or the winger challenging a point shot by sliding into the missile as it leaves the point man’s stick, with all sorts of body parts exposed – is that not crazier than we, the masked men, the padded Michelin men of today’s hockey game? (*Sidenote* Extreme kudos to our goalie brethren of yesteryear with their shoddy equipment and mask-less faces. I think I can speak for the goalies of today in saying, “Wow, & respect”…though something a bit more articulate.)
However, with all the padding us goalies are fortunate to have in today’s game, I can tell you, pucks still hurt. Depending where you are hit, there are a variety of different types of pains that I will do my best to try to describe to you so you don’t have to experience them for yourselves.
There are a slew of different sensations when getting hit in the mask. First off, this is probably the most worrisome area from coaches, players and fans when you see your goalie get hit in this area.
- Cage: Getting hit in the cage can be traumatizing. You see the dent in the mask and think to yourself, I need to send Jacques Plante a “Thank You” card. Sometimes the cage absorbs the blow so it isn’t too painful, but there are other times where it will catch you flush and it feels like when you get hit with a basketball in the mouth/nose. Not really a pain, but that annoyance that “crap that sucked” and you can feel the anger well inside you because more often than not, it is probably the same player who has don’t it countless times in practice.
- Mask: The mask has been constantly evolving. The helmets now, from the forehead to the top of the cranium have elevated grooves, almost looking like a rising sun. These grooves are made to deflect the pucks without fully absorbing the blow. Its great, because one: it doesn’t really hurt, and two, you get to experience rare sympathy from your peers.
- Above the cage, right where the grooves of the “rising sun” start is in fact, the “sun” part. This kind of half-circle-sun is the danger zone. Catch one flush and its lights out. It only happened to me once in the minors, and I suffered a concussion. Extreme pain, almost instantaneously felt like I was listening to Gregorian monks while being submerged in water. Its rare, because it has to hit you just right, but never the less, its possible.
- The cheeks and ears: It’s almost instinct sometime to turn your head when a shot is coming that way. It’s probably the worst thing you can do because as stated early, the cage isn’t too bad, and for the most part, the forehead is not bad either. The cheeks and ears however are. The ears/side of the head, feels like somebody open hand slapped your ear drum. Instant ringing, I think from the helmet, but it is obnoxious and annoying. Not a good feeling. The cheek/jaw part has two different sensations: It can either feel like someone punched you in the face, or took a yellow wiffleball bat swing to your cheek. The punch hurts more than the wiffleball bat feeling, as that is more of a “sting”. With all these though, you have to battle the initial rage of getting hit in the head, then redirect the anger to yourself because you shouldn’t have turned your head.
Oh my…The absolute worst of the worst. Every goalie at some level has experienced this in some fashion. It is incredible that with all the padding chest protectors have nowadays that this pucking demon bastard can still find a way into these minuscule crevices. Ok, I have never been shot by a bullet, but if I could imagine what it would feel like, the “stinger” would be it. Flush on the shoulder or flush on the collarbone, doesn’t matter, it is instant agonizing pain, debilitating, crumbling you to your knees. You look into the sky, cursing the Hockey Gods, “Why?! Oh Why?! The invention of the slapshot!!! The curvature of sticks!!! The one-piece Synergy’s now!!! When will it end?!?!” Then like clock work, a couple writhing strides into the corner, upper body bent from the waist and the pain is gone. Until the next time, because, oh there will be a next time.
This spot has been becoming extinct since my early days. Revolutionary products and guards, independent from the pad or pants or connected to either has the knee a very protected part and rightfully so. Occasionally it will still catch you and it hurts like a mutha…who still hasn’t used her Mother’s day gift from four years ago. (*Sidenote* Dear Mom, the spice rack was not a statement about your cooking. I just thought it was a nice gift and I am a sucker for that damn SkyMall magazine. It is motorized Ma! You don’t even have to spin it yourself!) The pain is intense and it will hurt for a while because when you think the pain has subsided, you get back in your stance and you will feel it for a couple days. Lots of ice and Advil. And, new knee guards, and may I suggest not to get your proud cooking Italian mother a spice rack for Mothers Day.
The Man Region
Now it doesn’t always hurt. The goalie cup is a very flattering piece of equipment. Its huge and protective, and almost overcompensates…”almost.” But there are the occasional shots that get you “just right”. And much like those circumstances, I have no words. A high pitch squealing, lying on your back with your knees in the air (a goalie urban legend I think). Rocking back and forth, hearing chuckles from teammates during practice, refs and opponents during games, the concerned look of your trainer not knowing exactly where it got you, then his subsequent smirk when a teammate tells him the location. Every goalie from youth to pro has been hit in the family jewelry, you know what I am talking about, and for those of you who don’t, may you never have to experience it.
Do pucks hurt? Sure. All the time? No. Though even when they do, and the pain is crippling, your teammates are laughing, your coach is yelling or you are crying, take solace in the fact that you made the save. That elusive, deceiving, unforgiving spawn of vulcanized rubber is one tough pucker to stop.