The pucks went into the net fast and furious. The red light went on behind the goalie so often, he got a sunburn on the back of his neck.
It was a rough night at the office for Glen Hanlon, but with typical aplomb befitting him, he was able to crack wise about it afterward.
“Who replaced the net behind me with a soccer goal?” Hanlon quipped.
Hanlon, the ginger who played between the pipes for the Red Wings from 1986-1991, was in net on February 23, 1988 when the Philadelphia Flyers stormed into Joe Louis Arena and smacked the Red Wings, 11-6. Hanlon allowed 10 of the 11 goals that night.
But Hanlon put that nightmare evening behind him and scored two shutouts in his next four starts.
Hockey players are known for wearing the “C” on their sweater but it may as well stand for “confidence.” Never is that more true than with goalies.
You know goalies—that odd breed of athlete.
Hockey goalies are either nuts or savants. They either know something we don’t, or they’ve been sniffing the goal post paint.
Why else would you suit up and face vulcanized rubber discs fired at you?
The mental aspect of the position has swallowed some netminders whole. Even the Hall of Famers have had their moments—and by that I mean, where they could be fitted for a straitjacket.
Glenn Hall once played in over 500 consecutive games, without a mask, which makes him the Supreme Nut. And Hall went through a ritual before every game where he would throw up, like clockwork. It was every bit as normal as Brendan Shanahan tapping the blade of his stick for good luck as he stepped onto the ice every night.
Roger Crozier retired briefly, in his 20s. The reason? The stress of being a goalie threatened to consume him.
Jimmy Rutherford once told of having dreams where pucks were flying at him from all different directions, all at the same time.
Dominik Hasek is a very nice man, but he’s crazy, too. Hasek was as quirky as Felix Unger.
So don’t try to tell me that goalies are the same as everyone else walking this planet.
But it all comes down to the big “C”—confidence.
If you lose it as a goalie, you can’t stop a beach ball. And the net behind you turns into a soccer goal.
Petr Mrazek, the Red Wings goalie for whom you want to buy a vowel, has morphed into the team’s no. 1 netminder. It’s been a non-hostile takeover, but a takeover nonetheless.
Coach Jeff Blashill began the season with good intentions. He alternated goalies, a la the great Boston Bruins teams of the early-1970s.
But lately, Mrazek has been the man. He’s the one playing with confidence. Mrazek has started three straight games, which under Blashill is akin to Glenn Hall’s streak.
Jimmy Howard is no. 2. He’s the one with the shrinking “c” on his sweater.
Howard’s last two starts have ended the same way—with him on the bench, wearing a baseball cap.
On December 22, Howard started at home against New Jersey and 14 minutes and three goals later, his night was finished.
A week later in Winnipeg, Howard lasted 31 minutes and surrendered four goals. His save percentage in those two games combined was .650, which is like a starting pitcher with an ERA of 12.
Howard hasn’t seen the ice since, as Mrazek is playing with flair and with the big “C.”
When it comes to confidence, by the way, you won’t find a goalie in the NHL with much more of it than what Mrazek has.
Confidence—some call it swagger—has been Mrazek’s calling card from the moment the Red Wings scouts first saw him play in the Czech Republic.
The Red Wings nabbed Mrazek in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, which is about right. The Red Wings have made a killing in the later rounds over the past 25 years or so. It’s as if their scouts knuckle down when other teams’ start to lose interest.
Mrazek hates to be scored upon, and not because of fear of the red light—because of disdain. Teammates marvel at his intensity, even in practice.
Now, no goalie likes to be scored upon. This is hardly a trait unique to Mrazek. But Mrazek’s brimming confidence/swagger raised the team’s eyebrows when they scouted him, and nothing has changed since.
Mrazek pitched two shutouts at the high-scoring Tampa Bay Lightning in last year’s playoffs, when coach Mike Babcock chose the kid over the veteran Howard to be his post-season goalie. And had the Red Wings survived that first-round series, Mrazek no doubt would have remained the no. 1 guy throughout the playoffs.
Blashill took over last summer and he said polite things about Howard, who is going to be 32 years old in March. Then Blashill declared an open competition in training camp, and to the coach’s delight, his decision about who was no. 1 was rendered excruciating, mostly thanks to Howard’s solid play. The 23 year-old Mrazek was up to the task, as expected.
So Blashill decided that his decision on who would be the primary starting goalie would be…neither man. Hence the alternating goalie system out of the gate.
But like a long distance foot race, the younger man is pulling ahead.
Mrazek threw a shutout at the Devils on Monday night, so it would make sense that Blashill will start the Czech for a fourth straight game, at San Jose on Thursday.
As for Howard, it can’t help his confidence that seven of the 20 most recent shots he’s seen have eluded him, and that he’s been pulled in two straight starts.
But Howard is a goalie, and goalies are used to having their confidence ebb and flow. They all know that when they sign up for the job. And they do so, gladly.
Because they’re kooky.