Guest blog by Rob Jones.
Gilles Meloche. Donny Beaupre. Watching the North Stars growing up was second nature and going to games at Met Center with my dad and brother was always a highlight of my life. I grew up in South Minneapolis and had friends who had brothers that played High School hockey for South and Rooseveltâ€¦ schools that were, in the day, bitter turf rivals in pretty much everything in our neighborhood.
We happened to live right on the school zoning border, so my best friends ended up being split between the two schools. In the winters, weâ€™d always walk down to Longfellow or Brackett Park for ice time. At night, a neighborhood game of boot hockey in the street or alley would be a given. From the age of 6 or so, weâ€™d all be playingâ€¦ even my brother and his friends who were 7 years older. I was always drawn to play goalieâ€¦for whatever reason I just liked the flashiness of it. The padding. The equipment. And then I saw Pelle Lindbergh in about 1980. That mask!!! I was completely hooked. He had been playing in the Olympics. The way he moved on the ice and being relatively smallish in statureâ€¦ I was going to be a goalie!
And so it began. My friends played hockey. I did not. I would always run around on the ice, but didnâ€™t have skates. Finally, my friends dad gave me a pair of skates and I was off. I skated and fellâ€¦a lot. But it eventually came around. I still always played goalie, but rarely on the ice. I mimicked the saves of goalies I would see on tv. I LOVED watching Greg Stefan of the Dead Wings, Mike Liut of the Blues, Murray Bannerman of the hated Black Hawks and my other all-time favorite, Grant Fuhr. Bannerman had a great maskâ€¦ those masks were so great I wanted to â€œmakeâ€ my own. (yeah, paper mache wasnâ€™t exactly protectiveâ€¦even for a tennis ball).
Our family tv was in the basement of our rambler, which also had an open layout in the basement, complete with linoleum square floors that included a shuffleboard court which was quite common in houses in Minneapolis built in the 50â€™s and 60â€™s. This enabled us to also have some great floor hockey games down thereâ€¦taping off the lines and goals and using a taped and balled up pair of striped athletic socks as our puck and couch cushions as â€œthe boardsâ€. It was as close to playing hockey as I was going to get. Sure, I played baseball (as a pitcher, catcher and CF) and football as a DBâ€¦ but my mom made one thing clear: Hockey is a) dangerous and b) expensive. With that, we moved from the city out to Eden Prairie in 1985, which, unbeknownst to me, was a hockey mecca.
My first year of school in 6th grade at Eden Prairie made it very apparent to me how important it was to be an Eden Prairie Hockey player. By this time, I was 12-13 years oldâ€¦ pretty hard to play on a team with kids whoâ€™ve seemingly been playing since the womb. Also was the reiteration of cost. Equipment PLUS $800?? Sureâ€¦ not gonna happen!! Nevermind how dangerous it is. Soâ€¦ I saved my money. And saved. And piece by piece, I bought goalie equipment.
I bought a pair of Red, White and Blue Jayco Pro pads with the â€œaccordion flexâ€ boot off a former minor league goalie from the Washington Capitals for a mere $150. Those were great padsâ€¦ Pro model, same as John Vanbiesbrouck wore for the Rangers for about a year or so. Anyhowâ€¦ it was starting. Of course, I was caught red handed when I ordered a pair of goalie skates and a jock from Ocean Hockey Supply and my mom signed for the delivery. She was sort of mad, but I think it made her realize how gung-ho I was to play net. The summer of 1987 also had me convincing my parents to send me to the Warren Strelow/Paul Ostby Goalie School over at BIG. What an experience!!! I was all set to go nowâ€¦ equipment, trainingâ€¦ but no team.
I played at the park in the winter and kept watching hockey on TV. We had one of those big satellite dishes so we were able to see all the games, in French even. Don Cherry became a favorite and I read and learned about the history of goalies and who they were. Iâ€™d sit in classes at school writing down as many NHL goalie names as I could remember throughout history in 2 minutes. I was addicted. Iâ€™d use our fireplace mantel in the basement to throw a racquetball against and practice making â€œglove-lyâ€ saves with my all-white Vaughn T-1000 trapper. (This is probably where my overly-dramatic glove saves come from!)
Winn-Lite goalie pads by Jim Lowson and Rejean Lemelin with the Calgary Flames put me in awe. Those raspberry colored, futuristic pads Lemelin wore were AWESOME. Then Greg Stefan with the Wings had a Heaton version of those pads which looked even more cool! Winn-Lites started showing up all over the place and I HAD to have a pair. Of course there was NO way Iâ€™d ever get the $800 to buy them, so whatâ€™s the next best thing? BUILD MY OWN! Lemelin began playing for the Bruins and Winn-Lite became Aeroflex.
I went to a North Stars/Bruins game to look at his pads up closeâ€¦took lots of pictures. I spent hours and hours (sad, I know) building my own pads and creating a â€œworkshopâ€ in the garage. Drawing and designingâ€¦ending up with 2 sets and a blocker when I was done. Amazingly, they were pretty decentâ€¦ nothing anyone could sell or anythingâ€¦but usable nonetheless. They didnâ€™t last too long, so I was back to my Jaycos. One summer I was at a used sporting goods store that used to be in Hopkins called Instant Replay (still have one store in Bloomington) and they had Kari Takkos old white Koho pads for sale. Againâ€¦ HAD to have! Traded the Jaycos in and paid some extra money. To this day, those were the BEST pads Iâ€™ve ever owned. Still, no way I was getting on a team.
1990 brought Eden Prairie High School hockey tryouts. I gave it a go. I failed of course because these kids were predetermined to have a spot, especially when kids are recruited in from other areas. Our big name was Bryan Schoen who ended up transferring to Minnetonka since the EP team was so bad. It was fun to try out, but, no dice.
After graduation, I ended up attending Normandale for a year. Yay. How fun. But whatâ€™s this? They have a intramural hockey team!?!? I signed up and became part of the team which had 3 goalies. I ended up being #2, but played quite a bit since the #1 seemed to miss a lot for some reason. Anyhow, the Normandale program had a decent schedule, but played some real hockey schools in scrimmages. My first game ever was against Augsburg. Lost 10-1â€¦ not all my fault, but as a goalie, you take those things personally. Played at BIG against Drake College from Iowa and we won that game, although I gave up a goal off the opening face-off in front of my parents and about 300 spectators. And it wasnâ€™t a breakawayâ€¦it was a shot from the RED LINE off the faceoff.
This game gave me the team drive when it became really chippy. In the second period I went out to play the puck and was lined up by a Drake player in the corner. Luckily I saw him coming and sidestepped the check (checking was allowed), but then 3 of my teammates made that guy pay by piling in and throwing punches while yelling â€œYOU DONâ€™T HIT THE GOALIE!!!â€ Ah, what a team!!! This showed me what it can feel like to be part of something competitive and how teammates can stick up for youâ€¦more than just Varsity baseball. I ended the season and my schooling at Normandale that spring. No team once again, so I just played random pick-up hockey for a few years.
Being at the University of Minnesota introduced me to lots of new friends, one being a guy about 5 years older than me who was Captain of a Hockey North America team called the Buccaneers. They were a successful team, but their goalie was giving up playing net and converting to defense. After talking, I was given a â€œtryoutâ€ and got the gig. I played 2 seasons for them and we won the League Championship both times and went to Toronto for the HNA National Tourney in 1999. The HNA endured some legal issues and somehow the AHA was born out of it. My old Bucs team split and became the Titans and Bucs teams in the current AHA.
In 2001, I moved to California and was faced with the fact that I probably had to give up hockey. I donâ€™t like inline and the nearest ice rink in southern CA was about 85 miles away (the closest one to me collapsed from heavy snow!) All my gear was stored at my dads house and the few trips I came back to visit, Iâ€™d find the time to play a game of pickup. But low and behold, I moved back in 2004 and even had a team in the AHA before I even got hereâ€¦the Admirals where I met Barb and was introduced to JMS Hockey. JMS was fledgling back thenâ€¦pay as you go. Barb is at every sessionâ€¦ I think 1-2 sessions a week on Fridays only. Amazing how far JMS has come. (Thanks Barb!)
This will be my 10th season playing in an Adult Hockey League. The people Iâ€™ve met and played with have been great. Iâ€™ve scorekept games, reffed some scrimmages and even was the AHA Beginner School Goalie coach for 2 seasons. I have worked my way from running in shoes on the ice as a kid to playing goalie through the B1 level of the AHA. Coincidentally, both goalies I tried out against at Eden Prairie High School back in 1990 play in the AHA, one in the Elite level and one in B1. Iâ€™ve subbed for both in my years in the AHA. I think I finally made it! Sure, itâ€™s not the NHL or a gigantic accomplishment, but I followed my dream and love for being a goalie which is now shared with my two youngest kidsâ€¦ aspiring goalies just as I was 30 years ago.