Anatomy of a Game Winning Goal
Filed under, “I take men’s league hockey way too seriously.”
A shot comes from the blue line heading towards our net. We watched intently from the bench as the black puck bounces off a knee pad, a skate, and finally trickles past our goalie’s out-stretched leg pad, and into a four-inch crevasse of open net.
A disheartening sight to see. The guys on our bench got quiet, but it wasn’t the heavy silence that befalls a team that’s doing particularly bad. The other team had just tied the game up three to three, but we felt the momentum was still in our favor.
As I sat on the bench, I tried my trick of visualizing myself scoring the next goal. I tried to focus and really make myself believe it could happen, but it wasn’t really working. I felt like, “yeah it might happen,” but wasn’t feeling the determined fire that sometimes overcomes me.
Halfway through the next shift, I found myself sneaking behind the other team’s defense. My teammates were in our defensive zone, and out of my peripherals I saw that we momentarily gained possession.
The quick-twitch muscles in my legs fired. My knees bent at a sharper angle to make each stride more powerful. I kick my toes using the energy from my calves to utilize every bit of power in my body to drive me forward.
I keep my head turned forward, and wait to use my other senses to pick up where the puck is going. I’m near half-ice now.
I hear the clunk of the puck off the boards, and a few guys from the bench are yelling. They’re telling me the puck is coming my way. Within a split-second I’ve recognized that the puck will be bouncing off the boards behind me and then ricocheting towards me.
It’s not a perfect pass but I can work with it. I’m also not certain how far behind their defenders are from me. I try to find them using my peripheral vision but don’t pick up any opposing jersey colors. It doesn’t mean they’re not close, I just can’t see them.
So much of the game is played using your peripheral vision. Most of my attention is being paid to where the puck is, and controlling it on my stick. But I’m also trying to determine where I am on the ice in relation to the boards and their goal. In the next split second I want to determine where everyone else is on the ice, while still focusing in on the puck. I glance right and left, just trying to feel the proximity of other players.
The puck now makes contact with my stick and I nudge it into a comfortable position in front of me.
“Keep your legs moving.”
“Move towards the center before they push to the outside”
“Put your body between the puck and ——”
Just then I feel the presence behind me. It’s their defender and his body is now touching mine. I must have lost momentum turning the corner to pick up the puck. I can’t worry about that now. In an instant he’s putting his hand against my mid-section in an attempt to move me. He’s using his other hand to swing his stick, intending to hit my stick and dislodge the puck.
It gets harder to keep my feet moving towards the goal. I’m trying to remain balanced as the defender exerts his force on my body. I’m trying to keep a firm hold on my stick and control the puck so that it stays in front of me. My brain has too much to do, and the quick-twitch muscles in my legs aren’t receiving the signals to skate forward.
By this time, I’m entering the red circle in the opposing team’s offensive zone. I’m about 20 feet away from the goal and much further to the left of the goalie than I’d like.
I’ve taken a shot from here 200 times in my life. 197 times the puck has hit the goalie, or completely missed the net, or feebly left my stick with little to no power. I have enough trouble executing an accurate shot with no pressure, let alone someone physically trying to stop me from shooting.
I take the shot though, trying to snap my wrist to attain some height and velocity. The defender’s stick makes that impossible, and the puck comes off flat, skidding across the ice. I notice that it still had some velocity, however.
In quick succession, I registered the following stimuli:
My eyes could not locate the puck.
My ears heard the dull thud of the puck hitting the back of the net.
My ears heard the reaction from our bench.
I instinctively raised my hand and skated towards the bench for customary high fives, celebrating a game that we will most likely win. I use the muscles in my legs one more time to reach the goalie, who I make sure isn’t left out, and give him the biggest high-five of all.