I am off in an hour or so to play goal. I’ve been doing so for three decades now, putting about 30 pounds of gear around me and slipping inside a mask, and there are good reasons.
First and foremost, the position of goaltending is the most difficult to fill in hockey, so you are much in demand — I could pretty well play every night now at my age if my social and physical senses could withstand it.
Second, it permits a form of escape from the world for about an hour at a time. You have no choice but to focus on what is in front of you. Otherwise, the puck is behind you. And your teammates are against you.
Third, it enlists a certain discipline and responsibility. You are the last line of defense, a symbol of accountability in a team sport, and that instills a function that breeds a particular characteristic off of the ice — a helper quality, I suspect.
But last and not least, it develops a network of friends who don’t much care what you do in life. They are there to be your hockey friends, and you don’t discuss work much if at all when you see them. You discuss the game, certainly, but you mainly discuss yourselves and life in general.
I refer to it as an escape, but it is perhaps more of a refuge into what is real and important: relationships. For a half-hour before and sometimes a couple of hours after, we are just among ourselves kicking around things that aren’t ensnared in our jobs. It would be difficult to live entirely like this, but it’s hard to contemplate living entirely without it.