Gold-medal winners Jayna Hefford and Vicky Sunohara were both stopped by Erika Vanderveer during a recent CWHL shootout. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Erika Vanderveer is a goaltender with the Burlington Barracudas of the Canadian Women’s League, a six-team circuit featuring many the game’s top female players. Vanderveer is in her first season in the CWHL after spending four years tending goal at Ohio State on a full scholarship and one year in Europe in the European Women’s League.
People always wonder what it must be like to be the last man standing between the pipes during the sudden-death moments of the shootout. Some think it’s the most nerve-racking position for a goalie to be in – the fate of the game resting on their shoulders – while others are convinced goalies are ‘crazy,’ so being put in such situations is relatively normal.
I always recall how Ken Dryden described it in his book The Game:
“A goalie is simply there, tied to a net and to a game; the game acts, a goalie reacts. How he reacts, how often, a hundred shots or no shots, is not up to him… It is his job, a job that cannot be done one minute in every three, one that will not await rare moments of genius, one that ends when the game ends, and only then. For while a goal goes up in lights, a permanent record for the goal-scorer and the game, a save is ephemeral, important at the time, occasionally when a game is over, but able to be wiped away, undone, with the next shot.”
This past Friday, during a CWHL home game versus the Brampton Thunder – a top contender with all-around talent – I was faced with that exact challenge. My team had battled back from a 2-0 deficit and pushed the game to a shootout after an uneventful five-minute overtime period.
Fully aware of the talent I was about to face, I was so psyched to be the one between the pipes in that moment…
There I stand, the crossbar against my back. I glance at the ref, who awaits my nod. The sound of skates cutting into the ice replaces the hollow quietness of the arena. Tap once, tap twice – the familiar sound of my stick ringing the posts in routine succession calms me. I focus my gaze to center ice.
The ref blows her whistle. My full attention and focus become tunnel vision: one puck, one shooter, one save – here we go! I focus solely on the puck, purposely blurring out the player’s stick, skates and anything else I had learned to associate with certain key players.
I mainly do this to avoid being distracted by the fact I could be facing two-time Olympic gold medalist Jayna Hefford, who had already beat me one-on-one earlier in the game. I’d rather pretend it was a “nobody” coming down on me than get caught up in the mere realization Lori Dupuis, with her bursting speed and quick hands, might be the one on my doorstep in seconds.
After stopping three of four faceless Brampton snipers, our fifth shooter scores, tallying our second shootout goal to Brampton’s one.
‘One more shooter, one more save, here we go kid,’ I repeat to myself.
The unknown, but quick-moving skater picks up the puck and charges toward me. Two big pushes position me just outside my crease. ‘Keep square to the puck,’ I keep telling myself. ‘Hold your ground, patience, patience…OK, backwards momentum, now. She’s taking you right, no, way left, go, go, go!’
I transition from sliding to the right, back to my glove side; stretching my left leg out in extreme desperation. My blocker hand is left completely out the other way, but it doesn’t matter. I hear the cheers of the fans as I watch the puck flutter off my toe and towards the corner of the rink…
It is only then I look up and acknowledge the talent I have just faced: Vicky Sunohara, superstar veteran of Team Canada with eight World Championship appearances and two Olympic gold medals.
PLAYING WITH THE BEST
Being a member of the Barracudas in the CWHL, I know the importance of recognizing the talent and potential of the women’s game. The CWHL is home to many of our elite Canadian national team members, giving them a place to play and develop outside of international competition.
It has been a bumpy ride to get to where the league is now, but hopefully with more support and recognition, this league will be a permanent home to some of the greatest female hockey players of today.
I know how fortunate I am to be a part of a league home to so many great players. It is a privilege to play against national stars like Hefford, Dupuis, Sunohara, Cheryl Pounder, Jennifer Botterill, Sami Jo Small, Gillian Apps and Becky Kellar – all of whom will take part in the CWHL All-Stars versus NHL Alumni game Sunday afternoon at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ont.
I have taken up the challenge to blog for TheHockeyNews.com when I am able to sneak away from the ‘drawing board.’ I am a graphic designer for THN, but that is only secondary to my hockey career (sorry, guys!).
Stay tuned to hear more about where I’ve been, what I’ve experienced and where I’m heading next. I will also keep you up to date on the CWHL and other eventful news from the world of women’s hockey.
‘Til next time, keep your stick on the ice.
Erika Vanderveer will blog for THN.com throughout the season.