NHL Goalies Share Fond Christmas Equipment Memories
Christmas has always been a special time for young goaltenders, in large part because of the key role the unique equipment has always played in igniting a passion for the position, and the guys currently playing in the National Hockey League are no exception.
So while the staff at InGoal hopes all our readers got the gear they wished for this holiday season, we also wanted to check in with some of our friends in and around the NHL and reminisce about the puck-stopping presents that inspired them as kids.
For Florida Panthers No.1 Roberto Luongo, the fondest Christmas memory was getting his first pair of pads at age 13, a set of Vic McMartins his grandfather bought him.
“Of course the equipment played a role,” Luongo, who grew up in Montreal as a fan of Edmonton Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr, said of wanting to become a goalie. “It was so cool.”
Luongo isn’t alone in remembering an early passion for goaltending equipment.
“People always ask me why did you become a goalie, and I think it was the pads more than anything else,” said Mike Condon of the Ottawa Senators. “It was the colors and the equipment and everything. I have so many stories about gear. Every set is in my brain; when I got them, how I got them, why I designed them like I did.”
That includes an attempt to look like Dominik Hasek at age 11.
“When I was really little and first started playing goalie I had a red-and-black Cooper helmet and cage, and a red-and-black Bauer Reactor set and a black-and-red Koho stick and the old-school black-and-red Buffalo Sabres jersey,” Condon said. “I remember skating around the rink thinking I was Dominik Hasek because everything matched and it looked so good.”
Michael Hutchinson of the Winnipeg Jets remembers getting his first goalie mask for Christmas.
when he was eight years old. It came during his first season of rep hockey, and marked a big step as a full-time goaltender after wearing a helmet-cage combo in house hockey.
“I remember getting my first mask, that was big because you go from playing house league hockey with a player helmet and all of a sudden you turn goalie for the first time in rep hockey and that Christmas I got a goalie mask,” Hutchinson said. “That was the turning point for me.”
Hutchison grew up watching the Barrie Colts in the OHL, a team he would later play for, but his attention was always locked on the goalies and the equipment they wore.
“Equipment was the second biggest factor for me being a goalie,” he said. “I remember going to games and not remembering the score or who scored goals or anything like that, but I could tell you every piece of equipment the goalie was wearing. As a kid you are fascinated by it.”
Former NHL goalie and TSN hockey analyst Jamie McLennan said his special Christmas memory was getting a waffleboard blocker and matching glove.
“When I was in pee wee I got the old blocker with the holes in the front and the glove had a built-on cheater, plus they were colored so it made them even more special; matched my team,” McLennan said. “They were blue, yellow and white to match St. Albert colors.”
Martin Biron, another former goalie who is an analyst with the NHL Network and TSN, has similarly fond memories of goaltending equipment as Christmas gifts.
“The equipment played a role, especially growing up in the 1980s,” said Biron, singling out Mario Gosselin’s blue Quebec Nordiques pads. “Colored pads and masks were so cool. My first pair of goalie skates were a Christmas gift, a good old pair of Micron with the felt they slipped inside of the plastic. I went to the backyard to skate on the outdoor rink right away.”
Corey Hirsch, who played 13 seasons, said a Christmas gift symbolized a shift in focus.
“My first white Vaughn chest and arm [protector],” Hirsch said of the gift he received at age 12. “It was my welcome out of kid hockey to starting to get serious.”Not every goalie grew up gear-obsessed. It certainly wasn’t the main attraction for the Vancouver Canucks’ Jacob Markstrom growing up in Sweden, where goalies usually shared used equipment as kids. But even he had a few special gear-related Christmas memories.
“In the beginning I got an old Jofa player’s helmet with a fold-down goalie cage. I remember that was huge for me,” Markstrom said. “And when I was 11 I got a mask painted from DaveArt with Bart Simpson and Homer Simpson on it. That was pretty cool too.”
Vancouver’s Ryan Miller said he was fascinated with goalies growing up in Michigan and remembers studying every move made by Norm Foster and Bob Essensa when they played at Michigan State University. That included paying special attention to their equipment.
“I was obsessed,” Miller said.
Getting new goalie gear wasn’t a Christmas tradition for Miller. As a reward for maintaining good grades, his family made sure he was well-equipped going into each season, so there usually wasn’t any need for upgrades. He did say he remembers one special gift when he was 11.
“When it got approved for kids to wear a one-piece mask, I got one for Christmas, a Badger,” Miller said. “It was really heavy and huge, and probably overkill as far as protection. But everyone thought with goalies, if we were going to let kids wear these helmets they have to be like a tank. So you put the thing on and it was ridiculous. It certainly didn’t help me move and track the puck, that’s for sure. But it was exciting because I felt like an NHL goalie wearing that mask.”
For a lot of young goaltenders, that feeling is enough to spark a lifelong passion for the position. And finding some new gear under the tree this Christmas might even start a path to the NHL. InGoal hopes all our readers found something inspiring under their tree today.