NHL Goaltenders share their favorite Christmas gifts
Carey Price insists he wasn’t snooping for presents but when it comes to his most memorable hockey-related Christmas gift, the Montreal Canadiens No. 1 admits to discovering his favorite long before December 25.
It was a set of red Vaughn pads he first saw in a store over the summer.
“I got pretty excited about a few sets of equipment growing up but I remember seeing these at the Okanagan Hockey School in the sport shop across the street from the old arena there, and lo and behold I found them four months later,” Price said. “I was just rooting around under a stairwell and I found them buried in a hockey bag. I wasn’t looking for presents, I swear.”
Price laughed as he said it, perhaps knowing how unlikely it sounded that a 10- or 11-year-old wasn’t really searching for presents before Christmas. When it comes to the strong bond between so many goaltenders and their equipment, it sounds even less convincing.
“Most goalies have that,” Price said. “It’s our lifeline, really, if you think about it.”
The uniqueness of the equipment has fuelled a lot of young goalie’s passion for the position over the years. For many it was cemented by a memorable present at Christmas.
“Oh yeah, it was always one piece of equipment,” said Nashville Predators No. 1 Pekka Rinne.
“It was never a full set or anything but I remember my parents would wrap a single stick in Christmas paper and then one year I remember getting a mask, a white one, and that night I would always sleep with my new gear. We are so fortunate nowadays in the NHL that we get new gear whenever we want but it’s still pretty cool and I still get excited about new gear.”
Pheonix Copley is from North Pole, Alaska, so it’s no surprise the Washington Capitals goalie has strong memories of goalie-themed presents at Christmas. If being from the North Pole wasn’t enough to ensure a good hockey-related story about being inspired by equipment found under the tree on Christmas morning, being a goaltender did.
Sure enough, Copley didn’t disappoint.
“I can still remember getting a Heaton glove and blocker for Christmas that matched my team colors when I was 9 or 10 years old, and I used them for two or three years,” Copley said. “They were the same gloves that Marty Brodeur had back then and I loved them.”
It’s not universal among the goaltending fraternity, but for so many the lure of custom-painted masks and personalized color patterns on the latest pads and gloves played at least some role in wanting to play the position. Most also have a similar tale about a favorite piece of goalie gear that was waiting under the tree and the role it played in their fledgling career.
“I remember when I was little watching hockey and thinking, ‘I wonder what those goalie pads feel like,’” Copley said. “That’s where it starts for a lot of guys is equipment, the masks, the pads and even when guys get older, I still love getting new gear and new helmets and I think a lot of guys are like that. Goalies tend to be way more excited about their equipment.”
For Calgary Flames goalie Cam Talbot getting a set of new pads on Christmas morning signified a pivotal moment in his commitment to a position he’s played ever since.
“I got a pair of TPS pads got for Christmas when I was 10 years old and that was the first set that I owned because our minor hockey rotated equipment, so as soon as you were done playing, you put it on the hanger and the next group could take it,” Talbot said. “I strapped them and wore them around the house all day and wouldn’t take them off. As soon as you get your first set of goalie gear and you commit to the positon, I kind of feel like that is a big Christmas for you as a young goaltender. I tried out for rep the next year.”
Corey Hirsch, who played 13 NHL seasons and now works as a radio color analyst covering the Vancouver Canucks for Sportsnet650, said a white Vaughn chest protector he got for Christmas at age 12 represented “welcome out of kid hockey to starting to get serious.”
NHL goaltenders past and present have shared similar Christmas memories over the years.
Recently retired, Roberto Luongo, who grew up in Montreal a fan of Grant Fuhr, said it was his first pair of pads at age 13, a set of Vic McMartins his grandfather bought him.
Like Copley, former NHL goalie and TSN hockey analyst Jamie McLennan remembered getting a waffle-board blocker and glove that matched his team colors back in St. Albert, Alberta.
Martin Biron, who played 508 NHL games over 16 seasons and now works as a television analyst covering the Buffalo Sabres, remembered getting his first pair of Micron goalie skates for Christmas and going “to the backyard to skate on the outdoor rink right away.”
Even goalies who aren’t as gear obsessed often have a fond Christmas memory about getting their first mask. Talbot’s came the year after he got those inspiring TPS pads.
“Even though it wasn’t painted, and I never had a painted helmet until I turned pro, I remember my first helmet was a white Itech and I wore it for three or four years,” Talbot said. “I just beat the crap out of it, was all rusty by the time I was done.”
Jusse Saros is just like Rinne, his Fellow Finn and Predators playing partner, when it comes to goaltending equipment and got his first set of gloves for Christmas when he was eight.
“For a while you would get a stick but I still remember when I had my first gloves, those were pretty cool,” Saros said. “It was a set of Sherwood gloves, my first piece of equipment growing up. I played other sports growing up too but I was never in goal in those and that was probably one of the biggest reasons I wanted to play, I thought all the gear was so cool.”
San Jose Sharks goaltender Martin Jones remembers getting pads when he was 10.
“My first set of pads was under the tree, a total surprise” Jones said. “I was using district gear so it was exciting to get my own set. Pretty sure I didn’t sleep with them but I was excited.”
Ottawa Senators goalie Anders Nilsson never had to worry about pads and gloves growing up in Lulea, Sweden because the local youth teams provided them. He liked it when his parents wrapped a new stick because they were easy to spot under the tree on Christmas morning, but the best gift was a painted goalie mask when he was 12 or 13 years old.
“It was painted with a big, green snakehead, my first painted helmet,” Nilsson said. “That was cool. There wasn’t that many guys that had a painted helmet back then. As a young goalie, you are always excited for new gear, but that was something special for sure.”
Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen still remembers getting street hockey pads for Christmas when he was seven or eight years old in Vantaa, Finland.
“We opened gifts on Christmas eve and I was out it right away in cold weather playing,” he said.
Former NHL goalie and goaltending coach Johan Hedberg still has his favorite goalie gift.
“I was the youngest of three brothers so I was forced to play net but then gear was obviously a big part of being a goalie. I loved it and Christmas you would always get new stuff,” said Hedberg, who is from Leksand, Sweden. “I remember one Christmas I got a new catching glove, which is my favorite glove of all time. It was an old CCM glove, it looked like a baseball glove and it was awesome. It still sits in my attic back home in Sweden.”
Hedberg was “8 or 9” when he got the glove, and wore it until he was 12 or 13.
“I played with it for way too long, it was so tiny,” he said. “My hand outgrew it, went right through the stitching at the end of the fingers. Goalie gear is exciting, it’s fun. When new stuff comes out on the market, I think every goalie gets excited and I am one of them.”
Equipment played a big role in the development of Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy in Russia. A lack of it is the only reason he catches with his left hand.
“I am left handed. I do everything with my left but at that time because it was Russia, it was tough time so we don’t have equipment for a right-hand catching goalie so basically I had no choice and I got used to playing with left glove,” Vasilevskiy said.
So, imagine his joy getting new Bauer pads back for Christmas.
“I even remember the colors, like black, silver and white,” Vasilevskiy said. “That was cool, like I was the fanciest guy on the team. That’s the gift I really remember.”
Most goaltenders have one, even if they’re not from the North Pole.
What was your favorite gift as a goaltender? Let us know in the comments!