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Play of the Day: Here’s to the Lunatic Goalies

In appreciation of Thomas Greiss, who saved the day in St. Louis, and and all the other insane goalies out there.

NHL: New York Islanders at St. Louis Blues
Thomas Greiss minds the net.
Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas Greiss was phenomenal in the Islanders' 5-2 win in St. Louis last Saturday night, stopping 35 of 37 shots, a good number of which were high quality chances. So the Play of the Day goes to a pair of first-period saves he made on Blues forward Paul Stastny, both of which were followed immediately by Islanders goals.

Rarely do saves turn the tide of a game as quickly as these two did. This pair of saves represents the difference between being up 3-0 and being down 2-1. It’s difficult to overstate just how big an impact a goaltender can bla bla bla bla bla okay whatever.

I'm gonna be straight up with you - I won't be writing much about goaltending. That's because I don't know shit about it. Greiss has left me with no choice, though; I gotta show him some love for his performance here. So now that I’ve done that, please allow me to tell you a story.

I played forward growing up. So one day, our goalie doesn’t show up to a game. This had happened before, and there was a spare set of goalie equipment kept at the rink for such occasions. In the past, one of our bigger defensemen would step up and play goal when our starter was out.

But on this day, something else happened. On this day, when the coach asked someone to volunteer to play in net, I noticed something strange: my hand rising up in the air. It was like I was watching myself do something I didn’t wanna do, something I didn’t have to do. Something my teammates would surely have preferred I didn't do. I honestly have no idea what I was thinking.

Next thing I know, I’m buckling up the back of these goalie pads, grabbing a paddle and waddling my dumb ass onto the ice. I start having second thoughts right away, while skating towards my net. Doubt starts to creep in. I look up and see my father in the bleachers and I can identify the exact moment he realizes it’s me dressed up as a goalie. He looks at me like “what the fuck are you doing?” and I just shrug at him, as if to say “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. Maybe your guidance has been lacking all these years.”

Around thirty seconds into warmups, a deep, profound regret settles into the pit of my stomach. Pucks are flying by me, around me, under me, over me, through me. By the time the opening faceoff is dropped, I’ll be honest with you, I was practically shitting my hockey pants.

You see, when a puck is flying at you at a high velocity, the instinct for the vast majority of people is to get the hell outta the way. That’s natural, that’s the default option. Of course a goaltender’s job is the polar opposite of the instinct: a goalie needs to get in the way, to stop the puck by any means necessary.

It was my inability to reconcile these two competing objectives that led to me to give up 14 goals that game.

But they say failure is the best teacher. And through the embarrassment and abject humiliation of that experience, I learned an important lesson about goaltending. It was the only thing I’ve ever known, the only thing there is to know, about goaltending.

I learned that goalies are lunatics.

Now please realize I don’t mean this in a derogatory way. Truly, I don’t. It's just how it is. Goalies are insane because you gotta be insane to play goalie. This might not seem like sound logic, but it is, trust me.

There’s a reason your local rink lets goalies play during its pickup hockey games free of charge. It's because there aren’t that many goalies out there. Because playing goalie is something only insane people do.

I know, I know. This isn’t exactly breaking news I'm hitting you with. It’s common knowledge at this point that goalies are wacko. And that’s why, as explained in this NY Times article, coaches used to instruct players to just ignore the team’s goalie entirely. Don’t talk to him, just leave him be. A few other gems from that piece:

[Gilles] Gratton, who played for the Rangers in 1976-77, told people he was reincarnated and had once been a soldier in the Spanish Inquisition. He refused to play when the moon was in the wrong part of the sky...

The truly wacky stories came from the 1960s and 70s, when legends like Montreal’s Jacques Plante knitted in the locker room and Glenn Hall threw up before games and Gary Smith had to shower between every period.

Gratton was particularly kooky. Check out the tiger mask he wore as a Ranger. And his interview with MSG last month pushing his new book, during which he said “I’ve had meetings with dead people” and “I could go out of my body and stuff like that.”

If you’re looking for video evidence, there’s plenty out there. For entertainment value, I personally recommend perusing the YouTube search results for Ilya Bryzgalov if you’re not already familiar with the Russian netminder’s work.

Finally, consider this priceless Reddit Hockey post, the opening paragraph of which contains the following sentence: ”I've been a goalie for a few years now and I keep getting this urge to eat a hockey puck.”

You’re probably reading through that and laughing as if this guy is obviously joking, but you shouldn’t be, because he’s not. He’s a goalie. So when he says he can’t shake his urge to eat a hockey puck, he’s being completely serious.

He had a go at it, too, per his update:

So why am I bringing this up if it has already been established as fact? I’ll tell you why. Not everyone who follows hockey has played hockey. And I like receiving feedback from people who haven’t been stupidly obsessed with this game for their entire lives like I’ve been. I want to share this vital piece of insight with everyone.

For me, personally, every single goalie on every single team I’ve ever played on was at least somewhat psychotic. Every single one. Some were on the lower, milder end of the spectrum, like this one goalie who’d mutter obscenities at his goalposts after every whistle (so generic, right?). Others were really out there. When I played on this travel team based in Coney Island, our starting goalie would run out onto the ice (while the zamboni was cleaning it) before every single game, in his socks and underwear, screaming “Where’s my pads?!?” like an absolute maniac. Every game. The rest of us would stand there and watch like he was some sort of zoo animal.

I’ve no doubt many of you have your own crazy-goalie memories. Feel free to share in the comments. And I’m sure there might even be a few of you goalies out there reading this, and you’re probably nodding along, like the lunatics that you are.

So okay, you might look at someone like Thomas Greiss and say, “hey, he looks cool and calm, there’s nothing crazy about him!” And yes, he certainly does look that way. But it’s just an elaborate con job, believe me. He’s got the crazy in him too.

Remember when he went out rescuing stranded drivers during a historic blizzard that brought 30 inches of snow? Like I said, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be crazy. That was certainly a brave thing to do, a selfless thing to do, and a crazy thing to do.

And what about that weird way he flaps his arms around like he’s some long-lost member of the Bluth family?

Greiss just hides it well, that’s all. He’s not fooling me. None of them can fool me. Because I know that goalies are off their rockers. And now? Well, now you know, too.

So here’s to you, Thomas Greiss. Here's to you, too, Jaro. You're both crazy AF - you know it, I know it, we all know it.

And here's to you, Billy Smith. Your number 31 hangs from the rafters because you backstopped the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups. And also because you were a maniac who hacked opponents' shins like you were dicing carrots.

And here’s to you, Chico Resch. You weren’t afraid to display some PDA with your goal posts after they came through in the clutch.

And here’s to you, Garth Snow. You were one helluva petulant, wild turkey in your day. And your first big move after being hired as Islanders GM was to give goalie Rick DiPietro an asinine 15-year contract. Good on you, ya nutjob.

Here’s to all you goalies out there.

I think the lot of you were probably dropped on your heads as children, but it’s all good. When you guard that cage, you provide a valuable service, and we're grateful for it.

We appreciate that you just had to be different when you signed up to play hockey. We appreciate that your parents spent three times as much on your equipment as everyone else’s parents. They probably didn’t appreciate it, but they did it anyway, because they knew you were a lost cause.

Here’s to all you crazy sons of bitches who put those pads on and stand there so the rest of us can actually have fun playing hockey. Thank you. You are all appreciated, every last one of you.

Here’s to the goalies.