It’s often said that the position of hockey goaltender is the toughest job in sports. Pucks are flying at over 100 miles per hour and they have to react in a millisecond. When pucks aren’t being shot, they have to deal with forwards parking their 230-pound frames in front of the net, blocking their view, and slamming into them. Going outside of the crease to play a puck is nerve-wracking and dangerous due to their lack of mobility. They also don't get to sit on the bench at any point during the game.
I remember playing goalie in high school gym class and feeling terrified. We didn’t even have rubber pucks, but plastic still hurt a ton. The only protective equipment I had was a pair of goggles. Too bad those goggles weren’t the size of my entire body. After every period, my shins and knees were bruised, but there was a small bit of pride that I only allowed four goals.
It’s also often said that goalies have a screw loose, or that they have to be crazy to get out on the ice and subject themselves to such a large amount of stress. I agree. The people who will willingly allow themselves to be hit with flying rubber disks and wooden sticks are a special breed.
Nobody decides to start learning how to tend goal when they’re in high school. The majority of these competitors have been playing goalies since they started school. But, there’s a few who made the transfer from a skater into the goalie. So, how did all of these athletes find their way into the crease? Let’s take a look.
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12 Ray Emery
In his career, Emery has bounced around a bunch of different teams, but he's always been a scrapper. In 2013, he charged across the ice to fight Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby. With that fighting attitude, it's not surprising that Emery enjoyed hockey, as well as baseball and soccer. He was a defensemen until the age of nine but made the switch due to a shortage of players on his team who wanted to tend goal. With 145 NHL wins and a Stanley Cup championship with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, Emery made the correct decision.
11 Cory Schneider
Cory Schneider began his hockey career at the age of six, but he rotated through all the positions until he became a full-time goalie at 11. Due to his league's rules, Schneider and his teammates had to bounce around, so everybody could try each spot. However, once he was old enough, the future Devil became a full time goalie because he liked: "being the guy who makes a difference each game." So far, Schneider has made a huge difference with his 97 wins and 2.16 goals against average. Since he's only 30, Schneider has many more years to build on those statistics.
10 Ben Bishop
Topping out at six feet and seven inches, you might think that Ben Bishop was groomed to be a goalie from an early age. However, Bishop played basketball at the same time as hockey. Luckily for Lightning fans, he chose hockey as his sport. He started out as a forward, but at age eight, he was put between the pipes and has never looked back. He's been an All Star and has played in a Stanley Cup final, all before the age of 30. Looks like that height ended up working out.
9 Manon Rheaume
The first female goaltender in the NHL also managed to sneak in time as a forward with the Montreal Wingstar in 2000. While there, she helped lead the team to the top of their division. But that wasn't enough. In 2007, she suited up as a forward for the Little Caesars Senior Women's A Hockey Team. Along with the monumental achievement of being the first female competitor in any of the major professional North American sports leagues, Rheaume is an Olympic silver medalist and a two-time gold medalist at the IIHF World Women's Championships.
8 Frank Brimsek
Most children want to be scorers. They want the puck on their stick and they want to score the game winner. Frank Brimsek was not like that. While on the high school team, Brimsek's brother, John, decided to become a defensemen. This freed up room for Frank to move from defense to become the new goaltender and he took to it swimmingly. Before the season began, Brimsek would happily allow the team's forwards to practice shooting on him. Brimsek ended his career with 252 wins, was a two-time Stanley Cup and two-time Vezina trophy winner.
7 Tiny Thompson
He came upon the nickname from his teammates, who sarcastically named him "Tiny" even though he was the tallest player on the roster at 5'10". However, Thompson was anything but tiny in his NHL career. Initially, Thompson was not a goaltender, but chose to play so he could get into games. Throughout a thirteen-season career, Thompson never had a higher goals against average than 2.62 and was rewarded by winning 284 games. In the playoffs, he was even better. His goals against average lowered to 1.88 and he was a Stanley Cup winner in 1929 as well as a four-time Vezina trophy winner.
6 Ron Hextall
On this list, Ron Hextall is easily the most aggressive goaltender. He amassed 584 penalty minutes in his career. Think about that. How often do goalies get penalized in today's game? The answer is almost never. When they do, it's often for playing the puck outside the trapezoid. However, Hextall hit and slashed people. This may have been due to his father having him play other positions in his youth to improve his skating. Known as one of the toughest goaltenders, Hextall won the Vezina and Conn Smythe trophy in 1987, and amassed 296 wins.
5 Ryan Miller
Before becoming a goaltender, Ryan Miller was a forward. However, Miller became frustrated with the play of his team's existing netminder, so he asked his coach to let him try the position. His coach offered him a deal. If Miller could score two goals and get three assists in the next game, then his coach would purchase him a catching glove. The future Canucks star indeed hit those marks and never looked back. In addition to being an Olympic silver medalist and the MVP of the 2010 Olympics, he has a Vezina trophy to his name and has accumulated 340 wins so far.
4 Henrik Lundqvist
In 1990, Henrik and his brother Joel started playing organized hockey. After a few games in which they played every position, their coach asked if anybody would like to play goaltender full-time. In a bit of brotherly affection, Joel grabbed Henrik's arm and raised it, volunteering his sibling. Looking back, we bet Henrik would be very happy about his brother's prank. Lundqvist has become one of the best goaltenders of the modern era. He's won 374 games and is a Vezina trophy winner. Although a Stanley Cup championship has eluded him, Lundqvist always elevates his team's play and will surely be back before his career is out.
3 Roberto Luongo
You might not think that Luongo and Ron Hextall have that much in common, but they both became goaltenders in a similar way. The parents of both legends decided to have their sons play as skaters first before learning how to goaltend. At the age of 11, Luongo's team's everyday tender didn't show up and he begged his parents to play. Of course, he posted a shutout. Similar to Hextall, I bet Luongo is happy for those lessons. In a sure-fire Hall of Fame career, Luongo has amassed 436 wins, is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and is an William M. Jennings trophy winner.
2 Jacques Plante
It might be surprising that one of the best goaltenders in NHL history and one of the sports true innovators didn't begin play in the net. Due to troubles with asthma and a fractured hand, Plante gravitated to playing goalie since he didn't have the stamina to skate for an extended time. At the age of 12, Plante asked his coach if he could replace the current goalie after an argument. The coach agreed and Plante impressed the coach with his play, so he stayed on as the team's number one goaltender. A seven-time Vezina trophy winner and six-time Stanley Cup champion, Plante will forever be remembered.
1 Martin Brodeur
It's amazing that one small decision can make such an impact on a person's life. When Martin Brodeur was seven years old and playing as a forward, his coach asked him if he wanted to be a goalie or a forward that season. Brodeur responded: "I don't know why I decided, but I thought it would be fun to play goal." It was such as simple reason, but the impact was enormous. Brodeur has the record for most wins in NHL history with 691 and the most shutouts with 125. He's a four-time Vezina trophy winner, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, and the best goalie in NHL history.
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