“I’m peering through the metal bars of my mask, the only thing keeping the hard-rubber puck from turning my face into hamburger. Adrenaline courses through my body as he whacks the puck with all his might, aiming straight for the top corner of the net. The challenge is clear: stop this shot, and my team will win. I will be the hero, the man! But is I don’t stop it, I will be the guy who is blamed, because I am the goalie, my team’s last line of defense, the one who let those ***** from Harvard score.
“But I’m not thinking about the pressure, or about anything really, as this hard disc the size of a biscuit but the weight of a brick soars toward the net behind me. I hear no noise- no blaring pep-band trumpets, no howling college kids, no yelling coaches. I’m in The Zone. And, despite the moment’s enormous physical and mental demands, I’m at peace. All that matters is this streaking black blur speeding my way at almost 100 mph.
“Along with most every other player on this sheet of ice, I have aspirations to move on to the next level, to impress the well-dressed NHL scouts and slimy agents who come to see who among us has the potential to make it to The Show. We’re also playing for our college, for our teammates, for our friends and family, for that cute girl in the front row in the sweater and tight jeans. The arena is electric, and, as the home-team goalie, I am the crowd’s lightning rod.
“Athletic challenges like this are beautiful in their simplicity. Rarely in ‘real life’ is the line separating success from failure so easily discernible. These moments are the drug to which athletes grow addicted, the narcotic that makes old guys come back for more, because they know that athletic intoxication beats anything you can drink, snort or smoke.
“With a Zen-like focus, I’ve spent all but seven of my twenty years perfecting, my eyes slow the film of this split-second moment of athletic truth. Then, without even having to tell it to do so, as if the almighty hand of God Himself were orchestrating this balletic feat, I stretch out my arm and the mesh of my catching glove snags, inspiring thousands of Colgate University fans to stand and chant, ‘Baker! Baker! Baker!’”
“They Don’t Play Hockey in Heaven” 2003