The Goalie Guild is proud to introduce a new blog written by former University of Connecticut Huskies goalie Christie Houser. “Glove Saves and GPA” is an inside look at a female NCAA D-I goaltender’s experience, and her own foray into the world of the student-athlete. Look for Christie’s work every week right here, and feel free to leave your comments below.
Sixteen years ago, as an impressionable 10-year-old, I saw my first hockey game when the Philadelphia Flyers were playing the Florida Panthers in the 1996 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With my first glimpse of the Philly Skyline painted across the forehead of Ron Hextall’s mask, I knew not only that I wanted to play hockey, but that I wanted to be a goaltender. And after four years of begging and pleading, I finally convinced my parents to let me play.
Despite having no natural skill, I loved every second I was on the ice. At age 14, I was a late-starter, but that didn’t deter my dreams. I was convinced that I was going to play NCAA Division-I hockey. To this day I’m not sure why I chose that as an ultimate goal, but I think it had something to do with the fact that I was ultra-competitive, and that everyone else said that it couldn’t be done.
Coaches tried to gently suggest more attainable goals. After all, I was the goalie who stepped onto the ice for the first time with skates un-sharpened and pads on the wrong legs. I spent an entire summer of weeknights at clinics and public skate sessions just to learn the basics of skating, let alone goaltending. It took me three seasons before I wasn’t cut from a tryout.
To put it bluntly, Division I hockey was unrealistic. But being realistic was just another obstacle to be overcome. I was not about to give up on my dream.
I spent my high school years, all five of them, on the memorable roller-coaster ride that was youth hockey. During my junior year, I lost a playoff game in four overtimes that caused a nearly undefeated team to crumble. My teammates and I wouldn’t leave the locker room after the loss for fear that it would make the unfathomable defeat a reality. The mental anguish from that game came with such a heavy burden that I went into a six-month slump at the end of my junior year. Coaches and scouts were so put off by the drastic change in my play that I was forced to embark on a post-graduate year of high school to re-prove myself as a goaltender.
The trying end to my junior year was followed by a senior year on a team where everything fell into place. That victory-filled year ended with a Bronze Medal at USA Hockey National Championships in Centennial, Colorado.
On a team where friendships arose in the most unlikely of places and everyone took a turn at playing the hero, the bronze medals we wore were not a sign of losing in the semifinals, but of giving everything we had to get there. Needless to say, I regained my confidence as well as my form, and rekindled interest from college coaches.
I spent my post-graduate year living and playing in the magical town of Lake Placid, New York at the National Sports Academy. During my time there, I climbed mountains, ran up rivers, and trained at Olympic facilities every day. During my first year away from home I learned a great number of lessons in a far more nurturing and forgiving environment than a college campus. These were equally, if not more important, than any strides I made on the ice.
Just after Christmas of my year at the NSA, I found myself on an official visit at the University of Connecticut. Before I left the tiny town of Storrs, I proudly told my future college coach that I would need no more time to think it over, I was ready to be a Husky.
And yet, despite the oftentimes “storybook” nature of sports, not every journey ends in triumphant glory. Two weeks before I was set to arrive on campus for my freshman year, I hit a roadblock during off-ice training. One loud pop, an MRI, and two doctor’s appointments later, and the diagnosis was confirmed.
My freshman year season was ended before it began with a complete tear of my Anterior Cruciate Ligament.
Most people would see a career-altering injury that required surgery as a negative. At the time, I certainly did as well. But I learned a great deal in the months of physical therapy that made me not only a more complete player, but a more complete person. Going from a high-level, fine-tuned athlete to having to relearn how to walk is a humbling experience, and one that I desperately needed.
While injured, I learned not only how to walk, run, and skate all over again, but also how to be a teammate. I learned about bringing more to a team than on ice abilities. Most of all, I learned about the intangibles that cannot be gained through any amount of practice or repetition. It was my never-quit attitude, my willingness to do whatever was asked, and most of all my heart that would define my UConn career.
Despite my lack of playing time, I did absolutely everything as a Husky. I celebrated the big wins and endured the painful losses. I pushed through exhaustion during off-ice conditioning and stained the ‘UC’ carpet in the locker room with blood, sweat, and tears. I graduated with a degree from a nationally-recognized university, I have a framed jersey hanging in my den, and I reminisce every year with the teammates who lived it all with me.
When all was said and done, I realized the dream that had began the first time I saw Hextall.
What I’m setting out to do in this column is to give you, as a reader of The Goalie Guild, an inside look at what life is like for an NCAA goaltender. The highs and the lows, the road trips and the home stands, the free equipment, and the 6:00 am workouts you do to earn it. The injuries and the comebacks, the balance of academia with the pressures of being an athlete, the way you are seen on campus, and the way you see yourself.
I’ll do my best to cover every aspect in the life and unique experiences of an NCAA D-I women’s goalie, and provide some insight and entertainment along the way.
“Glove Saves and GPA” is a blog written by former NCAA D-I goaltender Christie Houser. It is her personal foray into the world of the student-athlete and the college goalie experience. Look for Christie’s work every week right here, and feel free to leave your comments below. You can follow her on Twitter @Christie_Houser, too.