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Making saves is a sacrifice: The difficulties of being the parent of a goaltender

The toughest job in sports can be hard on the whole family, from the high cost to improbable expectations.
Photos courtesy of Brock Tufts

Photos courtesy of Brock Tufts

Forty years ago, country music superstars Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings stumbled onto a huge hit when they covered a song called Mammas (sic) Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys. With that in mind, somebody might make a lot of money off hockey parents by penning a tune called Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Goalies.

There are few sentences a young hockey player can say that will send his parents into more of a tizzy than, “I want to be a goalie.” There are only two of them on a team, which renders making teams harder. Goaltending equipment at the higher levels is far more expensive, and the pressure of responsibility that comes with playing the position is nothing like what skaters feel. Allyson Tufts should know, because she experienced that very thing with her son, Brock, and went on to write and self-publish a book titled Lessons from Behind the Glass. She has also done a series of videos on the subject that can be seen at www.lessonsfrombehindtheglass.com. “I could have cried when my son decided he wanted to be a goalie,” Tufts said. “But it was what he wanted to do, and you have to support your kids in what they want to do.”

Brock Tufts was actually a pretty good goalie. He played AAA rep hockey in Belleville, Ont., through midget, then was a starter for a Jr. C team and a backup on a Jr. B team. He actually dressed, but never played, for a handful of games with the OHL’s Belleville Bulls, including the franchise’s final regular-season game in 2015.

One of the interesting things in the dynamic between the two is their different perspectives of the same experience. Brock said he often wore headphones to tune his mother out on the way to games. And in one of the videos, Allyson was asked what she thought she handled best as a hockey parent, and her response was the drive home.

At that point, Brock cringed and said he hated the drives home. “She just asked question after question after question,” said Brock, now a radio personality in Brockville, Ont. “If the game went well, you didn’t mind talking about it a little more, but if it didn’t go well, you didn’t want to talk about every single detail, especially to someone who has never played the game before.”

Brock also pointed out that, like many, many hockey parents, his mother overestimated his skills and ability. And this is where perspective on the parental side is very important. Even Allyson herself started the conversation by saying it was impossible for her to be objective because she had one child who played hockey and he was a goalie. That was her prism for her son’s hockey career.

Along with the frayed nerves often came the confusion over why her son wasn’t playing or wasn’t able to make a team when he seemed to be so good at the position. “When you’re in that situation, if you have the right mind, you tend to know when you deserve to play and when you deserve to not play,” Brock said. “I think in my mom’s situation, she always thought I should be No. 1 all the time.”

Then there is, of course, the cost of playing the position. Youth hockey, particularly at the elite level, is a money pit. But as Hockey Canada vice-president of hockey development Paul Carson points out, it doesn’t always need to be that way. In fact, at the houseleague and community hockey levels, goaltending equipment is often provided free of charge. And a goalie who might be willing to settle for less than top-of-the-line gear would be able to get away cheaper than a skater who demands the best of everything.

That’s great in theory, until it’s your kid who has to stand in the way of a speeding piece of frozen vulcanized rubber. And as well intentioned as youth hockey volunteers are, there’s a good chance the coach doesn’t know a whole lot about the goaltending position.

So unless your team has a dedicated goalie coach, that might mean you’re out of pocket for extra ice time with a goaltending instructor. “It’s an absolute true story that there were many times when I wanted to redecorate or I wanted to do something to the house, but he needed pads or he needed a really good chest protector,” Allyson said. “It’s not a position where you don’t want him to be well protected.”

Brock, now 21, hasn’t played competitively in three years but was an assistant coach with a AAA team and does goalie instruction in his spare time. Long after the ride ended, he and his mother relished the experience, although Brock wonders how things might have been different had he been a skater. “You hear stories about goalies being outcasts, and that wasn’t really me, which is maybe why I didn’t go very far,” Brock said. “I would say that when you’re in the zone and the game is on the line and you know you’re playing well, there’s nothing better than that.”

This story appears in the January 7, 2019 of The Hockey News magazine.

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