The lights of the arena dim, the boards are unlatched and the inflatable tunnel is dragged onto the ice. Two industrial air pumps start screaming as they inflate a giant brown moose head. The players entrance tunnel. Music starts, the bass can be felt more than heard and the children crowding the railing around the tunnel start chanting the starting goalie’s name.
“Er-ic! Er-ic! Er-ic!” He stands alone waiting for the tunnel to be inflated, the rest of the team hasn’t arrived yet. There’s still time, the arch is inflated but the moose’s head is still on the ice.
Around the corner the skaters are shouting encouragement to each other, hyping each other up for the night’s game. They start to gaggle behind their starter, headbutting, high-fiving, ass slapping, still yelling.
“Let’s get it done boys!”
“Light it up!”
Kevin Resop pushes through his team mates to stand behind the starter. He turns around and holds his glove up.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome your Halifax Mooseheads!” The announcer’s voice is oddly muted by the air pumps.
The skaters tap Resop’s glove, take a running start and explode out of the now inflated moose head tunnel. Once all his team mates are out of the tunnel Resop lowers his glove, turns and makes his way to the bench, to take his place as the backup goalie.
Resop started playing hockey in his hometown St. Petersburg, Florida. For Christmas one year he and his brother were given hockey gear by Pavel Kubina, a former defenceman for the Tampa Bay Lightning and neighbour of the Resop family.
“We would just play in the street and it was one of those things where it was me or my brother who play goalie, but I just always wanted to play goalie. Eventually I found a roller hockey rink and played there. Transitioned to the ice and just never stopped playing goalie,” he says.
The draw of the goalie position for Resop has always been the pressure of the position. He would pick the do or die atmosphere of a shootout and likes the change to make overtime three-on-three.
“It’s definitely tough for goalies, but it’s also a chance for goalies to make some really nice saves,” says Resop. “There’s obviously a lot of action and goalies just always need to be ready.”
He never considered playing another position.
At the start of last season Resop was fighting for the starting spot. He played every other game until until eventually Eric Brassard secured the job as the starting goalie. Resop slid back into the back-up spot.
“Next year I expect to be the starter, I think I am ready to be the starter,” he says. “I just have to keep working on my game, especially this summer, so that I come into camp in my best shape and am ready to be the number one guy.”
This summer he’ll go back home to Florida and spend his free time working out. He’ll also spend a couple weeks in Montreal with his goalie coach Eric Raymond where they are on the ice twice a day. He also has a personal trainer.
Tonight the Mooseheads are playing the Charlottetown Islanders. Their usual starter Mason McDonald is on the bench. He and Resop are sitting side by side on red folding metal chairs set up by rink staff. They are only separated by a piece of Plexiglas. Resop will always talk to the other back up if he’s standing, or can speak English. The pair lean over the boards and start talking.
“Hey Kev.” replies McDonald, who started playing net because it was better for his asthma and he really liked the goalie’s glove.
“Got any info on the new gear?” asks Resop. He’s curious because McDonald has access to new gear, he has a pro contract.
“Vaughn’s sending me a new glove to try out. I don’t have it yet though.”
“What was it like playing in the world juniors?”
“It was something I’ll never forget. It was crazy, the feeling when I stepped on the ice. I’ve never felt anything like that before. Playing for the first two games was really exciting, sitting on the bench for the next three was just as good. I wanted a medal just as much as the rest of the guys.”
“Is it more pressure?”
“You can feel the pressure from the outside. Everyone’s sitting at home or sitting at the bar watching the games. The expectations are high the expectations are to win every year. You just gotta try to block out that pressure,” he replies. “I just go out and pretend like I’m playing at home in Charlottetown. I had nothing really to lose I was the underdog goalie.”
The game is underway, two bad bounces in the first have put the Islanders up 2-0. Resop works the door to stay active in the game. Sometimes he gets caught staring and one of the players has to open the door.
“The goalie on the bench, it’s like, when’s this guy going to get in the game? I can tell you. When the other guy sucks,” says team Canada’s sports psychologist Dr. Peter Jensen. “If you’re sitting on the bench and you watch the other guy let in two or three easy goals that imagery is deadly to you.”
A goalie either on the ice or on the bench will always have passive moments of the game. It’s important that they remain an active participant in the game. The guy on the ice can’t dwell on past goals. The guy on the bench can never assume that he won’t go in.
“A goalie coming off the bench can’t try and be more than themselves,” says Jensen. “You can’t over think it, if you’re trying to be 110 per cent you’ll actually be around 70 per cent. You need to know that you’re going in because they trust you. You wouldn’t be on the team if they didn’t.”
Resop likes having to go in from the bench.
“In a way it’s better, you don’t have time to over think it. You get the nod, you put your gear on and you’re in the game,” he says.
The clock is winding down on the third period, mistakes in the first two periods allowed the Islanders to take a commanding five goal lead. As the period winds down Resop leans forward to talk to Mason.
“Hey Mace, good luck for the rest of the season,” says Resop.
“Thanks man, you too,” McDonald replies.
Despite being on different teams goalies have a fraternity, a separate team within team sport.
“The thing about being a goalie is it all falls on you … because it always boils down to the goalie,” says Dr. Jensen. “My observation of goalies is that they are different, I’ve never distinguished what the difference is exactly but they seem to be a little wilder … they got personality, they’re a little quirky sometimes.”
The buzzer goes off and the Mooseheads have lost 5-2.
While the team skates off the ice, Resop high-fives the young fans at the rails of the tunnel.
Brassard aged out of the QMJHL and Resop has been groomed to take over the starting position. He’s not taking anything for granted, he follows his training plan for the summer to keep working on his game. Making sure he’s ready to earn the starting position at training camp if he needs to.
After last year’s disappointing end to the season the Mooseheads are regrouping at training camp. Over the summer they picked up a lot of young talent in the draft including the young net-minder Alexis Gravel.
Resop and Gravel got to meet each other when lived together over the summer in Montreal when they were attending Coach Raymond’s training camp. Resop was the back-up to both Zach Fucale and Eric Brassard and is now looking forward to helping the rookie navigate his first year in the Q.
“I’m here to help him in any way, anything he needs help with,” says Resop. “It’s not like I’m going to just tell him stuff all the time … If I’m preparing for a game, you know, just show him the ropes a bit and lead more by example than by telling him stuff.”
This year began with Resop as the starting goaltender of the Halifax Mooseheads. Being the stater for a junior franchise is the next step on the road to a professional career in hockey. He’ll have to play well all season if he want a shot of making it to the NHL. Even if he gets a shot at the show there’s no guarantee that he’ll play in it. Out of the three boys who went pro out of Cole Harbour Nathan MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby are household names. Craig Hillier the goalie who was drafted 23rd overall in 1996, is not.
The odds of anyone making it to the NHL are very small, less than 1 per cent. According to Dr. Jensen most players don’t want to know the odds when it comes to making the NHL.
“That’s what makes it so much fun. Every day you have to go to the rink, go hard and sweat,” says Resop. “If you do finally make it to the NHL, you can look back at all your hard work from when you were young to a teenager and it all makes it worth it. That’s what keeps pushing you, to beat the odds and prove people wrong.”