Gary Gait emerges from a throng of players at midfield after the opening faceoff and heads down the center of the field toward the Cornell goal, where All-American goalie Paul Schimoler waits.
Meanwhile, Gary’s twin brother, Paul, scampers down the right side, twirling his lacrosse stick as though he has the ball. In the dimly lit Carrier Dome, Schimoler is fooled. While he intently watches Paul Gait’s every move, a huge grin creeps across Gary’s face as he unleashes a blistering, 35-yard shot that whizzes past Schimoler’s ear and into the net just 13 seconds into the game.
Schimoler never even sees it.
Welcome to the world of the college lacrosse goalie. You think a hockey goalie has it tough?
Try guarding a cage that measures a gaping 6 feet by 6 feet, with no bodily protection save a caged helmet, a throat protector and a chest protector thinner than a baseball catcher’s, gloves, and an oversized stick. Never mind that most shots originate within 8 to 14 yards of the goal, and that the 5 1/2-ounce hard rubber ball doesn’t exactly tickle when it hits bare skin.
It may just be the toughest, most unrewarding position in team sports.
“I always thought hockey goalies had to be a little left of center to get in there and face a hockey puck,” Hobart coach Dave Urick said. “Granted, that puck can still hurt, but a hockey goalie is pretty well protected. Lacrosse goalies are facing a similar object in terms of velocity, but they’re protecting a much bigger area with a lot less protection.”
“We’re talking about a situation where they’re throwing the ball 85 miles an hour,” added Richie Moran, who’s coached Cornell lacrosse for the past 21 years. “How would you like to have a guy throwing the ball at you being a foot away or two feet away with that velocity?”
So just who wants the job?
“I suppose it requires somewhat of a different mental approach,” says former Hobart netminder Guy Van Arsdale, who now coaches at Rochester Institute of Technology. “I think that for a long time goalies in all sports have been thought of as being flakes or nuts or crazy. But I used to think I was a heck of a lot more sane than those other guys who ran around outside the crease and had people beat on them with sticks. At least nobody could beat on me with a stick.”
Spoken like a true goalie.
“It’s very gratifying,” says senior goalie Rich Barnes of Division III Cortland State who, along with two teammates, allowed a not-so-gratifying 26 goals last year in a game against Syracuse, which went on to win the Division I title. “But it’s frustrating. You’ve just got to get the mind-set that you’re not going to stop everything. A goal scored is a goal forgotten. It’s very hard (to come to that realization). This is my last year in college, but I still have trouble. It drives you nuts!”
“I enjoy it,” claims Schimoler, who faced 58 shots in that game against Syracuse in mid-April and allowed 20 goals. “I enjoy coming out of the cage and being active. I just don’t save the ball, I like to be part of the offense as well. You can score if you want.”
Really? How many goals have you scored, Paul?
Anybody? Unfortunately, the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association lists goals, but not by position. Suffice it to say, however, that it doesn’t happen a whole lot because for a goalie to join the offense requires an attacker to stay back and tend goal. Enough said?
As for injuries, amazingly, they’re usually just bumps and bruises. Sure, there’s the occasional mishap that leaves the crowd buzzing. Like when Hobart’s Dave Creighton suffered a black eye when a shot went through his mask in the 1972 North-South game. Or when Van Arsdale caught one on the thigh against Syracuse in 1981.
“They had a native American named Greg Tarbell whose shot was clocked at well over 100 miles an hour,” Van Arsdale said. “The whole leg went dead. The next day the leg was black and blue from about just above the knee to almost the groin, and all the way around the whole leg except for about a four-inch strip of white skin.”
“In the game you don’t feel anything,” says Syracuse netminder Matt Palumb. “But about two hours later you’re sitting around and all of a sudden you get up and boy, that hurts, and this hurts, and everything else hurts. Sometimes you have to take a look at yourself and wonder (why you’re a goalie).”
There’s more bad news. In lacrosse, unlike in hockey, it’s possible for a team to lose six players at once to the penalty box. That never happens, but teams frequently lose two players simultaneously. Imagine that power play.
“There are times when you have to turn your back to the shooters because the ball can go behind the goal,” Urick said. “The goalie has to turn his back to the cage sometime. In hockey the goalie doesn’t do that -- he kind of turns his shoulder. But there’s such a big area behind the goal you’ve got to learn to play a feed and then re-focus on the shooter real quick. That makes it very, very difficult.”
So do the shooters, whose plastic sticks are incredibly accurate. Goalies are seeing more shots from a greater variety of angles. And, of course, players can shoot either right- or left-handed.
And never mind the goalie. What about the poor coach? What do you say to Schimoler after he allows 20 goals? “Way to go, Paul. Hell of a game. You made some incredible saves.”
He sure did among his 21 stops. But he also let in 20, got humiliated on the game’s first shot, and probably wished he’d stayed in bed.
“You’ve got to be a certain type of person, and goalies are a certain breed,” says Gary Gait, who last year scored an NCAA record 70 goals -- in 15 games. “They’ve always got a funny character about them. They get a hundred balls shot at them -- it takes a certain type of person, there’s no doubt.
“Crazy!” he said, laughing.