I’ve played hockey my whole life.
In the last five years since I was 16, I’ve been on the ice at least once a week, year-round.
It may surprise you that in that time, I’ve never played on the same team two weeks in a row.
That’s because I’ve become a “rent-a-goalie.”
I spent my childhood and teenage years in goal for several squads: teams in both the Scarborough Hockey Association and TDSB hockey league. We practised together and developed chemistry. I always felt like the backbone of the entire defensive unit.
Now things are different. When a local men’s-league team needs a replacement goalie at the last minute, or even a pickup shinny game requires somebody to shoot at, Iím the man to call. I fill in between the pipes because nothing destroys a hockey game like an empty net at one end.
Every game I walk into a new rink and a change room full of new faces. Sometimes they look similar to mine, sometimes theyíre wrinkled. These players come in all shapes and sizes, as well as skill levels.
Would you believe I’ve been called to suit up with a 70-year-old? Or what if I told you I was paid to skate with former Maple Leaf player, Wade Belak (and that he was a lot better than I could ever imagine)?
I show up at arenas across the GTA – my favourite being the Hershey’s Center in Mississauga – and the men that greet me are no longer my teammates, they are my clients.
They pay me up front to go on the ice and stop pucks. There is still camaraderie as we all love the same game. Yet I no longer feel the pressure of the whole bench constantly relying on me.
I will always play to win, but I can only do my best, and have fun. I charge anywhere from $25 to $40 an hour depending on the travel time, and there are no refunds.
My dad first introduced me to the concept of renting-a-goalie as I finished up high school. At the time, I was mowing lawns and shovelling drive-ways for money. The goalie for my dadís regular winter pickup game was on vacation, so they turned to an ad found at their rinkís bar.
It was for The Goalie Line, owned and operated by Jeff Kennedy in Toronto. The ad mentioned that he recruited goalies. “We have to pay this guy 40 bucks,” said my father, and a light bulb went off in my head.
I was only playing competitive hockey sparingly through my High School and contacted Kennedy. In a matter of weeks he was sending me to play games all over the city.
“I’m always looking for young guys who can play at any level,” says Kennedy. “I find the games for them, and we split the money.”
Kennedy is constantly on his Blackberry flipping through game requests. When he’s not on the ice, he’s at his office in the heart of the city where the 36-year-old father of two also runs a Car detailing service, and fields more calls for The Goalie Line.
“During the winter I’ve been known to play five or six times a day,” says Kennedy. “I can have anywhere from 10 to 20 goalies playing for me during the year.”
I was one of these goalies. However, as high school ended, my first year of University changed my life. My schedule had changed drastically and I soon realized I could no longer support myself with two or three random games a week. I would be sitting by the phone and be told to rush out to the town of Markham, or to the Beaches to be on the ice in an hour.
Kennedy would often compensate me for the hassle with some more cash, but it just wasn’t worth it. I had to eliminate the middle-man. Eventually I had played with enough contacts and left my phone number/email that I could find a weekly game myself, and offer discounted rates, but still earn more cash personally.
For the last couple years I have done so while working a part-time job at my local Value Village store on the side. This seems to be a common trend.
Warren Woolridge is 44 and has been a Toronto rent-a-goalie for 15 years.
“Most guys get their start just wanting to make some money and calling up another company,” says Woolridge. “I used to play for Book-a-Goalie, before branching out on my own.”
Similarly to Kennedy, Woolridge now has his own office which he splits between his rent-a-goalie business, and his other passion, disk jockeying. GTA Goalies and GTA DJ’s are his two companies, both offering his services, along with a few guys that work under him, through one phone line.
“Well, I used to play 20, 30 times a week when I was younger,” says Woolridge, “but now I’m down to says 10 games a week, and five in the summer. I [choose to] deejay a lot of events now because Iím really starting to get sick of hockey.”
On the other hand Kennedy is still a die-hard goalie (possibly because he his still in his 30ís), and is constantly updating his equipment and style of play. He can’t get enough of the free ice-time.
Woolridge explains if it werenít for the money he wouldn’t even play hockey.
“I could really use a couple years away from the game,” he says. “Sometimes I will be out there and I played so much that I’m just going through the motions, but the money keeps me coming back.”
“If I’m really bored out there, I start to handle the puck more, and even try deking out the odd forward behind the net,” says Woolridge.
When asked, Woolridge explained with a chuckle that he has no problem adapting to different skill sets; “I’ve probably faced every style of shot you could ever imagine by now, and quite a few knuckle balls.”
Kennedy echoed this fact explaining that with rent-a-goalie, you come to expect anything.
“It really helps your reactions and ability to think on your toes when you know nothing about the shooter coming in on you,” he says.
Personally, I have not played enough that I can say I was ever that bored on the ice. I continue to take advantage of the great opportunity, and like Kennedy take a lot of pride in presenting clients with a goalie who is focused, and worth every penny.
If there is one thing I can say I am sick of, it’s the joke I hear every time I walk into a new dressing room.
“Hey goalie, so its five bucks off for every goal you let in, right?”