“Can you give me a hand with this right goalie pad? There’s no way I’m going to be able to bend down and connect the ankle strap.”
As the director for today’s COVID-safe player photoshoot (he used to be a hockey goalie) helps me get strapped into the large pads of a box lacrosse netminder, I reflect on what I am about to do. We want shots on a goalie for today’s next-level photo shoot, some intimidating photos of the two players in action, and the only one that is willing to stand between the pipes for said shot is me.
I’ve never played lacrosse before. Watched plenty of it, done some wall ball, played a game of catch here and there, but never with professionals and never as a goalie.
The navy practice jersey – flipped inside out – donned, I awkwardly and noisily waddle onto the indoor soccer turf, a light black with white lines and a red surrounding. Four camera stations are set up for various shot types, and music – a combination of 90s and present pop songs mashed together – is blaring nonstop.
It’s not loud enough to cover the laughs of Lyle and Shayne when they see me from the opposite side of the field.
I put a box lacrosse bucket on my head, a large Warrior Alpha helmet. It’s definitely not a regulation goalie mask, but there wasn’t a spare in our equipment storage for me to use. Beggars can’t be choosers, just going to hope the two forwards are content with breaking my ankles. I’m affixing the left goalie glove on my hand and trying to emulate Mike Poulin’s netminding style in my mind.
I don’t anticipate doing well, but I’ve at least watched too much box in my life that I have an idea unsupported by reality that I’ll be serviceable in net for the first time in my life, save maybe 40-50% of the shots I face that morning. Play my angles, chicken wing a little bit, keep that five-hole protected.
“Ty, what’s your goals against average going to be today?” my boss asks, filming on his iPhone.
“Not good,” I chuckle. “If I stop 50% of the shots, I’ll be happy.”
I would face 75 shots that day. Seven were off target. Seven hit the red pipes of the goal.
I would finish the morning having made 13 saves, a .103 SV%.
(Quick note, I don’t count shots that hit pipes as saves for the goalie. In my mind, that’s a shot that beat me and was an inch off from being another marker not in my favor. If I did count those accordingly, I’d have a .267 SV%. Still not exactly stellar.)
The reigning NLL MVP, Shayne, kicks things off. He starts about 25 feet out, runs a little bit into the right side for the action photo. As he gets closer and closer with each step, I focus on the head of his stick, twisting side to side almost languidly over his left shoulder, but an unsettling feeling starts to grow in the pit of my stomach. Shayne keeps getting closer, eyes focused intensely low where he wants to shoot, and about fifteen feet out, it hit me.
Holy *bleep*, this is intimidating as hell.
I know how hard these guys shoot, how loud the sound is when the ball from one of their shots hits the boards or goalie pads and the sharp thunk it creates. I’ve seen the round purple bruises on players that soaked shots in front of their goalies.
Just under 10 feet away, Shayne fires, nutmegging me, the lacrosse ball grazing the family jewels.
I wasn’t wearing a cup, don’t own one.
Drenched in a sudden sheen of sweat, I turn around to retrieve the ball from the black netting as calls of disappointment echo from everyone else at the photo shoot, evidently everyone rooting for me to nab my first save. Shayne runs up to the goal, and as I rake the ball out, I let him know about the typical goalie protection I don’t have, please have mercy.
Shayne is agreeable to my situation and proceeds to torch me for five more goals, all low. I’m keeping track in my head of how poorly I’m doing and growing more and more dismayed after each shot. I have no clue where he’s shooting, no earthly idea. Shayne’s eyes are aiming down and telegraphing his shot, I’m trying to step forward and through, but my reactions are less than adequate and definitely directionally challenged; I’m overthinking everything.
Shot number seven, #32 targets glove side, and it miraculously ricochets off my left bicep pad. A resounding cry of amused jubilation erupts from everyone else as I exhale a loud expletive in relief. Finally got a save.
The Limestone University alum takes 24 more shots. Two hit the posts, two miss the net and me altogether, and I somehow prevent five more shots from getting past me. I push the helmet back on my head and tuck the right glove under my arm, my ring finger and pinkie barking in pain, and turn to the shoot director.
“Text me the following,” I ask. “Six for 29, two bar, two off.” He laughs, pulls out his phone, and hits send, asking me if I want a water. I shake my head and drop a quick, “I’m good, let’s finish this up.”
Finishing this up was facing Lyle Thompson, regarded by so many people – professional players and media members and fans – as the best lacrosse player on the planet. But I had spoken with him before Shayne’s session, explaining my lack of protection and talking with him about Poulin’s stance and style for (piss-poor) emulation, and he had just watched me get destroyed by Shayne while chirping at me to stand like Matt Vinc, the only seven-time NLL Goaltender of the Year in league history. Lyle’s a good guy, right? He’ll go easy on me, right?
Man straight up starts feeding his stick between his legs like he’s dribbling a basketball and initiates his run with a juke right to left, throwing stick fakes the entire 15-foot route before shooting.
I have no earthly clue where he shot. Even in retrospect, I haven’t the foggiest idea. One second the ball was in his stick, and the next, I’m spinning around, quietly assassinated.
Thank god, cause I had totally moved left, thinking he was going far side, and him hitting my right leg was an accidental save on my part. Watching video afterwards, my leg actually shifted up and back a bit from the force of his shot. Doesn’t matter, my arms raise in the moment in exasperated relief as I curse my frustration away verbally.
#4 gets more dangerous and creative with his shots, stopping with the dekes halfway through his segment, and finishing his last two shots by jumping and shooting from between his legs. The first one sails wide, and the second gets me in the breadbasket. Finally done with that session of shooting, I pull off the helmet and gasp for air.
Lyle looks at me and laughs. “Are you sweating?”
I turn to the director one more time, taking smug satisfaction in the number’s Lyle didn’t know I was tracking. “Five for 21, three and three bar and off.”
Sometime afterwards, I let Shayne know I’m keeping track of who’s got the better shooting percentage against me and am going to combine the numbers from that first session with the last round of target practice. He seems vaguely amused by it and is content that I’m keeping it a secret until the end.
Lyle is more inquisitive when I inform him of the competition. “Who’s doing better?” I’m not telling. “You know, I started taking it easy halfway through. They (the camera operator) told me to stop throwing in fakes, and I started aiming center.” I’d keep that in mind.
75 minutes pass before I’m needed for the final shooting session. The MVPs are wearing the navy Swarm uniforms this time as we wrap up the shoot. Shayne starts the shooting – I have no chance at stopping it – and Lyle immediately follows up – I also have no chance of stopping that.
Shot number six for Lyle, I get a stop with my left upper arm pad, and Shayne’s next shot somehow finds the one unprotected spot on my right arm. He’d been targeting my right ankle for the three shots before, and I finally quit overthinking and biting hard to the left. A saves a save, even if my arm’s going numb despite the adrenaline, and Shayne’s rocking his largest grin of the day when I tell him where that shot connected.
Shayne gets off shot number nine, and the director’s closing the shoot, they got what they needed. “Hell no!” I crow. “Lyle’s got one more to keep this round even, let’s go!” Lyle laughs gently, snags a ball smoothly off the ground, jukes at the starting point, rushes towards me and notices I’m not backing down like I had frequently done, jumps to shoot over my left shoulder, and the shot goes just wide of the net. The photo shoot was over.
I had made one save on both of their last nine shots, but one guy had hit two crossbars and had two shots off.
Remember, I didn’t count shots that hit the posts as saves, as I got beat in my opinion.
2020 NLL MVP Shayne Jackson finished the morning 31-for-38, two shots off, two shots hitting pipe. By my self-deprecating math, I had a .184 SV% against the reigning NLL MVP (the true save percentage ends up being .237 SV%).
2017 NLL MVP Lyle Thompson finished the morning 24-for-30, five shots off, five shots hitting pipe. An even .200 SV% (true save percentage of .367 SV%), but as Lyle noted earlier, he quit throwing unfair and insane dekes halfway through his first session. Shayne had also stung me with a behind-the-back goal earlier, which I’ve never seen him do.
My right forearm where Shayne hit me still throbs as I type this, my right ring finger and pinky still burn from trying to grasp that goalie stick in those awkward goalie pads, my shoulders ablaze at trying to get my elbows high enough for a horrendously done Vinc impression.
Box lacrosse goalies are absolutely insane. That is unequivocal, inarguable, verified fact. Lyle and I are roughly the same height, Shayne’s a bit shorter, but the immense pressure I felt when they started their routes and the fear that gripped my stomach right before each shot was intense. Knowing how many dangerously good shooters there are in this league, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be the guy facing those shots. Insanity has to be the reason.
That being said, Swarm head coach Ed Comeau knows where his David Ayers-type goalie is if ever needed.