Hockey goalie takes his shot at ringette amid goaltender shortage

·4 min read
Rylan Dunn, 11, has been a hockey goalie for six years.  (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News - image credit)
Rylan Dunn, 11, has been a hockey goalie for six years. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News - image credit)

It's not his first time in net.

Eleven-year-old Rylan Dunn typically arrives at his games 30 minutes before hitting the ice. His pads are slightly worn — no doubt from stopping countless shots — and his stick is taped to his liking.

He's played goalie for years, but this time something is different. Instead of saving pucks, Dunn is blocking rings.

"They were looking for a goalie and it was right at my age group, and I said, 'Sure, I wouldn't want to see a team go without a goalie,'" Dunn said of Charlottetown Ringette's recent search for another goaltender.

"It was a perfect opportunity too. I have always wanted to learn how to play ringette."

'Can't be shooting at an empty net'

It was ideal timing for both Dunn and Charlottetown Ringette — an organization struggling to find females interested in becoming goaltenders.

"It's kind of a no brainer when you think of it, like you can't be shooting at an empty net, it's too easy to lose a game that way," said Troy Fraser, an assistant coach with a U14 team.

"So goalie is a very important position."

Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News
Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News

Fraser said there are currently five available goalies for the six local U14 teams. That means the team that draws the short straw in the draft is left to "recruit a goalie, look for one, beg, borrow and steal," he said.

Dunn noted if your team doesn't have a goalie, "you're going to have to either stick an inexperienced player in net or you're going to have to forfeit every one of your games."

"And that's one of the worst things that can happen in any sport," he said.

High and lows

It's a bit of a puzzle as to why there are so few female ringette goalies. On one hand, Fraser thinks the position can bring immense pressure to both the athlete and parent. On the other, it can also come with tremendous appreciation.

"Sometimes you feel like the blame is laid on the goalie if the game is lost. But when the game is won, the goalie is the superhero and the star of the show," he said.

"So it's tough being a parent of a goalie, but it is what it is. If it's the position they love playing, then let them have fun doing it."

Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News
Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News

Charlottetown Ringette's goalie director agrees the pros outweigh the cons.

"It's a lot of fun when you make that big save," said Danielle Mayne. "We've seen quite a few female goalies come up in the various associations across the Island."

Still, Mayne said goaltenders are missing from both the U12 and U14 divisions.

"The sport keeps growing and the goaltenders, sometimes it doesn't quite grow to the same rate," said Mayne.

'New type of energy'

On the ice, Dunn is still getting used to the different rules. He explained that in ringette, players can't come in your crease, whereas in hockey they can.

But by continuing to play both sports this season, he is doubling his ice time and having a blast doing it.

"Everyone on the team is very nice and the coaches are very good and it's really fun," said Dunn.

Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News
Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News

As for the team, Fraser said they are thrilled to have Dunn.

"Before we found the goalie, it was just a mad scramble to ask other teams for one and try to recruit one and try to work around schedules," he said.

"Once we found one, the girls were excited. They're ecstatic. It's almost like a new type of energy in the room."

New goalies welcome

The door is always open for players looking to have their shot between the posts. To help, Charlottetown Ringette hosts goaltender development sessions every second Friday at the McLauchlan Arena.

"We encourage all levels to come out and try it. We've had some as young as under eight and... we have had some under 16 goalies," said Mayne.

"It's really that grassroots age that we're trying to help develop, and it's a great sport for them to come and try it out."

Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News
Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News

Fraser admits he never pictured himself this involved with ringette, but as a father of three girls, he's seen just how beneficial it can be.

"It's about having fun. It's about empowering females and males can play too," he said.

"But at the end of the day, if they're having fun, why not? If a girl wants to play in the nets, encourage, foster and let them thrive at it."

Dunn has a piece of advice for those who are already goaltenders with first-hand knowledge of the highs and lows one experiences standing solo in net.

"If any other goalies are thinking of quitting... really it's your decision, but with all the lack of goalies, do your best not to," he said.

"Try to play through it."

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