Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Ice Hockey: Goalie doesn't give a flying puck about jibes

John Grahame tries to get in the way of ice hockey pucks that travel at speeds of up to 150km/h - but don't call him crazy.

Just like in football, ice hockey goaltenders are said to be mad, given their desire to stand in a small net while shots rain in on them.

But Grahame, who was one of the stars of last night's exhibition clash between Canadian and US selections in Auckland, has a different view on the matter.

"They say we have a screw loose but I think it is crazier the other way," laughs Grahame. "The guys out on the ice have to deal with a 6 foot 5 [1.94m], 250 pound [113kg] defenceman who is going to bury you into the [perspex] glass - that doesn't sound much fun to me.

"There seems to be a lot more open ice hits these days and guys are getting smashed into the boards. Obviously concussions are becoming more prevalent in the game just because of how big and how fast everyone is getting. If you catch someone the right way, they are going to be pretty wobbly."

While some players in last night's match were journeymen of the sport, the 35-year-old Grahame's pedigree is unquestioned. He played nine seasons (224 games) in the NHL between 1999-2008, and was the back-up goaltender in the Stanley Cup winning Tampa Bay Lightning side in 2004.

He was also selected for the US Olympic team in 2006, and lists Pittsburgh legend Mario Lemieux as one of the greatest players he has faced.

Despite Grahame's positive spin, there is no doubt that goaltenders have an uneviable task. Shots travel at incredible speeds - the record is near 170km/h while a typical NHL slapshot will be smashed towards them at around 140km/h.

Former St Louis and Dallas star Brett Hull once clipped the tip of a goalie's finger off with his first-time shot, while pucks have also broken the metal bars that protect the goaltender's face.

Grahame uses mental tricks to cope with the speed of reaction that is required.

"Though it is flying, to me it looks like you are watching a series of photographs when it is coming at me," explains Grahame. "The more you can slow that down, the better. If the puck is moving [160km/h] and it looks like it is in slow motion, that is a good day for me.You try to read the situation of where it is they can shoot; you anticipate, you put all those factors into it and then just react with the best of your athletic ability."

Grahame also loves the pressure and responsibility, as one mistake or save can turn a match.

"It is almost like you are an individual on a team sport," says Grahame. "If there are 50 shots and you can stop 49, you have a direct effect on the outcome of a game. You can put that pressure on yourself to carry a team to a win."

- Herald on Sunday

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