Asking a Lacrosse Goaltender Some Obvious Questions

At what point do you openly volunteer to have a vulcanized rubber ball shot at you? How do you mindfully choose to step in front of hard shot instead of stepping side?

Surely I cannot be the only person with those questions when it comes watching a goaltender play lacrosse. I was able to ask Michael Cunningham, half of the Beaumont Outlaws Lacrosse Club goaltending tandem, those questions.

I think there is definitely a big “mind over matter” aspect to playing goal.  I know early in the lacrosse season, during training camps or winter runs, I always end up having to adjust my mindset for those first few runs because it definitely isn’t a natural reaction to throw your body in front of some of these shots these guys are firing.  But once I break through that “hesitation” after a few runs it all comes back that this is your job and your role on the team – to stop the ball.  There are definitely some guys that I am usually hoping miss the net when they wind up though!

But Mr. Cunningham, why? Why would you select the position of stopping the ball instead of shooting the ball?

My first year of lacrosse we obviously all took turns playing in goal, but I found that we would always struggle to find people who wanted to play in goal and I like playing in goal so when no one would step up to play, I’d just step up again to be the goalie. I liked playing in goal because I felt I could have a bigger impact on the game from the net than anywhere else on the floor.

Do you understand/appreciate fans like myself thinking goaltenders tend to be “different”?

I don’t know if I’d say I appreciate that fans think goalies are different but I definitely understand why they would think we are different for choosing to be a goalie in this sport. Granted I’m sure they are also thinking we are probably wearing enough gear to stop a cannonball “so how bad could it really be?”

When playing friends or foes how quickly do you pick up on tendencies?

I think it depends on the shooter. There are some guys that have a big bag of moves and might not have one spot in the net they tend to favor.  But for a lot of defensive guys I’ve played with, you can get them figured out in a practice or two.  It can be tougher with guys who have a number of different moves they might make from the same look.  Even someone who has two fakes, or only shoots in two spots when they are shooting from certain spots on the floor, it can be tough because you’d like to be able to anticipate what a shooter is going to do and anytime they can keep you on your toes about what they will end up doing or where they will end up shooting makes things that much tougher.  But there are definitely some guys that have one move, and they stick to it, and you figure that out in short order haha.

Edmonton is a hockey first town and there is nothing wrong with that. Explain to sports fans how being a lacrosse goalie is more difficult than being a hockey goalie?

I think the two biggest things that I would argue make being a lacrosse goalie more difficult than a hockey goalie are the stick fakes and the different angles the shots can come from.

You have guys giving leg pumps (thinking of the classic Sidney Crosby shootout move), but you really can only get away with one of those in hockey before you have to take your shot, and all the while a hockey goalie would be able to throw a poke check and disrupt the shooter.  But when a lacrosse shooter comes in free or is moving across the crease and is able to throw a couple of fakes in succession, it can be very difficult to stay patient and wait for when you think the real shot is coming.  Some of these shooters now are so good at disguising their stick fakes to look like their real follow through, which is not something you would really ever encounter in hockey.

Then there is the angle of the shots. So obviously just like hockey, someone could take a shot from anywhere on the floor.  But a shooters ability in lacrosse to throw straight over their shoulder, ¾ slot, sidearm, or underarm just changes the dynamics from what a hockey goalie would experience. The puck is always coming at an upward trajectory in hockey, you now have the biggest school of thinking to playing goal in hockey being the butterfly where a goalie immediately tries to takeaway the bottom parts of the net knowing that the puck is going to come up to meet them.  In lacrosse, you have guys throwing over their shoulder and maybe they are trying to pick a top corner and the ball is going to come down at a slight angle to you, maybe they are going to try for the bottom corners and the shot is really going to have a steep angle to it, or maybe he is going to try to bounce it a few feet before you and now the shot goes from having a downward trajectory to an upward trajectory.  Then you might have guys throwing sidearm or underarm, and all the options for where they are going to put the ball are the same, but now the ball could go up or down from when they release their shot.

So you are trying to anticipate where these guys are going to put the ball when they have a wide range of things they can do with the ball, where that just isn’t the case in hockey.  And then you have guys throwing the ball behind their heads or their backs or even trying to dunk it from behind the net, which we are now seeing more of in hockey.

Thanks Michael for answering all the questions. You have my utmost respect for doing what you do on a lacrosse floor. We all look forward to our next opportunity to ooh and aah at the one-on-one battles between goalie and shooter in the 2021 season.

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