Chris Driedger’s new initiative will make it easier to learn how to be a goaltender by providing loaner equipment for young hockey players — by Alison Lukan
If you’re a goaltender, you need a lot of gear. But, as Chris Driedger began his journey towards becoming an NHL netminder, he spent his first three years playing the position without owning a single piece of equipment; and the fact that he didn’t was a big part of how he has been able to become the player he is today. That fact is also the driver behind the 28-year-old’s new community program “Driedger’s Keepers” that focuses on providing goalie equipment to youth hockey players.
It all started in Winnipeg, Manitoba when a seven-year-old Driedger joined the Fort Garry Flyers through his local community center. He started as a skater, but soon realized he “wasn’t very good.”
Driedger laughed as he shared the story.
As is the standard in many youth hockey programs, every player on Driedger’s childhood team was asked to rotate into the goaltending position and try it out. The first game the Kraken goaler was in net his team won by a ridiculous margin, “like 20-0.” A struggling opponent only sent one puck Driedger’s way and as a netminder, it was “kind of boring.”
But then it came time for him to play in goal again.
“I played a little bit better and had a little bit more action,” Driedger said. “That was when I was like, ‘you know maybe this is something to try out and take a little bit more seriously.’ I started to have a little more success in net. So rather than putting me as a forward or a defenseman where I was contributing very little to our winning chances, (the coaches) put me in net and I was contributing a little bit at least, or at least more than I was playing offense or defense. It was fun and I really liked playing goalie. I wanted to be a goalie from then on.”
But the whims of a seven-year-old don’t always persevere over time. And goalie equipment is expensive. Ask any parent of a goaltender to estimate how much they spent on an initial set up and prices can range anywhere from $1,200 to $2,500. Factor in that even if your child does stick with playing the position, they are likely still growing (pads, of course, do not) and it’s easy to understand why, as Driedger said, a lot of parents will say “no way” when a child wants to play in net.
Luckily for Driedger, his parents didn’t have to make that decision. The community center where he played had an inventory of goaltender equipment. All he had to do was go into the storage room to get all the gear he needed to suit up and play in net.
“They would just give it to you,” Driedger said. “There was no payment. They said ‘if you’re playing for the team, you get this gear. Give it back at the end of the season.’ It was pretty accommodating.”
By the time Driedger was 11 years old, his parents were satisfied he was committed to playing in goal and got him his own set of equipment. Seven years later he’d be drafted into the NHL, and three years after that he’d play in his first NHL game. Now as an established goaltender in the League, Driedger wants to help other children who have a similar passion work towards achieving those same goals.
He contacted the Seattle Kraken and One Roof Foundation with the idea to replicate the loaner program that helped him get his start. With the organization’s help, Driedger auctioned off his goalie pads from the Kraken’s inaugural season and the proceeds were enough to get some goalie gear that will live at Kraken Community Iceplex. The equipment will be available to any youth hockey player that comes through its doors and wants to try playing in net.
Sunday, as part of a Grassroots Goalie Clinic, Driedger was at the Iceplex to launch “Driedger’s Keepers.” He’s seen the expansive growth in youth hockey that has come along with the Kraken’s arrival in Seattle and wants to give back and help both the game and the fans that have given him so much.
“I figured a program like this might be something that helps grow the position and it’s a small way to give back and get some kids in goalie equipment,” Driedger said. “Hopefully, they can fall in love with this position like I did.”