I started playing hockey when I was four years old. My kindergarten teachers told my parents that I was one rough kid, so my parents had to think about what they could possibly do to channel my roughness into something positive.
At first, my dad wanted to sign me up for rugby, but then my mom completely disagreed with that: “there’s no protective gear!” In fact, my dad twisted both of his ankles playing rugby. When my mom heard that story, there was no way I was ever going to touch a rugby ball. So they ended up signing me up for hockey.
I started playing for Trois-Chene hockey club in Geneva. I didn’t start at a specific position. First I had to learn how to skate, how to handle the puck, how to shoot, how to strategize, and all the other basics. Right away I knew hockey was randomly in my blood because my family doesn’t play hockey at all and I was a natural on the ice. The first position that I played was left defense.
I moved to Japan when I was seven, and joined the Takadanobaba Atoms. I was in practice one day, and the coach asked if anyone wanted to try goalie. I raised my hand to try goalie because it seemed fun! Plus, I knew that in pro leagues, the players’ masks didn’t protect the mouth, but goalies’ masks did (I had a beautiful smile and I wanted to keep it that way!). Then when I tried out being a goalie, I noticed that I was really good at it because I had superior reflexes and agility. I liked being a goalie because I had already been a player for four years at that point, and as an experienced player, I knew player strategy, how they thought, and where they would shoot from. This served me well as a goalie. I was a way better goalie than a player, and I stuck with it. I had the confidence that I could beat anyone, but I didn’t start out being the best. I had to practice a lot and work hard.
One of the difficult parts I had to learn as a goalie was mobility. With all the equipment it was much harder to move. That was where my flexibility came in handy. Another difficulty was that you carried the most stress as a goalie which could hurt your concentration: imagine the game is tied with a minute left and the offense is coming at you. What’s your first reaction? “I have to absolutely stop the puck!” That’s where the pressure comes from. If I didn’t deal with the stress, I could lose the match.
However, one older goalie gave me a piece of advice: if you think about it differently and say, “I don’t need to absolutely stop the puck” you will relieve all the pressure and all the stress and you will play better. That advice is what helped me improve. Mental strength is what defines a goalie, not roughness.
After I completed a full season back in Geneva when I was nine, a teammate told me that I was the best goalie in my age group in Geneva. It validated all my hard work. I also had good statistics, but it felt best when my teammate first said it to me.
But, the goalie isn’t the whole team, he is just the leader of the defense and stops pucks. A team needs a center, which supports the defense and the offense, and of course wingers (strikers) that score points in order to win. Hockey is not all about me and my strengths. One time, when I was away at camp, we had to play a match versus Freibourg. We lost 10 to 0. The next day, during practice, we had to skate suicides for 30 minutes straight. After going through that, I can tell you, you don’t want to lose ever. I learned a valuable lesson: a team is a team, we lose together and we win together.
I was rough. I had to transfer that into something positive, which was hockey. I learned how to skate, how to shoot, how to be a goalie, how to get better. After years of practice, my teammate told me I was the best goalie in Geneva, and now I am on the Geneva team. Maybe I will get picked to play in the world cup for my age in Canada. Maybe I will go to high school in the U.S. Maybe I will get to play in the NHL. Who knows? But I know something for sure. Hockey is part of my life, and I can’t live without it.