Devin Holiday: Stoic
*This story was written by Devin Holiday, one of the first goalies to reach out and connect with Lift The Mask back in 2018. His ability to overcome extreme adversity and the loss of a limb in a tragic accident is a perfect example of how hockey and goaltending can lead to healing and a higher purpose.
There is something to be said about the disposition of a goaltender and the ones who commit themselves to the Tendy Lifestyle.
I am not trying to be cute by designating goaltending as a lifestyle, as I believe the values and traits goalies adopt through playing the position end up permeating core levels and into our everyday lives. While there are a multitude of traits a goalie can pick up, or an emotional spectrum to act within, I believe being Stoic is an important quality. It helps shape those individuals who strictly choose to become a goaltender and excel at the position.
For those who are not goalies: Imagine having to reset your frame of mind to Neutral after every physical action you committed. Positive or negative, you do this so that you can continue to react to the following sequence, all the while denying your ego the ability to bask or wallow in that expression of feeling. This happens with the hope that both your sacrifice of ‘mind-reset’ (remaining in the present) and ‘denial-of-feeling’ (being prepared for the next sequence) may help serve the greater purpose of creating the results you want.
After playing hockey for 17 years, this is what I have learned to do.
Thinking this way has caused me to act in a certain way – or to think I need to act in a certain way. And whether it is for better or for worse, this mindset transfers from the ice and into my day-to-day function.
When a goalie denies themselves of the true present emotion in relation to what is happening in front of them, a problem of ‘self-expression’ may be created, which would cause a goalie to become stoical. While a goalie may want to feel a certain way after a given moment (or result), the speed at which the present becomes the past and vice-versa is so quick and random, that it is necessary to remain tolerant of what is happening or has happened, otherwise your emotions might get the best of you.
Like in life, you must realize the things that you can control versus the things that you cannot control and manage the results and emotions accordingly.
The pressure to be successful during and after uncertain moments and how to express myself is a continuous battle that truly affects my psyche. How do I feel about what just happened versus how do I express my emotions in response to the results? Does my response match the outcome? And if not, how am I really feeling?
I think a goalie’s response to anything of a general nature during a game creates a ripple-effect that can affect the entire team's performance. It is imperative for the goalie to control their mental state at all times and to show as little emotion as possible, otherwise people may notice, confidence may falter, and bad play might result.
A stoic goalie doesn’t let any bad goal, bad person, bad situation, or even a great save affect their emotions.
Knowing that I am unable to stop 100% of the shots I face, I can only hope that in the next moment, I am better than who I was prior to that. I am the same person, but through knowledge, I am different. Over time, I have learned to try to emerge as the stoic goalie, who has attempted to keep up appearances and remain in the present, both during and after periods of adversity or success.
I am not trying to convince people to become emotionless or robotic. Rather, I want people to realize that when an event outside of your control happens and affects you, what matters is how you respond, where your mental state goes, and how it changes you.
You have the choice to act like a victim or to pick yourself up.
In 1997, when I was seven years old, a drunk driver hit me with his truck while I was riding my bicycle in my neighborhood. I was placed in a three week drug-induced coma where my face was completely reconstructed. My left arm was shattered, my right arm was broken, and ultimately my left leg had to be amputated through the knee.
Once I woke up from the coma and realized my leg was missing, I seriously just shrugged it off. I chose not to allow this setback to control my life. My appearance changed, but I remained present to the best of my ability. I am blessed to not have suffered any brain damage with the amount of head trauma I experienced, and so I felt as if I was given a second opportunity.
I was kept in the hospital for a couple months, did the therapy, and battled through the hardships. After being released from the hospital, I recovered further, which was intensive, but through perseverance and willpower, I gave myself the opportunity to achieve the goals I set under my given circumstances.
After I received my prosthetic and began walking again, I discovered hockey.
I loved everything about it! I thought it was the most amazing sport, but there was something admirable about the Goalie to me. The symmetry and uniformity of a fully-dressed hockey goalie and their movement is eye-catching! I fell in love with the goaltender’s façade so I chose to become one…five years after my accident.
As an aside, I fully understand that playing sledge-hockey is a possibility for me (a challenge in itself), but I chose to conquer something else. Many might think the reason I chose to play stand-up goalie is due to the fact that I was forced into the role because I can’t skate fast enough, which is definitely true. However, my obsession with hockey goaltenders is far greater than the average hockey fan, and what I saw in the NHL was what I wanted to imitate.
If there is one goalie who I truly look up to, who influenced me to be stoic and whose style I learned the most from and incorporated, it is Miikka Kiprusoff circa 2003-2004 Stanley Cup Finals. He taught me that it’s OK to put my glove on the ice if I want to make a save or plug a hole that way. He maximized his strengths and proved goaltending is not necessarily about being technical, it’s about learning what works for you.
Before I had the courage to put on skates in 2001, I envisioned myself gliding and practiced my stride on the tile in grocery stores, thinking: ‘I’m going to skate again one day.’ When I finally got my first pair of skates post-accident, I literally skated in a six-foot radius on the driveway. This was definitely a step back from when I would skate laps on the tennis court prior to my amputation, but it was a start.
Eventually, confidence in my skating ability grew. When I showed more interest in becoming a goalie, my parents bought me a net. I stood in front of this net with just a baseball glove and a stick while my stepbrother would shoot at me. Then I got hit in the head with a puck, and that was when my parents finally realized I was serious about becoming a goalie!
I am sharing this condensed narrative of my beginnings, because the majority of the required work was mental.
I chose to re-learn how to skate four years after my accident, which subsequently took about six months to a year. But prior to that, I was doing it all in my mind. I was 12 years old when I finally played in a recreational roller hockey league.
In 2004, when I turned 14, circumstances allowed me to be the starting goalie on my junior high school's sprouting inaugural hockey team. While I for sure dealt with several other emotions and doubts during the process, I continued to hold my head up high and smile while doing it. I played roller hockey all the way through high school, which is an achievement I am proud of.
But my ultimate goal was to play on the ice, which posed its own problems and delays for me. I became jealous of my friends who were able to simply skate and play ice hockey while I was growing up. And I’ll always remember when a good friend of mine played on the ice for first time and said he would never play roller again. That was a comment I didn’t understand until after I began playing on the ice as well.
However, my realization of that statement would not come true for another six years, in 2010. I knew I had to keep pushing and in between those years, I made several attempts at both skating and dressing-up, along with their respective failures.
Around 2003-2004, I attempted to give ice-skating a go. Ice-skating, however, presented a totally different dynamic for me. I had never done it before my accident and obviously the ice-blade functions much different than a roller skate. One of my first times was on a small patch of ice on a cruise ship. I couldn’t stay up at all and failed so miserably that I didn’t even think it was fun. If only I had more knowledge about hollows at the time.
After that, something fortunate happened while I was demoing prosthetic devices. I met a man who did play hockey and who took it upon himself to teach me how to ice-skate. This took probably six months to a year to learn and around 2006 I finally thought ice-skating was fun and that I was good enough to begin my ice-hockey career -- but then the bad news hit me.
After I put on all my equipment and got out on the ice, I discovered the design of my leg/knee was not conducive for ice-hockey. When I skated back into the crease my blade would elevate off the ice, which wore my real leg out. Once I experienced this, that sinking feeling crept in again, when my vision did not match the reality of the situation.
Ice-hockey wasn’t fun and I was experiencing the exact opposite emotions I thought I was going to have. This was tough because I had looked forward to playing on the ice for so long, yet I couldn’t stop a thing. While this was upsetting, I was determined to find a way. I kept my hopes alive in my mind. I made a few more attempts, but I wasn’t getting anywhere, though that changed starting in 2008.
In 2008, I went out to Colorado to attend University, and it was there where I met a prosthetist named Chris Hoyt. After a year of figuring out a proper socket fit, he incorporated a knee that wound up functioning perfectly for what I needed, and thus I began my journey of becoming the best possible ice-goalie I thought I could be.
At first I was terrible, but through playing drop-in hockey and building a support group out there, I was able to grow as a goalie. Chris is the reason why I am able to skate stand-up hockey on the ice, and for that I am indebted. I have played and continue to play competitive hockey at a level I am content with.
While my article may not be truly about suffering from a mental health disorder, like other articles written for this cause, it is meant to express the challenge of being mentally prepared to take on obstacles no matter what is presented. My physical appearance changed, but I kept my mental game strong, which I attribute to being stoic.
Additionally, this article is meant to express how other people can be part of an individual’s success as well. My parents and family, peers, doctors, and others have all contributed to my success and overall health. I want to thank them for being there and being my support group when times were tough for me.
The challenge of playing ice-hockey as a goalie under my circumstances has molded me into being who I am. It is because of my stoic façade that I am able to keep my dreams alive and why I have triumphed in areas that I have focused on.
I haven’t always been the stoic goaltender that I am arguing for – I’ve broken my share of sticks and I deal with my own mental health issues. But, through watching other successful goalies, I’ve learned that being in control of your emotions is critical and why I think goalies must be stoic in the net.
The problem is, to what degree do you apply that stoical nature into your daily life. It is unhealthy to go to extremes and people will express themselves no matter what, so it’s utopian to assume every goaltender or individual will be like this. Success may be found in several avenues and methods so you may find what works for you. But, the first priority is to take control of your mental state.
Many people who struggle with mental health problems often feel like they have no one to relate with or turn to, which can ring especially true for those who play the loneliest position on the ice. I’ve felt isolated several times in my life and I’m sure I will again. But, if you do suffer from a mental health issue, please get support and persevere through the journey. I never quit or gave up! As I have mentioned, I received a lot of help along the way, but ultimately, it is on me to remain in the present and keep up my appearance.
While I may appear calm, silent, and serious after a big save or a bad goal, I am sure to be experiencing the opposite emotions internally. But one thing is always true while in net: I instantly forget about what just happened previously, which is hard as hell to accept.
I cope with it, however.
And even if I take it to extremes, I’m proud of the person goaltending has influenced me to become. The stoic mindset has inevitably bled into my daily life in how I think, function, and act.