One net. One team. Two goaltenders. A fairly normal situation for most hockey teams. That is unless the goalies are sisters and have no desire to share their time between the pipes.
Zoe and Lexi Shannon play on the same Saratoga Blue Knights Peewee A boys’ team. Like many sisters, they have a tight bond; that is until it comes to sharing their stuff. In this case sharing involves ice time, and neither sister is too keen about that.
What’s a coach to do? What’s a mother to do?
Coach Jeff Smith, who coached the girls at the Squirt level, thought he might have a problem with both girls vying for playing time. Instead, he came up with a simple solution.
“We split their time up equally each game,” Smith said. “I went with Lexi as the starter simply because she has a year more of experience as a goalie than her sister, Zoe.
“And they are very different goalies. Zoe is good with her glove and will dive headfirst toward a puck when it’s around the net. Lexi has more of a textbook style.”
Heading into this season, Peewee coach Jeff Whiteside drew up a similar game plan.
“They still split their time evenly,” said Whiteside, a member of the 1984-85 NCAA Champion RPI Engineers. “They rotate starts, but no matter who starts they only play half the game and then the other one comes in and plays the other half.
“At the end of the day they both do a great job. We’re happy to have them on the team.”
At least someone is happy. The sisters, who are as competitive as they come, would admittedly prefer to play the entire game, even if that means seeing their sibling parked on the end of the bench.
“Well, I don’t really think it’s fair at all,” a confident sounding Zoe said with a slight smile on her face. “Would I like to play the entire game? Yes. But the coach has us splitting the games as evenly as possible. Everyone on the team thinks it’s great.”
Everyone except for Lexi, who missed a few games this season after suffering a concussion.
“Our coach has his own way of splitting things this year, and that’s the way it is.”
Yet for all their bluster, there is a sisterly bond that can’t be broken by a goaltender rotation.
So how did the girls become goaltenders? It’s a classic case of what one sister has, the other covets as well. In this case it was younger sister Lexi who took to the position first and Zoe followed.
“I did it because my sister was doing it,” said 12-year-old Zoe. “Before that I was a defenseman. I went to one of her goalie trainings, and it looked fun.”
The sibling rivalry transcends the rink, starting at home where they pick on each other like most sisters do. It continues at the arena where the poking and trash talking never stops. But there is a respect between them, and they are sisters after all.
Playing together since 2008-09, Lexi and Zoe stand out not only as sisters but also as the only girls on a team full of boys. Not that they seem to mind.
“They don’t even realize that we’re girls,” Lexi said.
Their mother Tracy gave an example of how her girls handle themselves with their teammates.
“During a pond hockey game we had, the kids were fooling around on the ice,” she said. “The next thing I know, Zoe has this one boy down on the ice and is sitting on him.
“The boys learn very quickly not to mess with the girls because they can handle themselves.”
Mom and Dad don’t worry about their daughters competing on a boy’s team, particularly because they are protected by the sanctity of the crease.
“By being in the nets, they are a bit more insulated there from when the boys start getting a little bigger and start checking,” said father Michael. “Besides, they both love being goalies.
“They are both even keeled enough so that they don’t let things bother them too much. We also have a philosophy about being a goalie and stopping pucks.
“If you let in five goals, stop the sixth.”
Although Tracy does have one concern.
“As the kids get older the boys shots become a bit harder,” she said. “But the girls are big enough and tough enough that they can handle it.”
The sisters actually played against each other once, back in the 2008-09 campaign.
On a particular Sunday in late February, Lexi and Zoe were warming up with their team inside of Vernon Arena in Saratoga Springs. Their opponents, the Bethlehem Eagles, were warming up at the other end of the ice. The only difference was they didn’t have a goalie, who was caught in a traffic jam on the way to the rink.
Being a good sport, Coach Smith offered a solution and soon Zoe was staring down her teammates. She remained in the Eagles net until midway through the second period, giving up one goal. When the Eagles regular goalie arrived, Zoe skated to the other end of the ice to replace her sister in goal.
“They tapped each other’s gloves as they passed each other,” Smith recalled. “Nothing else was said.”
While the sisters may not like splitting time in net, there is one thing they do share, the dream of one day playing for their country on international ice.
“We would both love to play on the USA National Team,” said Zoe. “It’s the one big goal we have right now.”
“Playing in the Olympics one day would be great,” added Lexi. “We know that we have a long way to go, and this is just one step along the way.”