Hopkins goalie Erin O'Neil makes a nice stick save as Minnetonka sophomore forward Lucy Hoelsher fires from short range. Photo by Brian W Nelson
Goalies always have been a unique bunch.
They have their quirks, their rituals and their superstitions. For the good ones, those oddities usually aren't as obvious as their stellar play.
For Hopkins' senior goalie Erin O'Neil, it's all on display.
O'Neil recorded her seventh shutout of the season on Friday night, recording 17 saves in No. 4-ranked Hopkins' 1-0 win against No. 1 Minnetonka at the Pagel Activity Center in Minnetonka.
Along with stellar statistics that will undoubtably catch eyes, one can't help but notice O'Neil wearing decidely old-school brown goalie equipment.
And it's not just the leg pags that appear to have come from a different era. The catching glove, the blocker, all of it has a throwback look.
"My uncle played goalie, and he died before I was born, so I was only able to see a lot of pictures of him when he played," O'Neil said. "When I saw them, I knew I wanted some just like that."
O'Neil's father told her when she was in fifth grade that if she made the varsity team she would get a brand new set of goalie equipment.
When that day came she wasn't picking out a pretty or sleek set, or one that matches Hopkins' royal blue color scheme.
"I found some online and told my dad that those were the pair," O'Neil said.
Did Mr. O'Neil approve?
"He loved them," she said. "Coach Vin (Paolicci), maybe not so much."
The old-school look fits O'Neil's game and personality.
She practices the way she plays, which has rubbed off on her teammates. She leads by example, and can be vocal, too.
"I just love how she carries herself on and off the ice," Royals' coach Vin Paolucci said. "She is respected by so many people, she works so hard in practice, which I love the most. There just isn't enough good things I can say about Erin on how wonderful of a human being that she is."
Don't let the nice-girl attitude think that one can just push O'Neil over on the ice.
She's not afraid to give a love-tap to opponents creating too much chaos around the crease.
Well, maybe not just a love-tap, but somewhere between that and what former NHL goalie Ron Hextall used to do.
"I don't like to have a lot of contact, so if someone is there, I will do something about it," O'Neil said.
In the final two minutes there was plenty of action in front of the Royals' net.
Minnetonka pulled goalie Hannah Ehresmann for the extra attacker, but a plethora of blocked shots and O'Neil's fine play in net sealed the shutout.
"It was pretty crazy at the end, but I think you have to like that," O'Neil said. "Games in our conference are going to be like this, so you have to enjoy them. I like seeing a lot of shots, so it was a really fun one for me."
Royals' forward Kylie Hanley scored the only goal with six seconds left in the second period on the power play when she tipped in a shot from Grace Bizal at the point.
Aside from power plays and the late surge by Minnetonka, it was a tight defensive battle, similar to the first meeting when Hopkins won 2-0.
"I think we all had a feeling that one goal might do it tonight," Paolucci said. "Both teams have a lot of scoring, but defense and goaltending are really good. The way it was going early on, I really felt that way."
Hopkins improves to 21-3 and 5-3 in the Lake Conference. The Royals entered on a two-game slide with losses to Eden Prairie and Edina but are right back in the thick of the conference battle now.
Minnetonka drops to 16-3-2, 4-2 in the Lake Conference.