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One hand, one tough goalie

By AARON PAITICH, Special to the Star Tribune, 11/17/12, 8:34PM CST


Park goalie Caitlin Tait is a formidable puck-stopper despite being born without a right hand.

Caitlin Tate, a senior at Park of Cottage Grove High School, is the starting goalie on her school's hockey team this year.

Caitlin Tate, a senior at Park of Cottage Grove High School, is the starting goalie on her school's hockey team despite not having a right hand since birth.

Caitlin Tate doesn't suit up like most goalies.

Born without her right hand and part of her forearm, the Park senior has had to make plenty of adjustments along the way, whether it was in the crease, with her custom-made equipment, or just her overall outlook and attitude on life.

There were definitely times Tate, who will take over this year as the team's primary goaltender, struggled with self-consciousness growing up.

"But as time goes on, it's just something I've learned to accept now," said Tate, considered a top high school goalie. "People will ask if it's hard having one hand. I don't know. That's like me asking you if it's hard having two hands. I don't know the difference. I've lived with it my whole life."

Tate wasn't involved in sports much growing up, but hockey runs in her family. One of her older brothers was a goalie. One day, out of the blue, she asked her parents if she could be, too.

"They were pretty shocked about it when I asked," Tate said with a laugh.

Shocked, but more than receptive, the parents took her to Shriner's Hospital for a prosthetic and specially made goalie glove.

It was trial and error for Shriner's, which has provided all of her orthopedic care at no cost. As a project they had never taken on before, she and medical experts worked their way through a couple of models before hitting the sweet spot on the current design.

Tate inserts her arm into a sleeve inside a prosthetic that is slid into the glove. The prosthetic contains finger-like parts at the end that are strapped tightly to the interior of the custom-fit glove. Without closing ability, the glove remains open as Tate tries to stop the puck. Her glove contains the deepest possible glove pocket within league rules. But in her early goaltending years, the pocket was one of her biggest challenges.

"I was lucky if I caught a puck once every blue moon," Tate said.

Goalie coach Mike Moline pushed her to work on her glove. He peppered Tate's glove with shots until she started to feel more comfortable and confident. It comes second nature to her now, and she continues to wow Moline with her abilities.

Tate has been invited twice to Dave Peterson's advancement goalie camps through Minnesota Hockey, which includes top 25 girls in the state at their age groups. She also was selected to the Minnesota Hockey Select 15s team a couple of years ago.

"She's an exceptional goalie," said Moline, who's worked with Tate for eight years at both the youth and high school levels. "Her footwork is excellent. She doesn't give up the soft goals. It's going to be fun to watch her take over the reins this year."

She's become a source of inspiration for teammates. "Everybody loves Tater. We call her Tater or Tater Tots or Baked Potato -- I have a bunch of names for her," Moline said. "She walks in a room and she just lights it up. That's the kind of kid she is."

Other players have definitely taken notice of Tate emerging as a top goaltender in the state. They often ask her teammates about her and compliment her skill level.

"It's cool to me that I'm noticed by other people," Tate said. "I just want to be that inspiration that you can do anything you set your mind to. You can overcome any obstacle if you want it bad enough."

And Tate has wanted this one bad. Now as a senior, after serving as a backup to a Division I goaltender the past couple of years, she's eager to assume the starting job at Park.

"I've been waiting for this for a long time," she said.