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The happier hookers: when little brothers grow up, they become rec-league goalies.

Late last month, the producers of the Showcase series Rent-a-Goalie announced that their slice-of-life CanCon comedy had been picked up for a second series, to air in 2007. Rent-A-Goalie is part of a minor renaissance in Canadian TV, but despite the show's popularity on cable, a lot of casual and extra-urban hockey fans don't know that the rent-a-goalie business is real and thriving in big Canadian cities. One first-season plotline about an outfit having its name and phone number stolen by a rival was actually based on real-life events in downtown Toronto.

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The goalie-rental industry--sometimes jestingly called "goalie hooking" by participants--first emerged in Toronto and Montreal in the early 1990s and picked up momentum through the decade. The need it addresses is familiar to anyone who was ever a kid playing street hockey. We all remember the somber silence after sides were chosen up, and someone finally worked up the courage to ask: so who wants to be in net? Whether you're five years old or 55, the answer is, not me.

If you're a kid, of course, you can force your younger brother to stand between the wadded-up shirts and tolerate the sting of the frozen tennis ball. (One could write a whole column about famous goalies who adopted the trade just to hang out with their older siblings--Billy Smith, John Vanbiesbrouck, Dwayne Roloson, Wade Flaherty, even women's star Manon Rheaume.) But adults playing on ice have to find a consent-based solution to the problem, and yearly it gets more difficult to find willing goalies. Never mind having to stand in the path of a slapshot, goal-tending is hard on the joints, letting in a cheap knuckleball from the blue line instantly makes you unpopular, and the equipment is expensive, onerous to care for, and tedious to put on. It's certainly no coincidence that the birth of the rent-a-goalie trend coincided with the baby boomers starting to hit their mid-thirties. Nowadays, even the youngest boomers are feeling the first hints of arthritis, and many are too busy driving their own kids to practice to stay in game shape.

No business model could be simpler than that of the rent-a-goalie "company" (often a side business for sporting-goods shops). If your rec-league team's usual goalie suddenly has an emergency and can't make it to a scheduled game, or if he simply doesn't turn up and you're in danger of forfeiting, or if you just need an extra netminder for a one-off corporate event or a practice, you dial the number, just as though you were ordering a pizza, and wait for the arrival of a fully equipped goalie who fits in with your skill level. Rates run at around $40-$45 in Toronto; generally the goaltender keeps about half and gives half to the referral business. Probably no one makes a full-time job of being a "goalie hooker," but one married (heterosexual) couple told the Financial Post in 2000 that they were getting into about 20 games a week between them, and other goalies have used the job to cover their university tuition.

When goalie-rental services began to break into the news, there were predictable complaints about Mammon creeping into the sacred precincts of Canada's game. In a cranky 1998 letter to the Edmonton Journal, one holier-than-thou amateur griped that "real goalies do it for fun, not for money. What we have here is a bunch of wannabes trying to make themselves into professionals at the expense of recreational hockey." This is rather reminiscent of the complaints that private health care will starve the public system of physician services. And, of course, it's equally stupid. In this world, there is no substitute for economic incentives. Make life easier for doctors and goalies, and you end up with more doctors and goalies.

The genius of the market, so often denounced as inhumane and alienating, has given us a system that lets ordinary goalies earn back some of their equipment costs, dodge expensive ice-time fees, make new friends, stay fit, and moonlight as--what the hell else can you call them?--professional athletes. And the rest of us get to play hockey without resorting to the shooter-tutor.
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Author:Cosh, Colby
Publication:Western Standard
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 15, 2007
Words:695
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