Whim into greatness; Auburn's Pickett wins goalie competition.
AUBURN - It is funny how a seemingly innocuous question can change someone's life.
When Nathan Pickett was 6 years old and skating for a mite team with the Worcester Junior Sharks, his coach, Tom Bowes, asked if anyone was interested in trying to play goalie. Pickett raised his hand.
Little did he know where that simple act would lead.
Pickett has since established himself as one of the top goalies in the 1999 age group, playing for the AAA Minuteman Flames the past few years. As impressive as playing at that elite level is, Pickett took his skill to another level last weekend.
On his 13th birthday, Pickett captured top honors in the International Goaltending Competition, which was held in Orlando, Fla., last Saturday and Sunday. The brainchild of renowned goalie coach Ed Walsh, the IGC puts goalies through a series of skills drill competitions, including five shooting stations, an obstacle course, a speed skating event, and an up-down/butterfly event.
"I was surprised I was able to win because there were so many goalies from across the US and Canada (136 total goalies)," Pickett said. "It was a lot of fun competitions, and it all focused on things you need to be able to do to be a good goalie. It was fun and I am happy I was able to win."
In addition to the overall championship, Pickett, who will enter the eighth grade at Auburn Middle School later this month, also won the top award for the obstacle course and the fastest skater. He placed high in the other competitions as well, which allowed his to earn the overall title.
Pickett found out about the competition by chance, when his mother, Susan, received an email about it. He checked it out online (www.igcompetition.com) and registered for the regional competition at Skate 3 in Tyngsboro. Similar regionals were held in five other cities: Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto and Minneapolis.
Over 50 goalies were at the Tyngsboro competition, with the top three earning trips to Orlando. Pickett won the same competitions at the regional as he did at the final.
"I'm glad I found out about it," he said. "It was a great experience and I learned a lot from it. The competition is something I will never forget."
Ironically, Pickett almost missed the competition. As the starting first baseman on the Auburn Little League all-star team, he was busy with that until Auburn lost to Grafton in the tournament just days before the competition.
"He really didn't have much time to prepare for it, as he has been pretty busy with baseball," Nathan's father, Dan, said. "To be able to not play much goalie over the past two months and go and win a high-level competition like this is impressive. We are so proud of him."
Walsh started the competition this year because he felt there was a lack of quality goaltenders coming out of North America. By creating this competition, he hoped to bring more kids into the position and help guide them to become better goalies.
"It had become so bad in the Northeast that many towns and associations are advertising in newspapers in an attempt to attract goaltenders to their programs," he said. "I have come up with a way to demonstrate how the position can be exciting and fun in an effort to attract players to the position."
In addition to the competitions, the goalies received training from the likes of former NHL goalie Rob Stauber and former Hockey East goalies Nevin Hamilton (UMass-Lowell) and Mike Correia (Boston College).
"It was a great experience and I highly recommend it to all goalies," Pickett said. "I had a great time."
CUTLINE: Nathan Pickett poses with some of his recent trophies, including the one he won at last weekend's International Goaltending Competition in Orlando, Fla.
PHOTOG: JOHN FERRARONE