SAVIN’ SISTERS: Kozak girls of North Delta love playing in goal

Single mother of three puck-stopping daughters says she isn’t stressed watching them play.

The hockey-playing Kozak sisters of North Delta — Gemma, age 14, Claire, 18, and Grace, 16, from left to right — are goaltenders for several local teams.

The hockey-playing Kozak sisters of North Delta — Gemma, age 14, Claire, 18, and Grace, 16, from left to right — are goaltenders for several local teams.

Ask anyone in a hockey rink and they’ll probably agree with this: Goalie parents don’t have it easy. By nature, the position comes with a ton of pressure, both for the player and their parents sitting in the stands.

I know, because I’m one of those goalie parents.

So, in a way, I have equal amounts of pity and admiration for Carmel Kozak.

She’s the mother of three hockey goalies, all of them girls.

I can’t imagine the stress.

But credit Kozak, who seems to take it all in stride, relatively speaking.

“Certainly there has been more than one terrible car ride home,” she told the Now. “I have a thicker skin now than when they started, and have stood with other goalie moms while their sons are being crushed in a game. No one wants to be that parent.

“I wouldn’t say that it has been stressful for me,” she continued.

“I’m terribly proud of them.”

Claire, 18, is the oldest of the sisters, followed by Grace, 16, and Gemma, 14.

The family lives in North Delta, where the youngest two siblings play and train several times a week, plus road games. On average, Carmel says she drives close to 700 kilometres a week for mostly hockey-related activities – between 10 and 15 ice times split among Grace and Gemma, who play for multiple teams at the Bantam, Midget and Juvenile levels.

Last fall, Claire, a graduate of Holy Cross Regional High School in Surrey, took a break from hockey to concentrate on university classes and her job at a grocery store, but she’s eager to start playing again soon.

“I miss it,” she said. “Friends of ours play in an adult league. They might need a goalie, so maybe that’s what I’ll do.”

When Claire was nine years old, tragedy struck the family when the girls’ father, Dave, died in a snowmobile accident. The year was 2008, and all three girls were already playing ringette, each of them given a chance to play goal at one time or another.

“The one thing Dave always said, after each one had their turn (in net), was that no daughter of his was going to be a goalie,” Carmel recalled.

“I have to laugh at that now.”

From the start, Claire set the bar high for her younger sisters, all of whom eventually switched from ringette to play hockey.

“I liked playing goal right away, simply because I didn’t have to skate lines (in practice),” Claire said with a laugh. “I guess I continued it because I really felt I was good at it. One of the first games I played was against Port Coquitlam and we lost 7-2 or something, and there was shot after shot after shot on me, and I really loved it. It just felt like I was in the game, keeping my team in the game.… The next season, I got my own set of pads and a stick and that was it.”

Gemma, the youngest, was next to join the goalie sisterhood, followed by Grace, who was a bit of a holdout.

“When I first switched from ringette to hockey,” Grace recalled, “they only had a half-time goalie, and I knew we had the gear from Claire and Gemma, so I thought I’d give it a try, just to help the team.

“I ended up developing skills really quickly,” she added, “probably because of what I saw from those two, and they really helped me build up my skills. It was easy for me to feel comfortable in goal, I guess.”

Carmel says Grace is fearless in net and will face anything shot her way, while Claire best reads the game and can tell where the puck is coming from by the sound of a shot. Gemma, now tallest of the three, is also the “the craziest and has the speed,” according to her mom.

“She has the greatest love of the game, in that she can’t wait to get to the rink and play.”

All three sisters have one thing in common, Carmel said.

“Not one of them will give up, no matter how bad the score is. They will continue to get back up and get ready for the next shot and do their best to finish the game with dignity.”

As for playing such a key position in a game involving teams of boys, Grace smiled when asked by her mom to tell the story of one incident earlier this year.

“The other coach yelled out to his team, ‘It’s just an effing girl in net,’ because they weren’t scoring,” she recalled. “And it was really just a red rag to a bull, that comment, because I get really upset when people say girls can’t do the same things boys can.”

Grace’s team ended up winning that game by a couple of goals.

“I guess we’re proof that girls can play just like the boys,” she said. “I’m just a goalie like anybody else, right? Why would it make a difference what gender I am?”

Carmel says the experience of playing in goal has given her daughters tremendous confidence and also the ability to adapt to difficult situations.

“I have met so many wonderful parents and coaches who have been so supportive,” she said. “We have had some not-so-great experiences, too, with coaches/parents, and I think those are great life lessons.

“It has been challenging and thrilling, gut-wrenching and heartbreaking, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

tom.zillich@thenownewspaper.com

 

Surrey Now

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