“I hate having pucks shot at me,” said Sheldon Baerg.
The 21-year-old netminder for the Concordia Stingers men’s hockey team just completed his rookie season, backing up starter Pat Lepage. Goalies are known for their quirky personalities and erratic behaviour, but a goalie who doesn’t like getting hit with pucks?
“In games I don’t mind, but in practice, if guys are teeing up slapshots from the hashmarks, well… that’s a different story.”
Being the youngest kid in his neighbourhood growing up, Baerg was always the one who got stuck in net during road hockey games. “I got really good, and since I sucked at being a player, I just kept being a goalie.”
Many hockey players start their careers as soon as they can walk, but Burnaby native Baerg played baseball and soccer as a young kid, and didn’t start playing hockey until he was ten. “My dad wasn’t too happy, because being a goalie is expensive. But there weren’t enough goalies in the league, and so I made the ‘A’ team my first year.”
Baerg continued to play elite rep hockey at the AAA level (save for one year in peewee AA) and made the jump to tier II junior hockey at age 16. “It was a nice jump going from Bantam AAA to Junior, but I think maybe I moved up too quickly, since I was only 5’5″ at the time.”
While he stayed on as backup goalie his first year, he was demoted to Junior B during his second year of junior, his coach citing his small size as the problem.
After finishing high school in 2003, Baerg packed up and moved to Saskatchewan, where he again played tier II junior. “It was a random road trip, I had a ’79 Civic loaded with all my gear and my clothes.” Moving to the small town of Battleford, Sask. (just outside Regina) from suburban Vancouver was “a hard adjustment to make” for Baerg, but he enjoyed “being away from home.”
He returned to B.C. the following year to play in the BCHL, British Columbia’s tier II league. Baerg had earned the starting position with the team, but two weeks into the season, he suffered a serious groin injury and was unable to play for the remainder of the season. In the 2005-2006 season, Baerg’s over-age year of junior, he was forced to the sidelines again, this time with a dislocated shoulder.
His playing days weren’t over yet, though. While teaching aspiring netminders the tricks of the trade at a hockey school owned by the father of Stinger Tyler Doherty, he got word that “Concordia was looking for a backup goalie, and that I should get in touch with Kevin.” That was the middle of August. “I got accepted to Concordia three days before school started. Coach helped me get some classes.”
After beating out a slew of other goalies in training camp, he now backs up third-year goaltender Lepage. While the two “get along great” and Sheldon admits he “looks up to Patty a lot,” their personalities are different. Lepage is a more quiet guy, but Baerg says, “I guess I fit the prototype for goalies. I’m completely and utterly random. The stuff I say is weird. People say I’m weird, but it’s my personality, so it suits me being a goalie, rather than the other way around.” But people can “pretty much tell” he’s a goalie by his quirks.
He says he is not much of “a pre-game person” but there are certain things that he does. For example, “if I’m putting on my gear and something doesn’t feel right, I take it all off and start over. Oh, and I’m the slowest changer in the league, bar none. It takes me a full 15 minutes to get my gear on. I hate doing mundane tasks like putting on skates, so I always make sure I have extra time.”
During games, Sheldon can be seen occasionally dancing to the music on the loudspeaker during stops in play. “I talk to myself all the time. I say stuff like ‘stay calm’ to help me focus. And I like to sing along with the music, because it helps me from getting too caught up in things. If I stop talking to myself, I get lost, and goals happen.”
After spending this season in close quarters with Lepage, Sheldon says that though the two play different styles, they approach games with the same mentality. “When you’re pretty much splitting games, it’s kinda hard to try and get a rhythm going, but I think we handled it pretty well. Patty’s a good guy; I just wish I could speak French to him.”
With many of the guys on the Stingers team being born and raised in Montreal, most everyone is bilingual and even guys from out of town pick it up after being around it so much. Being the only English rookie on the team, Baerg aspires to learn french. “I’m taking a class next semester, and I really want to be bilingual. Guys like Marc-Andr