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The final horn sounded, the season was over, my hockey career done.
It was really surprising we had made the playoffs that year. On the ice were a
discombobulated mess and off the ice we were a divided group. We started off strong, undefeated
through the first 7 or 8 games for me personally I felt all right at the beginning of the season. All
right but not good.
Before I get into things I feel its important to back track. My name is Tyler Aragao,
goaltender, and native of Fall River Massachusetts. Hockey is my life, I’ll just say it. Since a
young age I’ve gravitated to the sport and it’s been one of my more ultimate sources of
happiness. Growing up an hour south of Boston the Bruins were my first love. Watching Marc
Savard, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and of course Tim Thomas were nightly highlights.
When I began skating I immediately wanted to be a goalie I loved everything about the position.
The mask, big pads, and sliding all around the crease just seemed like a ton of fun and as soon as
I had the chance to suit up I took it. I was 11 years old and we were playing a game at Mt Saint
Charles in Woonsocket Rhode Island. With about 20 minutes to go our goalie wasn’t present. My
coach came back in the room with the rink manager who had with him a ton of goalie gear
straight out of the 1980’s and I knew this was my chance. Nobody else volunteered and who can
blame them, even though I was sentencing myself to hell I took the old musky gear and strapped
myself up. With a player’s helmet and skates, I waddled my way out onto the ice with my black
and white Heaton pads and gloves, I felt ridiculous, but my dream has come true, I was playing
goal. We would lose that game 12-1, we weren’t a very good team as we got out shot 73-10.
Despite the 12 goals against I had a ton of fun. I had no experience at the position, but I knew
that my sole job was to stop the puck, so I told myself “Just do whatever you gotta do, be like
Tim Thomas, battle.” Battle I did, our goalie never came back and to this day I have no idea what
happened to him, if I ever run into him again I owe him big time. Becoming the full-time
goaltender meant I needed new equipment so with my dad we drove to the local hockey store
and bought a brand new (at the time) set of Itech pads. They were awesome, silver and white,
and they had the coolest design pattern, at least to me. With my new gear I felt more like a goalie
but in terms of the fundamentals I seriously lacked but I managed and gave my team my best
effort. We lost every game but one that year but honestly the wins didn’t matter, the experience
that year was worthwhile. We lost most games badly, I’m talking 7-0, 8-1, 10-1, and so on. My
stats that year must’ve looked horrid. After that year wrapped up I attended two hockey camps
over the summer. I won a raffle to go to a camp at Providence College with all the expenses paid,
before that I went to Mitch Korn’s camp in Connecticut in late June of 2010, for those who don’t
know Korn is an NHL goalie coach who has worked with goalies like Pekka Rinne and Braden
Holtby. Learning from him was incredible and I owe it to my parents who were able to afford the
camp. I came into next season much more developed and the results showed on the ice as I
backstopped my team to a solid record and played what I thought was the game of my life
against Nantucket in our playoff game. That season was also fun as I was playing better, and my
team won more than one game. However, after that year my parents opted to change programs so
for 8th grade I tried out for the Taunton Brewins and continued to develop myself as a better
goalie. That year we advanced all the way to the state finals for our division, while we lost to
Franklin 4-1 I had made 53 saves on 57 shots and won tournament MVP, to this day it’s one of
my fondest memories playing hockey. That year had me feeling more confident than ever and not
just on the ice but off. Going into high school I felt “comfortable” in adapting to the social
changes that come with it. I attended Coyle Cassidy High School for all four years and played
hockey all four years. Going into tryouts that year I had nerves naturally but with a brand-new
set of Reeboks pads and gloves I felt ready to go. Even though I knew I wasn’t going to be
named the starter I went into tryouts playing like a starter. My freshmen year I was young and
inexperienced, but I did manage to get into some games. I started two games that year and made
a handful of relief appearance. I was one of two freshmen goalies along with a junior who got the
bulk of the starting time, but I understood the scenario. I was the underclassman, I had to pay my
dues. So that’s exactly what I did. I practiced hard, made the most of my game time, and gave
100%. My sophomore year was forgettable both on and off the ice, this is where my personal
struggles began. However, it did have a positive aspect as I played some of my best hockey down
the stretch and finished the year very strong. Junior year was weird, no other way to put it. I had
busted my shoulder over the summer, missed out on fall hockey and wound up on the Varsity
team for the first time. My junior year is where it all started and when I came into my senior
season some of the issues from the prior year carried over.
I am now two years removed from my time at Coyle and I’m now out of competitive
hockey (for the time being) but as I often reflect on my playing days my time in high school
consistently comes up and often its for worse and not the better. As I said earlier hockey has been
a great source of happiness. From the Bruins down to my own self some of the happiest
memories I have involve hockey yet with high school that’s not the case. Sophomore year I
started the season 0-4-0 with a disgusting 6.50 GAA and a .823 save percentage, my junior year I
backed up the entire season playing in just four periods at the varsity level and for my senior year
I was “benched” playing in just four games. Don’t get me wrong I had some great moments too.
The second half of my sophomore season I finished 3-1-1 with a 0.80 GAA and a .973 save
percentage including wins against Catholic Memorial and Franklin, two dominant programs,
making my first varsity start against Bishop Stang and in my senior season starting the home
opener against King Philip.
Hockey is like that. It’s a game full of highs and lows and I truly owe it a lot. My time in
high school was also similar. High school is where I met some of my closest of friends and its
also where I really began to change as a person. However, high school was also a time where I
faced some of the toughest experiences of my life to date. Basically, it wasn’t a walk through the
strawberry fields and I’m aware I’m not the only person who experienced shitty times in high
school. It was those shitty times though where I found myself learning the most about myself and
others, a lot of those experiences happened both on and off the ice as well.
High school is meant to prepare young people for college and the “real world” and I can honestly
say the “life lessons” I learned are very much applicable to my life now. While at Coyle I learned
that sometimes 100% isn’t enough, that you can’t expect people to advocate for you, that self
advocation is always important and most importantly you cannot stay silent. That final lesson
brings me into the main reason I’m telling this story. Its because I was silent, I became and made
myself a victim, I was bullied, and I didn’t fight it, at the end of the day I was given up on, I was
As I’ve said before hockey was and still is my happy place. The rink was a safe place, an
oasis, a haven, where any stress and outside burden was checked out upon arrival. I enjoyed
every practice, game, scrimmage, any time in the rink was virtually a good time. Until the year
2015. I’m entering my senior year after having backed up my entire junior season. I felt
confident in my preparation and felt I soaked up a lot watching from the bench and in practice. I
truly felt I was at the top of my game. This year however unlike my prior three, the goaltending
situation wasn’t set in stone. Originally there was supposed to be just two of us, myself, and
another senior. We were tight, been through a lot of good and bad times splitting time on junior
varsity, but going into our senior season we both felt our roster spots and playing time were set.
It was our year… or so we thought.
I knew there was always the chance of this happening, as I trained in the off season, I
trained with the mindset that there would be another goalie at tryouts. But, I will say, when I
found out he was eligible to try out it was a gut punch. My first reaction was “why?” I thought to
myself “you’ve got two seniors already who have paid their dues.” But nonetheless a guy who
should’ve been a freshman in college was suiting up for high school hockey tryouts, it irked me,
but I was determined it was my net to lose. After the tryouts and scrimmages I had gotten the
news before our opener in Falmouth…. I had lost the net.
That news sucks. Any goalie at any level will tell you, they want to play, it’s the toughest
part about the position, only one guy plays. I took it with a grain of salt. I told myself to be a
good teammate, to be prepared and always be supportive. We won that game in Falmouth so
naturally he would draw the next start which is fair, that game we also won. He played shakier in
that game and that therefore opened my door to start the home opener against KP. That was
awesome. I had never played a home regular season game and the atmosphere was awesome. I
played well and was feeling great. My dad was in his usual spot, behind the net and to the corner,
my best friend Nathaniel was in the student section, my other peers from school were all there, it
was a great time and we won as well. I almost secured the shutout, but they scored late in the
third off a scramble in the crease. Little did I know how this one goal would become so
significant. I remember vividly how we broke it down in film, it kind of bugged me, but I just
assumed coach had seen something he didn’t like with how we were playing that led to the goal,
but then in the following practice we had virtually a “no puck” practice and skated for the
majority due to this goal. This is when my teammates began to give me grief. “Aragao is
flopping around,” “What were you even trying to do there,” etc. I took the criticism in stride and
just moved on to the next game.
We played our cross-town rivals Taunton High and those games are always fun. I had
known most of the guys on the Taunton High side and there’s always something fun about going
up against friends. The game was going as scripted, we were up 3-0, again I was riding a shutout.
We got into some penalty trouble and if my memory serves it was either a 4-3 or 5-3 advantage,
but they scored on me. It was David Perry, he sizzled one post and in on me high glove to make
it 3-1. To me it was a hell of a shot that just beat me clean but that’s then when a teammate of
mine came over saying “hey Aragao, next time stay up longer,” I was a little taken aback to say
the least as I was getting coached by someone with no knowledge of the position. But, I shook it
off and carried on. To the Tigers credit they pressured us more and they scored again this goal
was stinky. It was a shot once again to the glove side, I got a good chunk of it but as I tried to do
a little windmill to make the save a flashier the puck fluttered in the air and into the net making it
3-2. I was visibly unhappy with myself as I cracked myself over the head with my stick, kind of
like a “face palm” moment. It was a bad goal I admitted it, but I was onto the next save. Once
again, my teammates, this time two of them came up to me to criticize me for “going down too
soon.” This line, this critique, would go on to haunt me for the rest of the season.
We won 7-2, I was 2-0 personally still feeling great but as I look back I realize how I
failed to foresee how the season would play out. After that Taunton game I would go on to play
only twice more, one of those games only last two periods. When I started against Needham at
Babson I had no idea it would be the last full game of high school hockey I played. When I
suited up in my home town of Fall River to face off against Somerset I had not the slightest idea
that when I was pulled from that game it’d be the last time I would play high school hockey.
However, that’s exactly what happened. In the same rink where I learned to skate, in the same
rink where I first played organized hockey, in the rink I won my first ever game as a goalie, in
the same rink is where my hockey career died. That hurt me more than ever. I gave up three goals
on 14 shots, two of which were stoppable, when my coach gave me the word I wasn’t going back
in when I got back into the room the first thing my teammates said were “So are you going back
out?” After that game I realized that they didn’t have my back and that their criticisms both in
games and in practices stemmed from them trying to put me down so their friend could be lifted.
As the season rolled on that became the theme and the rink became my personal hell.
It was something new every day. My name tag would be in a different stall, my helmet or
gloves in the bathroom stall, my pads rearranged, or my stick being hidden. Every day I went to
that rink it was torture. On the ice was no different. They would talk about aiming for my head,
they’d flip pucks towards me when my back was turned, they’d make sure to put me down any
chance they got. The captains, the so called “leaders,” my teammates harassed me. They made
sure to tell me I sucked, or I wasn’t good enough, or I was “just a backup,” that was their favorite
line. I thought by keeping quiet it would shut them up, by letting my work ethic do all the talking
I’d gain their respect… but it wasn’t until much after that I realized nothing I could’ve done
would’ve changed their behavior. I could’ve washed each of their cars by hand after practice,
buy them lunch every day, you name it, it wouldn’t have changed a damn thing. It was a losing
battle, they were the “best” players on the team, the “captains,” how the hell do you stand up to
them? And before you say, “that’s when you go to coach!” I did go to the coach, guess what, he
was worse than the lot of them. How? Because he was the enabler.
When I decided to talk to my coach it was when I reached my breaking point. Everyone
who has ever been bullied or harassed knows there’s just a certain point where you can’t take it
anymore. For me this occurred after a practice. At this point I hadn’t started in the last handful of
games and I felt that no matter what I was doing in practice it wasn’t translating to playing time.
I was getting frustrated and my emotions opened another avenue up to be tormented. When I’d
slam my stick against the post, or show distaste after a bad goal, they’d be sure to bring it up
when we’d go for water. Whether it was critiquing my mental strength, calling me “soft” or a
“pussy,” or just overall saying I couldn’t stop a thing, they made sure to say something. At the
end of practice, I was doing a drill with my “goalie coach” and I put that in quotes because he
wasn’t much of a coach. But, we’re doing a drill where we had to stop the puck behind the net
and make a pass up the boards. I’ve done a few reps and since its towards the end of practice I’m
feeling the fatigue, the other goalie is just there in center ice taking a knee and I’m trying to flag
him over to relieve me. That never happened so I continue with the reps and I get sloppier and
sloppier and eventually I miss a puck completely. My coach flips and makes me do 25 up-downs
for every miss. Sure, enough I’m more tired now and miss again, another 25, by now I’m in
tough shape and as I’m going up and down this guy tells me “You’d think with your lack of ice
time your work ethic would be better but it flat out sucks.” That’s where it hit me, I was working,
I was putting in the time, effort, extra reps, I was trying to show that I had some fire in me and
with one line my coach shot it all down. As we got off the ice he told me he’d report to my head
coach what he saw in practice and I already knew that booked a one-way ticket to left bench for
the next game. As I was getting undressed I felt sick and I really had to fight back the urge to cry.
So much shit was going on, my emotions were boiling up and I didn’t know what else to do. I
had hit a wall. I didn’t know what else to do, I felt helpless, I felt I had no one, I was truly alone.
So, my dad pulls up to the rink in his red jeep and I load my stuff into it. I get into the
front seat and as my dad always does he asks me how my day was. We pulled out of the parking
lot set to head home and after the first few words come out of my mouth I immediately just start
to cry. It’s the only thing I could do. I just let it all out and that’s when my dad opted to make this
move. It was either go home or go back to talk to coach and we elected to talk to coach. Now, my
dad has expressed his regrets about this move, but to me it was something I had to do, it was
something I had to try. I tried to explain to my coach how I feel the leaders of this team favor one
guy in net more than me, I wasn’t trying to be a victim, I wasn’t trying to use it as an excuse for
not playing, I was just trying to make myself heard and I genuinely thought he’d have my back…
That day I learned, you can’t rely on people like that. He listened to an extent, talked about my
last start, and even said he didn’t think the goals were my fault, I felt he had listened and I
thought this would change things, funny thing was it made them worse.