December 7, 2020
Rob Goodey’s diving, gravity-defying, rising-to-the-occasion save against the Mount Royal Cougars was a moment that UNBC Timberwolves fans won’t soon forget. It was a nine second sequence on September 13th, 2019. Nine seconds; no less, no more. In those nine seconds, Goodey made a series of decisions that influenced the moment affectionately remembered as “The Hand of Good.”
Consider how quickly nine seconds pass by. We asked Goodey, who is every bit as thoughtful and intellectual as he is physically gifted, that very question as he sat in front of a computer screen and went frame-by-frame through the sequence.
The result of the play will never change. We know how it ends. On the play-by-play boxscore, this particular save doesn’t differ from a trickling shot from 35 yards out, or a harmless ball that a goalkeeper swallows up with familiar ease. But for those who were in attendance, or have since seen the highlight on video, this stop was different.
In added time, against an undefeated, Nationally-ranked Mount Royal Cougars team full of dangerous offensive threats, Goodey made a stop that sealed the most memorable victory of the Timberwolves’ season.
No one would have blamed Goodey if the shot had beaten him. In fact, it would have been a great goal in a great moment by a great player on a great team. But, an undersized netminder had other plans that rainy evening in Prince George.
In allowing the hero of our story to explain the play, second by second, it becomes incredibly clear the save was the culmination of many moments. A lifetime of decisions and circumstances that tell the true story of how moments, and those who exist within them, are made.
Mount Royal defender William Libbey gathers a loose ball and quickly turns his frame towards the Timberwolves net, clearly intending to play the ball into a high traffic area. He is 25 yards out, along the right sideline, and moving with the appropriate amount of urgency for a second-year player in the waning moments of a highly contested match.
The Cougars are undefeated on the Canada West season, sitting 5-0 with victories over Calgary, Saskatchewan, Lethbridge, Alberta, and MacEwan, outscoring the Dinos, Huskies, Pronghorns, Golden Bears, and Griffins by a combined 14-2 score. They’ve cracked the U SPORTS National rankings, putting the conference and country on notice. Their style is dynamic and they play in the image of their head coach Ryan Gyaki; with speed and precision, cutting through defenses with the pace and execution only possible with a roster full of elite skill.
Despite that, the Cougars find themselves down 3-2 to a gritty UNBC program defending home field. The Timberwolves sit 2-3-1 in conference play, but clearly have the ability to compete with any team in Canada West. 24 minutes prior to added time, UNBC had seized a 3-2 lead on a brilliant effort by hometown product Anthony Preston, and as the seconds tick away, they cling to the advantage, knowing a victory could be the turning point of their Canada West season.
Rob Goodey has been here before. One year earlier, on September 7th, 2018, he was making just his second appearance as the number one starter for the Timberwolves, taking on another powerhouse, the Trinity Western University Spartans. He had waited and worked for that very moment, but the emotion of the moment got the better of him.
In the 89th minute, UNBC and TWU were knotted in a 2-2 draw. The TWolves had trailed the Nationally-ranked Spartans 2-0, but a second half surge had brought the home side all the way back. The Timberwolves’ Michael Henman sent a brilliant ball from 35 yards out and found the foot of Francesco Bartolillo flying in at the far post. The goal sent the Masich Place crowd into a frenzy, and Goodey was so overcome with excitement that he ran the length of the pitch and joined his teammates in celebration.
In minute 90, Trinity sent a cross into the box and Goodey missed it, giving the Spartan attacker two attempts to tie the game. He made good on the second attempt, and the match ended in a 3-3 draw.
“I was so new to being the starter, and I reacted to our goal too aggressively. I celebrated with our guys and didn’t take my time returning to the goal. I was gassed. I regret not being more in control of my emotions there.”
MRU is crowding the box, applying pressure to the Timberwolves net. Six-foot-three forward Andre Griffiths fights for position, as does dangerous attacker Moe El-Gandour. Goodey sits less than a yard out from his goal, understanding the stakes at hand. He has made six saves by that point, but knows his team may need one more to secure victory.
“I need to stop the ball. There is nothing else. They are pressing, and we need to stop the game, and stop them in their tracks. I recognize that they have ten players in our third. I talked to my defenders right before this and told them nothing in the box needs to be pretty. It needs to get cleared, and we will go again.”
Libbey strikes the ball, putting plenty of air underneath it, hoping one of his surging teammates can locate it with a head or foot. The Sherwood Park product, in a perfect world, would place the ball in the close vicinity of the penalty spot; close enough to be dangerous, far enough from the net that the opposing keeper has to think twice about personally pursuing with significant confidence. This ball, on this night, is sent towards the six-yard box. But it’s the loft and elevation that has Goodey thinking twice.
Nineteen minutes earlier, the veteran keeper had charged an oncoming ball just beyond the 18-yard box, clearing it out of harm’s way before the Cougars’ Griffiths had run him over. The collision was the type of man-on-man contact that is usually reserved for football or hockey. Griffiths had no malicious intent, but his late arrival led to a nasty bump.
Goodey took the brunt of the impact on his left side, sending severe pain through his ribs. It winded him, and left him sprawled out on the pitch. Griffiths was handed a yellow card for his trouble, and Goodey considered coming out of the game, which would have required freshman UNBC goalkeeper Daniel Zadravec to finish out the match. Zadravec had not yet tasted in-game action at the university level, and Goodey was able to convince TWolves coach Steve Simonson, his teammates, and himself, that he would be able to continue.
Goodey had managed his aching side admirably, barring him being required to extend his body. Balls played in the air would be an issue, and he knew it. In the 93rd minute, Libbey’s ball would be a problem. It required the keeper to leave his feet and raise his arms, exposing the rib injury that would keep him out of the next three Timberwolves games. With the ball at its highest point, Goodey is shuffling his feet, hesitating slightly.
“He definitely didn’t play it where he wanted to, but I didn’t attack it. It was a very high ball, and it should have been easy for me to deal with. In other circumstances, I can take care of that ball. The way his touch took him further wide, I was pretty certain he would play it that highly, but I was in a ton of pain at that point. I got clattered in my ribs and it was killing me. So, when he played it like that, it was in the back of my head. I knew I couldn’t take a hit like that again.”
As the ball spins towards the net, rain flies off it like a bike tire rolling through a puddle. An hour before the match started, the Northern B.C. skies were clear, and the sunlight was treating the players going through their warmups to a classic Prince George sunset.
By game time, it was a stark contrast to an hour prior. A storm had started that would last the next 24 hours, changing the speed and trajectory of the ball along the turf and in the air. The referees were keeping a keen eye on the skies, knowing the match would need to be called off if lightning reared its remarkable but inconvenient head. According to government records, it was the second rainiest 24 hours in the region in all of 2019. Fans gathered together under blankets, finding dry refuge beneath the Masich Place grandstand roof. The players were soaked.
The ball arrives in the box and Goodey rises to the air to meet it. He had made the decision to punch the ball, rather than try to catch it. He leaves his feet as a number of Cougars do the same, joining him midair for a game of who-can-get-to-this-first. With his right hand, Goodey is able to strike the ball with a closed fist before it reaches the head of a hard-charging Griffiths. The rain may have been a factor for most of the players on both sides. For Goodey, it felt like home.
Born in Bishop’s Stortford, a historic town an hour from Northern London, Goodey learned to play the game in the rain. Many of his memories as a young boy are of playing the in heavy precipitation, with soggy gloves and slippery conditions. A move to British Columbia’s Lower Mainland when he was 12-years-old offered much of the same climate.
In some ways, he had been informing this very moment since he started playing the game he loved as a small boy in damp and drizzly Hertfordshire County.
“If the ball is coming down and you haven’t made your decision, it is already too late. It has to be in that split second. Once you make the decision, you have to stick to it, even if it may be wrong. Everything was drenched. If I squeezed my gloves, it was like a faucet or a shower. I was maybe a little unconfident that if I tried to catch that ball, it may squeeze out of my hands. I have played in rain like that before, and that was not the time to be indecisive. I have been playing in that rain my whole life.”
Goodey’s punch doesn’t go exactly where he wants it to, due to the aerial pressure from MRU. Timberwolves freshman defender Luke Brbot does well to get a foot on it and flick it from ten yards out the 25-yard area, where UNBC forward Abou Cisse is awaiting the ball’s bouncing arrival.
Cisse, a second-year attacker from Bamako, Mali, by way of Prince George, finds himself in a relatively unfamiliar spot. He is dynamite with the ball at his feet. He is a threat to score anywhere around the opposition’s net. But, in this case, UNBC coach Steve Simonson has substituted him into the match to apply pressure to the Cougars’ backline, creating grief with his speed and hustle. In the year prior, his freshman season, Cisse hadn’t been used in this spot, and the conditions make it all the more troubling.
Goodey, aware of every player on the pitch at all times, recognized the potential mindset of all ten TWolves on the pitch with him in those dying minutes. When Simonson subbed Cisse into the game, the goalkeeper knew what his young teammate may be going through.
“It is terrifying getting brought into the game in that moment, coming into such an emotional environment. Attacking players are being asked to defend. Someone like Abou, who is tremendous, is having to change his style of play. The touch just got away from him.”
As the ball bounces towards Cisse, he lifts his left foot to corral it, with the intention of settling it and sending it down the pitch out of danger. But, with the ground soaked and the ball skipping unusually, he lowers his boot just a brief moment too early, and the ball glances off the top of his foot and beyond him. In most situations, the touch is less consequential. In added time, the Cougars are pressing for the equalizer and are on top of every TWolves touch.
But Goodey’s body language is calm, even in the moment. He, like Cisse, has waited his turn, watching from the stands as a redshirt, and the sidelines as a freshman, before finding himself in literal situations he had only previously played out in daydreams and mental exercises.
The road to becoming a starter at the highest level of university sport in Canada can be long. For Rob Goodey, long is an understatement. Two seasons as a redshirt, followed by a year as the backup to starting fifth-year keeper Mitch MacFarlane, and Goodey was sure he would be ready to start. Then, netminder Tyrone Venhola returned to the Timberwolves, seizing the starting role, meaning Goodey would again be relegated to the bench.
Through four years at UNBC, training every single day, Goodey had appeared in just three games.
“It was extremely hard. I asked Alan Alderson, the coach at UNBC early in my career, what I needed to do to dress and get on the team. He told me he saw me as a great third keeper. I just needed a chance to prove what I could do. I considered leaving UNBC, and looking for a team to transfer to, but I knew I wanted to stay at the Canada West level.”
Goodey’s opportunity to take over the starter duties arrived in 2018-2019, and he hadn’t released his grip on the position since.
As the ball skips out of UNBC’s possession and back into danger, Goodey is calm. He, like Cisse and half the players on the pitch for the Timberwolves, has bided his time for moments like these, and he isn’t about to let his slip out of his fingers.
The Cougars all-out pressure has achieved exactly what coach Ryan Gyaki was hoping for; the ball eludes Cisse and finds the feet of a hard-charging Benedikt Mehl thirty yards out. A transfer from Berlin, Mehl is a talented, physical midfielder who would end up playing big minutes for MRU the rest of the season. The ball skips up to Mehl’s waist, and the European transfer shuffles his feet to put himself in prime position to strike it with his dominant right foot.
As the ball begins falling towards the 25-yard area, UNBC’s Kensho Ando charges towards Mehl, intending to take away his time, space, and options with the ball. With the crowd of bodies in the box, Goodey recognizes the opposing midfielder’s choices are limited. His body changes from an upright walk outwards from the goalmouth, immediately shifting to a set position with bent knees and his seat over his feet.
“As soon as his initial touch happened, I looked to get set right away. I could see the ball bounce, maybe a little higher than he would have liked, so I knew he had to try to volley it. I am betting, at that point, he is not looking to pass. I am betting it all in that moment.”
Goodey is assertive in establishing the exact foot position and place on the pitch he needs to be in that instant. It is like clockwork to him, because of a drill that he and his fellow UNBC keepers had focused on over the past two seasons. Early in Goodey’s Timberwolves career, situations like these were his greatest weakness. After all, it is hard to simulate match speed, a ball moving irregularly, and the ability to predict what any player will do in a particular situation.
However, along with netminders Scott Brown and Daniel Zadravec, Goodey had forced himself to repeat a specific drill over and over that addressed this very circumstance.
“You start on the six-yard box, with both feet planted together. The goal is to touch the bar within three steps. We weren’t even using a ball, most of the time. Just focusing on dropping the left leg, one, crossing over with my other leg, two, and then pushing off that last step to touch the crossbar, three.”
While the moment may seem like a blur, even watching it over and over on tape, Goodey’s movements are deliberate. They are the intentions of an athlete who had plenty of time to think about his own game; its strengths and weaknesses, and chose to drill, over and over, until the list of weaknesses got shorter and shorter. His feet are set, and he is ready to put into practice what he has poured into practice.
“Those were my weakness. My mind was racing, but we had practiced our footwork for those exact situations. It would have to be a phenomenal shot from where he was. And it was.”
The ball’s downwards trajectory is halted, and in a hurry, as Mehl strikes it with bad intentions with his right foot. In an instant, the ball is labeled. It is the type of volley that comes off the boot with extra power; one that draws attention, even in a training session.
In that moment, Rob Goodey recognizes how the quality of the strike by Mehl has put him at an immediate disadvantage.
“Right away, I knew he couldn’t have hit it any better than he did. It was a brilliant shot. Even in the split second, you are confronted with the reality of where you are, and where that ball is headed. I knew it was going in, immediately."
The soccer net is 24 feet wide and eight feet tall. With the right positioning, athleticism, and practice, those dimensions seem manageable for most goalkeepers. However, when an opponent hits a volley like this, the net seems bigger than it was just seconds before. The keeper feels extra small in relation to the net. But, feeling small, and being perceived as too little for the position is a familiar feeling for Goodey.
The UNBC website lists his height as five-foot-ten, but even five-foot-nine feels generous for the veteran netminder. In fact, he is the smallest keeper in the conference, and by far the most diminutive of all those who brave his position and start for their Canada West program.
When Goodey was new to the Timberwolves program, he backed up Tyrone Venhola and Mitch MacFarlane, who are six-foot-three and six-foot-two. His backup, Zadravec, is all of six-foot-three. Quite simply, he doesn’t look the part of a goalkeeper at the highest level of university sport in the country.
“I have always been the smallest of the group. Since I was a kid, I was not as big as the coaches or the ones picking the teams would have liked me to be. But it makes me more aggressive, because I have to do something to make up for that. I don’t have the reach of most keepers, but I think they’re missing something I have, too.”
As the ball begins its hasty trip to the gaping cage, there are seven players between Goodey and Mehl, and plenty more in the neighbourhood. He is the smallest of the bunch, like he always seems to be. But his intention is to make the save, like he always seems to.
Every player on the pitch and every fan in the stands tracks the ball, recognizing the looming result. And, in the time it takes to snap your fingers, every person is frozen in anticipation. Every person except one, that is. The one in the neon yellow kit with the number 25 on his back.
Cisse is behind Mehl, his frantic run slowed to a jog. Mehl settles into a near-squat, ready to celebrate. UNBC’s Kensho Ando and Luke Brbot are straight-legged and helpless now. Mount Royal’s Dane Domic resorts to a series of three tiny jumps, as he tracks the ball’s flight. And, in the Masich Place grandstand, the waves of energetic cheers are instantly hushed to a nervous hum. The hum of doubt, perhaps. A sound Goodey knows all too well, and a hum that he has had to silence in his own mind many times before.
But, as he has practiced with his mates many times before, his left foot pivots and plants. His right foot follows suit, and because of the speed the shot is moving, a tiny, sped-up step with his left again.
“Shots like that have gone in on me as a youth player, and they would have gone in on me early in my time at UNBC. Those goals create doubt in your mind. Even though everything moves so quickly in soccer, your mind is able to recall all the saves you made, and saves you should have made from moments like that.”
But for Goodey, the doubts have become a state of comfort. Rather than deny the deafening lack of confidence from youth coaches or teammates, or the questions in his own mind; instead, he chooses to embrace the discomfort and prove it wrong.
“I need to acknowledge the nerves. Own up to them and confront them. And when that split-second battle is won within me, remember who I am as a goalkeeper and a person. Then, enjoy that moment.”
Goodey’s drop-step plants in the wet turf and he bends his knees, preparing to leave his feet in a last-ditch effort to preserve what he and his teammates have worked for. The doubt is there, in the murmur of the crowd and the faces of TWolves supporters. But, by then, it’s nowhere to be found in his mind.
Due to the immense pace of Mehl’s ball, Goodey can’t afford to simply elevate. To get himself in position to get a touch on the shot, he also has to send his body backwards, towards the goalmouth. While soaring at a 45 degree angle and becoming more and more parallel with the ground below him, he twists his body counter-clockwise.
Like a human corkscrew, his only chance is extending his right arm, while doing his best to keep the remainder of his body facing forward. Turning away from the incoming shot is not an option, and the timing must be perfect to meet the ball at the exact, and only, place and time where they can possibly contact one another.
The arc of Mehl’s ball never reaches higher than ten or eleven feet, and it travels 25 yards in such a short time that it would be near-miraculous for Goodey to read, react, set, launch, and make a play on the ball.
For a moment, he finds himself essentially floating as though being carried, reaching with every inch of his five-foot-nine frame. But, what goes up must eventually come down, and it won’t be pretty. Every goalkeeper has learned that lesson the hard way. In this case, it will be particularly painful. Keepers live for moments like these, and in Rob Goodey’s case, it’s been a lifetime worth of moments.
“I started when I was three or four. Everyone had a turn as the goalkeeper, and I had so little promise as a player that I was on the C team. I loved throwing myself to the ground, in the mud, in the dirt, on the grass. I obviously didn’t have the technique, but I remember my parents and coaches talking about how I was willing to donate my body for the sake of what I was doing. I’d get up and do it again. I was in goal from then on.”
The ball is beyond Goodey’s frame at this point, well behind his head and split seconds away from knotting the game. But this wasn’t Rob Goodey throwing himself, joyfully, in the mud in Bishop’s Stortford. In fact, this wasn’t even Rob Goodey from his early UNBC career.
“I knew my limitations, and worked to get stronger and more powerful. I knew I needed to work on the ability to explode and extend, while maintaining proper technique. You train and train for these things, and may never use them. Or maybe you will.”
At the very last instant, the tip of Goodey’s right hand deflects the shot, bending his wrist back with its force. The ball is redirected wide of the post, and Goodey hangs in the air like a pinata awaiting its descent. Except when he lands, there will be no sweets.
Almost in unison, Domic, Griffiths, and Dawid Dudek of the visiting Cougars lift both hands and put them on their heads in disbelief. It is as though their fists were on the way to the sky in celebration, but had to be rerouted by the brilliance of the opposing goalkeeper, finding a soft place to land atop their rain-soaked hair.
The crowd, huddled in the chilly grandstand, locates its emotional remote control and unmutes, instantly breaking into a roar as loud as any heard at Masich Place that year. All this before Goodey’s body lands with a thud on the turf beneath him.
Demian Dron, one of the freshman defenders tasked with helping Goodey protect the UNBC third, runs to his goalkeeper with arms outstretched. His body language is a mix of seeking embrace and wondering how Goodey just pulled that off.
“I saw Demian coming to hug me, and I wanted to hug him back. But we had a corner to defend.”
And with that, Goodey dusts himself off, settles his mind, and gets ready to do it again.
“I could feel the energy from the crowd. It was the loudest I had ever heard at one of our games. You could hear every single person scream, and you feel it inside you. The buzz is in you. It is a real living thing.”
The Timberwolves successfully defend the final 90 seconds, and when the referee blows his whistle, Goodey drops to his knees. He had been running on adrenaline, and along the way, made perhaps the finest save in UNBC Men’s Soccer history.
It was one save. No different than any other stop on a game box score. In fact, he would make 56 saves that season, and 151 in his Canada West career.
At the conclusion of the season, Goodey was named a conference all-star, becoming the first TWolf keeper to ever earn the recognition. That honour will stand the test of time in Timberwolves history.
So, too, will the ‘Hand of Good’ save. A nine second sequence that made up one of the biggest moments in program history. At least, it will look like nine seconds on the game tape and stat sheet. But for him, those nine seconds were the culmination of his entire journey to get that very moment.
Nine seconds. No less, no more. For some, nine seconds can fly by. Or, for Rob Goodey, those nine seconds can take a lifetime.