The puck that was in front of him suddenly wasn’t. Just like that. Less than 30 seconds into his first game as a professional goalie, John Muse allowed an opponent to score.
What was he thinking?
“I put it behind me,” Muse said, speaking figuratively. “I was ready for the next shot.”
His response was so quick, it sounded automatic. That’s a goalie’s mindset. Check your emotions at the door as you step onto the ice. Never reboot memories until long after the fact. Muse didn’t rattle that day in Albany. Getting his first — and to this moment his only — start in goal for the Portland Pirates, he made his debut a success.
The Pirates won 3-2 in a shootout and clinched the Atlantic Division title. That was April 9, or only three days after he signed an amateur tryout contract. Only two weeks after his final game for Boston College in the NCAA West Regional in St. Louis. Muse tries not to replay that game but sometimes it can’t be helped.
He was Boston College’s starter for four years. On the ice for the national championships of 2008 and 2010. The kid who had hip surgery not unlike what former Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell went through. Muse was going to help lead his team to another national title.
Instead, Colorado College scored four straight goals to lead 4-1 after the first period. When Coach Jerry York lifted Muse at the end of the second period, Colorado College led, 7-2. The final score was 8-4.
“It was extremely difficult (to live through) at the time. Definitely we thought we had the team to go back to the championship game. But taking two out of four is not a bad thing.”
What he wouldn’t tout was his own NCAA playoff record. He had been perfect. Eight games, eight victories and a 1.95 goals- against average. Every athlete can have a ninth game like his. The law of averages can catch up at the worst time.
He’s only 22 but can see the big picture. Even if he didn’t know when or where he’d find himself back on the ice for a game that mattered. Leave it to Pirates Coach Kevin Dineen to put Muse back on a horse after another had bucked him off.
“It was exciting,” said Muse. “I was hoping I’d get a chance to play. My family came to the game (from their home on Cape Cod.) I was ready.”
He’s still ready, even as he wonders if another opportunity will be handed to him. Work hard in practice, prepare mentally as if he was getting the start, and pray Buffalo doesn’t return goalie Jhonas Enroth to the Pirates. “I don’t know what happens then, if they’ll send me home or keep me.”
His is a precarious perch, but that’s the nature of the game for guys on an AHL amateur tryout in the playoffs. They’re a spare part waiting to be used or discarded. A healthy Muse is a bad groin pull away from another opportunity. Not that he wishes any bad fortune to fall on Dave Leggio, the Pirates’ current go-to goalie.
A month ago Muse was in a world of routines. Four years on a college campus is a long time when you’re young. You’re part of a community, you’re comfortable with the support systems. He’ll graduate next month with a degree in marketing.
For the past few weeks Muse has been living out of a hotel room across from the Cumberland County Civic Center in a city where he’s as anonymous as a summer tourist. “That can be a good thing,” said Muse. Hey, real University of Maine fans won’t hold his Boston College days against him. Maine beat BC with Muse this winter.
Muse grabs meals with teammates he’s just getting to know. During games he sits between the penalty boxes, giving teammates more room on the bench. It does separate him from a group he wants to be part of. “It’s a little different. In college when I didn’t play I was on the bench with the team. But I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
He played four years for York and about four weeks for Kevin Dineen. The similarity between the two is the attention they command in the locker room and on the bench. “Everyone stops what they’re doing when they talk. Everyone listens up. That’s the respect they get.”
Tonight, with the playoff series between Portland and Connecticut tied at two victories apiece, Muse most likely again will take his seat between the penalty boxes. He’ll put himself in the game mentally. His goalie mask and gloves are near his feet. The mask, in BC maroon and gold, is a holdover from the last two years of his previous career.
“Next year, once I figure out where I’ll be, I’ll get a new one.”
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: