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Jan. 6, 1972: South's one-eyed goalie makes comeback

  • Blog Post by: Ben Welter
  • January 6, 2012 - 10:51 PM
 
Minneapolis South High goalie Tony Julin, who lost an eye when a shot hit him in the face during practice, returned to the ice seven weeks later with a glass eye and a renewed determination to stop pucks. His greatest difficulty: the high shots. “I still can’t get the angles right. And I don’t always know where the net is,” he said.
A January 2010 interview with Tony follows this report from the Minneapolis Star.

South’s one-eyed goalie makes comeback

Minneapolis Star Staff Writer
 
As a Hill-Murray player skated in toward him Wednesday, South High School goalie Tony Julin slid smoothly to one side and blocked a shot.
 
It was just a hockey scrimmage with no score kept. But regardless of whether he stopped all the Hill-Murray shots, Julin was a hero to his teammates – just for being in the nets.
 
 
  Tony Julin, January 1972
Julin has only one eye. He lost the other one in November when he had his mask off and a flying puck shattered it, necessitating its removal. It was replaced by a glass eye. It was almost seven weeks before he put on skates again.
 
It appeared to South fans Tony was through with hockey. The South High School newspaper had him out the remainder of the year at least.
 
But they didn’t reckon with this 16-year-old, with his determination to return to hockey – and to return as a goaltender.
 
“I always figured on coming back, and as goalie,” Tony said. “I’ll give it till next fall, and if I can’t hack it, then I’ll try to skate wing.”
 
He finds his greatest difficulty – as a one-eyed goaltender – is on the high shots.
 
“I still can’t get the angles right. And I don’t always know where the net is,” he said.
 
So far, he hasn’t felt there has been any problem judging distances, although vision experts felt this would be a major handicap.
 
He did ask that it not be revealed which eye is glass, “so they won’t all try to skate in on my blind side.
 
“I still keep my body the same way,” Tony continued. “but just turn my head a little more.”
 
The slight turning of the head isn’t evident under the “cage” he wears – a barred catcher’s-type mask he wears on the ice to make sure nothing can get at his good eye.
 
His coach, Jim Salwasser, isn’t surprised that Tony is back.
 
“He always had a lot of courage, and his attitude was always good,” said Salwasser. “He doesn’t want any special breaks. He told us that right away. He just wants to play. And I’ll give him a fair chance.
 
“He is a quiet kid, in fact so quiet you almost think he’s lethargic – until it comes to stopping the puck.
 
“And he stopped them today. They (the Hill-Murray players) didn’t know which eye it was.”
 
Tony had been involved in South hockey for less than a year before the injury, after attending De La Salle for ninth grade. Tony transferred to South and thus wasn’t eligible in his sophomore year until last January.
 
This year, as a junior, he was battling senior Rick Rogers for the South goaltending job.
 
“They were pretty even at the time of the accident,” Salwasser said.
 
Tony had slipped off his mask before a skating drill, he said. Then he went back into the nets as some teammates finished some one-on-one drills. Down on one knee, Tony said he batted one puck away, then the second caught him.
 
“A lot of 16-year-olds lie down and never try anything again,” Salwasser said. “But Tony has never complained. And his teammates are behind him 100 percent.”
 
JANUARY 2010 UPDATE: Tony Julin, 54, is a software engineer in Chandler, Ariz. He has two grown daughters, a son in eighth grade and a 4-year-old granddaughter. In matter-of-fact tones, he recalls the day he lost his eye in a practice at Met Center more than 38 years ago.
 
"We were doing two-on-ones, and I didn’t have my mask on," he says. "A guy took a shot, and it was a low shot I had to kick away. As soon as I turned my head to get up again, there was another shot about 2 inches from my eye."
 
He knows who took the shot – "it was a guy I played hockey with for years" – but he wasn’t angry with the shooter and doesn’t hold a grudge against him.
 
Instead: "I was pissed off at the coach for not supervising and letting two guys shoot at the same time. For a while I was real pissed off."
 
As a goalie who has never stood in front of shooters without a mask on, I had to ask: Where was Tony’s?
 
"We were just doing skating drills, and I just didn’t happen to have my mask on," he says.
 
It wasn’t unknown for a goalie to remove his mask at practice in the early 1970s. Until the 1960s, few high school goalies even used one.
 
"Whether or not I had a mask on, it wouldn’t have made a difference," Tony says his doctor told him after seeing the fiberglass mask he had been using. "The shot hit an inch above the orbital bone. The [eye opening of the] mask I had at the time was at the edge of the bone."
 
 
  Tony Julin with his son, Tony.
What made him decide to get back in the crease?
 
"I love playing hockey," he says, using the present tense even though it’s been 20-some years since he has strapped on the pads. "It’s the greatest sport there is. Especially when you’re a goalie. You’re out there all the time, you’re the center of attention. When you make a save, the crowd cheers."
 
His parents backed his decision to return to the ice. "My parents were supportive of whatever I did," he says, adding that he would do the same for his own children.
 
His high school career ended not long after the scrimmage against Hill-Murray. With one eye, he had difficulty tracking the puck and anticipating plays that developed on his blind side.
 
"I just couldn’t play," he says. "Maybe I could have hung around and been a part of the team. But I just couldn’t perform at the standard I set for myself. It just wasn’t working out."
 
He did get back on the ice a few years later, playing in bar leagues after graduating from high school. "It was a lot of fun," he says. “We actually made it to the championship in Owatonna one year."
 
He hasn’t played hockey since moving to Arizona in the 1980s. But he stays active. "Right now mostly I do a lot of bicycling,” he says. “In Phoenix there’s a huge mountain park, so I do a lot of hiking. Also, I coach my son’s football team."
 
He says some good came of the accident that cost him his left eye. Not long afterward, hockey associations in Minnesota began requiring all players to wear eye protection. And goalies at every level now must wear standardized masks.

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