In hockey, a goaltender’s job is to protect the goal from the opposing team trying to score. That’s a rather huge responsibility, especially since trying to stop a puck while on skates is no easy task.
For Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, senior varsity hockey goalie Kurtland Sullivan, the word “responsibility” takes on a different meaning.
The Bay Ridge native is the team’s captain, which is very rare for a goalie. In fact, in the history of the NHL, only seven goaltenders have served as team captain, with the latest being Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks from 2008-2009.
As per NHL rules, Luongo wore the “C” on his helmet, but Sullivan proudly displays the “C” on his jersey.
Sullivan’s true responsibility, however, is to his family. When he was just 10, his father Darren suffered a heart attack and passed away at the age of 44. Instantly, Sullivan became the man of his house tasked with looking out for his mother, Lydia, and two younger sisters, Kayden and Kenna.
Talk about being blindsided by a slap shot.
Sullivan and his father were inseparable as the young goaltender grew up, especially playing baseball and hockey. His father’s passing hit him hard initially.
“The first thing I thought about when I was sitting in my room was if I was ever going to have a catch again,” said Sullivan, 17. “Who was I going to play with? I used to play hours of hockey with him (Darren). He used to shoot on me all the time.”
Darren became a hockey fanatic watching the New York Rangers and mainly the team’s goalie Mike Richter. Naturally, Kurtland’s favorite player was also Richter, so he started playing goalie at age six in the Fort Hamilton Roller Hockey League.
Sullivan’s strong faith has helped him cope with losing his father. He said that God gave him the strength to overcome this test, and he’s glorifying his father by playing hockey.
“I know he’s (Darren) in a better place,” Sullivan said. “That’s everyone’s goal here … to live like Jesus and make it to Heaven and live with Him in paradise forever. And he already made it.”
Every time the Clippers score a goal, Sullivan drops to one knee to thank God. He also has the famous biblical verse John 3:16 inscribed on the back of his helmet and said he feels both his dad’s and God’s presence with him every time he steps on the ice.
A Touch of Fate
Sullivan joined the Xaverian hockey team by chance midway through his freshman year. He happened to be outside after school one day when Jerry Mandala – a parent who was chaperoning the bus for Xaverian’s team and who knew Sullivan from roller hockey – told him that the Clippers needed a backup goalie.
Sullivan agreed to give it a shot, though he had never played ice hockey before. In less than two years, he was voted the best goaltender in the league after his junior season.
“He (Sullivan) came in from his freshman year to his junior year and he became the best goalie in the league and the captain of the team, and he did it all without a father,” Mandala said. “That’s amazing!”
As the team’s captain, Sullivan is always conscious of setting the example for his teammates and instructing them to live a life like Christ. Before every game, he gathers the team around his goal and leads them in prayer.
“His (Sullivan) overall character as a person is outstanding, forgetting about hockey altogether,” said Xaverian’s head coach Anthony Esposito, who had never named a goalie captain in his nine seasons of coaching until Sullivan. “He’s always been a mature kid since I’ve known him. I think his personality shows through in the locker room.”
The younger players on the team look up to Sullivan as their leader, especially given how he’s handled the responsibility of looking out for his family in the wake of his father’s death – thus making him an easy choice for captain.
“It shows that he has a lot of courage to not give up or quit on his family,” said Anthony “Yurks” Yurkins, a sophomore forward. “He always keeps moving forward.”
The Xaverian team got off to a slow start this season but has bounced back to be in the hunt for a playoff spot. Sullivan’s play between the pipes has guided the team to its turnaround.
Whether he’s stopping shots in goal for the Clippers or looking out for his mom and sisters, Sullivan has graciously accepted the responsibility of being a protector. His father would surely be proud.
As far as seeing his dad again, Sullivan’s faith has led him to believe that the two will eventually reunite in Heaven.
When that day comes – hopefully many years from now – the young goalie better remember his equipment, because his dad will be waiting at the pearly gates with his hockey stick in hand.