It's her time: Tate is Park's top goalie despite missing right handPark senior goalie Caitlin Tate was born without her right hand. However, through hard work and determination she’s ascended to the top of the Wolfpack's depth chart.
By: Patrick Johnson, sports editor, South Washington County Bulletin
Park goalie coach Mike Moline calls Caitlin Tate an inspiration.
Tate, a senior goaltender for Park, was born without her right hand. However, what Tate has accomplished on and off the ice has everything to do with the characteristics she possesses and has little to do with anything she is lacking.
“She’s truly one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet in your life,” said Moline, who has coached Tate for five years. “She’s an amazing role model for young kids. She’s a hard worker, a good student and a great athlete. She always has a smile on her face and is very nice to people. She’s just a model kid. If I had another daughter I’d want her to be just like her. She’s just a special kid that I’ve gotten lucky to have in my life.”
For the past four years, Tate was stuck behind Park standout goalie Allie Morse in the pecking order. Morse was an all-conference, all-state and Minnesota Goalie of the Year finalist. However, now that Morse has graduated, moving on to play Division I college hockey at Providence College, Tate is the new No. 1.
“I’m not glad Allie is gone. I miss her,” Tate said. “We were together for so long. But, I’m glad I’m full time now. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. There’s a lot of pressure on me, because I’m following Allie. She’s such a great goalie. But, it’s been fun so far.”
Tate has really never planned on playing college hockey. She also knew she would likely not be able to leapfrog Morse on the depth chart. Despite those things, Tate worked hard in practice every day and trained year round with the hope her time would come.
“She’s been a very patient person, while having a Division I goalie in front of her,” Moline said. “She never complained once or said she wanted to quit. She waited for her time and now it’s her time.”
Tate said she never thought about quitting and there were a number of reasons she stuck with it.
“A lot of people would get mad about it,” she said. “But, I’m weird, because I love practice. I love it more than playing games actually. In practice you can try new things and have fun without the risk. Also, I love the girls on my team. We’re a huge family that I’ve been with since third grade. It’s just not something I could quit and feel right about. I just have way too much love for the sport to just quit.”
Tate said she is also motivated to prove to the world she can do what anyone with two hands can do.
“That’s super important to me,” she said. “That’s also one of the reasons I kept playing — I wanted to be that inspiration to people who felt like they were struggling. I want to help show them that you can overcome anything if you really want to. If you put your mind to it you can do it.”
On the ice, Tate uses a goalie glove with a built in prostheses. It was built for her at St. Paul’s Shriners Hospital and is likely one-of-a-kind. Tate said Shriners admitted they had never made a glove like hers and believed it had never been done before.
“When I told them I wanted to be a goalie, that was a totally new concept for them,” Tate said. “They had never heard of that. But, they were up to the challenge and made me a great glove. They’re just a really great program.”
Though Tate can’t close the glove, her skills have advanced to the point where not only can she stop a puck with her glove, but can catch it.
“I’ve shot hundreds of pucks and tennis balls at her and she can catch them,” Moline said. “She can control the puck. She’s gotten to a point where she just knows what she needs to do to overcome that and if she drops something and has to get down to the ice quick she can do that.”
Tate’s first-ever varsity win came during the 2009-10 season, when she earned an 18-save shutout over Apple Valley. Last year Tate started five games, going 3-1-1 with a 2.38 goals-against-average and a .918 save percentage. This season, she was elected as a team captain.
“She wants this shot to be the starter so bad,” Moline said. “I expect her to do very well. She’ll fit into that role just perfectly. I expect her to be a solid goalie for us and not give up the soft goals. She’s going to get scored on, obviously, but I expect her to continue to do the things in practice that are going to make her a better goalie along with continuing to mature and do the things a leader does.”
Moline, who works with the boys and girls goalies at Park, played keeper for North St. Paul, helping to take the Polars to the state tournament in 1981, and walked on at University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Moline said Tate has the ability to compete to be one of the best senior goalies in the state.
“Being a goalie, you have to have certain fundamentals and basics,” Moline said. “She plays her angles very well. She’s able to get down and get both pads on the ice and seal it up. She can handle the puck, shoot it off the glass, she’s a good skater and can go behind the net. Her footwork is outstanding in the crease and that’s where the rubber hits the road for goalies.”
Tate wanted to be a goalie like her brother
Tate, 18, began playing hockey when she was 8 years old. She played forward for one year before switching to goalie — the position her older brother Dan, a 2006 Park graduate, also played. Caitlin’s other brother Alex, a 2008 Park grad, also played hockey.
“Dan is the one that inspired me to be a goalie,” Tate said. “I’d go to all his games and he’d make these crazy saves and everyone would cheer. I saw that and decided that’s what I wanted to do. I started as a forward, but it was just not for me. I tried being a goalie and it just came so much more naturally to me.”
Tate said while growing up she questioned why she had to be born different. However, being a goalie allows her to be just like everyone else.
“When I’m off the ice I know I’m always going to stand out from everybody. I was born differently,” she said. “But, on the ice I have a blocker, I have a glove and I have pads just like everyone else. I’m no different. I’m just a goalie.”
Tate said she’s accepted the fact she is missing a hand and has adapted to life with one hand. But, it certainly hasn’t come without its struggles.
“When I was really young, in elementary school, it didn’t really faze me, because you’re just a kid and a free spirit and nobody really judges you,” Tate said. “But, when you get to middle school, that’s when everything changes. That’s when people start judging you. I started to get super intimidated. I felt different. It was tough for me for a while. I’ll admit that I’ve been embarrassed about it. I didn’t want to be known as the girls who was different or be treated differently.”
Tate said when she was growing up her family was concerned she wouldn’t be able to do certain things other people could do. But, as she got older, Tate said she learned she could do anything, she’d just do them differently.
“I’ve learned to live with it. I’ve learned how to adapt in my own way,” Tate said. “It’s just second nature to me now. People ask me if it’s hard only having one hand. I tell them I don’t know, because I’ve only lived this way. I’ve lived with only one hand my whole life.”
After she graduates this spring, Tate said she is going to fulfill a lifelong dream by moving to California and trying to break into the acting world.
“As long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be an actress,” Tate said. “Hockey is really fun to me. It’s a great hobby and a great way to spend my time. But, I want to start focusing on other things, like what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life.”
Moline said it will be very difficult to see Tate go, but he said the sky is the limit for her.
“You go through it all the time as a coach. You graduate kids and you miss them,” Moline said. “I work strictly with the goalies and we call ourselves the goalie group. We have a pretty special bond together. I’m a pretty emotional guy. It’s going to be hard.”