Brown plays goalie across the board

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:12 AM ET

A trip to France would be the highlight of the summer for most people.

It certainly qualifies as such for Keely Brown. But her journey next week is not all about seeing the Eiffel Tower, downing cream-filled pastries and sipping the best from the vineyards.

Brown's getaway is more business than holiday as she minds the twine for Canada's national women's in-line (roller) hockey team in the world championships, which begin Friday in Colombes, France.

Travelling to major sporting events is nothing new for Brown. In fact it is about her only activity outside of practising corporate law for Davis & Co.

"This is my seventh world championship," said Brown, who has hardly come away empty-handed from the events.

Brown has backstopped Canada to gold at the in-line championships twice, including last year's final when the Canucks exacted a measure of revenge for an overtime loss to the U.S. by whipping the Americans 5-0. In 2002, Canada won its other roller gold by beating the U.S. in New York.

LUCRATIVE GAME FOR MEDALS

But ringette has also proved to be a lucrative game medal-wise for Brown, earning one gold and two silvers in netminding duties for the national team.

And just for good measure, the ever-busy stopper won bronze at the 2004 national women's hockey championship with the Edmonton Chimos, and was named the tournament MVP when the Chimos placed second in the inaugural Western Women's Hockey League title tournament.

Be it puck or ring, call on Keely to make the save.

"It's quite tricky because the puck is a lot lighter and the shots come a lot faster," said Brown, of tending net for inline games compared to on the ice.

"Players can roof the puck a lot easier. At the worlds this year, the nets are six inches shorter and three inches wider just so players don't have as much open room up top.

''But it's still tricky because I can't slide, so on breakaways you just have to go with the flow and you just have to make a choice as to where you think it's going to go. When I'm down, I can shuffle around on my knees, which makes it difficult, but more fun."

After a while, one might suspect Brown would get a little shell-shocked facing wave after wave of enemy shooters.

It's a torture test every month from ringette to hockey to in-line.

"I play out on my ball hockey team, but I'd rather have more equipment on than stand in front of shots wearing just players' gear," laughed Brown, who started playing ringette at age six, hockey at 13 and roller during her first year of university.

"I like the variety of playing all the games. It keeps me fresh as a goalie. Playing only one sport all year would be boring. Ringette has a shot clock, so that keeps things exciting. Roller hockey is very open.

NO OFFSIDES OR ICINGS

''There are no offsides or icings, it's four-on-four and there's usually one player cherry-picking so there are a lot of two-on-ones and breakaways. Generally, being a goalie is just being a goalie.

The mentality for all the games is the same. You are just zeroed in on being focused."

Roller hockey enjoyed its sudden rise in popularity during the mid-'90s and is being kept alive by a hardcore group of players in pockets around the world. At one time, the tournament circuit was a far-ranging and profitable tour, but outside of a few major events, only those passionate about the sport are hanging on.

Count Brown among those who want in-line hockey to stick around.

"There are still some big-money tournaments and tournaments that offer lots of prizes," said Brown of stops in California, Las Vegas and Florida.

"We had a lot of trouble finding sponsors this year for the national team. We had to shell out our own money ($900) and they're still wanting us to find more."

Still, it's worth the time and effort.

"The more exposure we get, maybe more kids will tryout for the national team," hoped Brown.

"Kids see that there's a world championship and they might get interested. This is my passion. I'm getting more and more excited about France every day."


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