Caitlin Tate gets things done on the ice, just like every other talented hockey player in the world. The senior starting goaltender at Park High School in Cottage Grove is described by Wolfpack goalie coach Mike Moline as “very technically, fundamentally sound. She’s a very, very, very good goalie.”
Tate is quick on her skates, she uses her stick to efficiently sweep away pucks and has a great glove hand … even though there is no hand inside the glove.
Caitlin, 18, was born without a right hand. But there she is, on the ice wearing Wolfpack green and white, skating with her friends, catching pucks without a hand. She wears a prosthetic that slips onto her arm and fits inside a specially made glove. The prosthetic is the work of the wizards at Shriners Hospital in Minneapolis and the glove was provided by Vaughn, a maker of goalie gear. She is unable to close the glove around a puck, but she is very adept at quickly bringing the puck into her midsection and covering it up.
For fans who know nothing about Tate, she is the same as every other goalie. And that’s how Caitlin likes it.
“Off the ice, everybody is unique in their own way but I’m clearly different,” she said. “I don’t have a problem with it. God made me that way and I’m not complaining. On the ice I’m the same as everybody else and no one expects anything different from me. That’s what I really enjoy.”
She is a remarkable young person, smiling, happy and supportive of others while never feeling sorry for herself. As Park head coach Steve Morse said, “I’ve never had a kid quite like her, in more ways than one.”
Caitlin is the youngest of Dirk and Julie Tate’s three children and their only daughter. Her brothers Alex and Dan also played hockey, and that had an impact on what she wanted to do. As a youngster she skated as a forward. But when she watched Dan (a 2006 Park graduate) play between the pipes for the Wolfpack boys team, she was hooked on switching positions. That happened when she was 9 years old.
“He made these sick saves and everyone would cheer,” Caitlin said. “I was like, ‘I want to do that! I want to be the one that everyone’s cheering for!’ It runs in the family, for sure.”
Until this season Caitlin was a backup to Allie Morse, who graduated from Park last spring and now plays hockey at Providence College. Morse was an all-conference and all-state player and a finalist for the 2012 Minnesota Goalie of the Year award.
“I wanted to be like her,” said Tate, who is a team captain this season along with Mary Turitto and Anna Keys. “I wanted to do what she was doing. I definitely looked at her as an idol. It definitely was big shoes to fill. I was really nervous, coming after such a great goalie like Allie.”
Park took a 2-4-1 record into a Saturday night game against Suburban East Conference opponent Roseville. The Wolfpack had lost twice in overtime, including a game at Mounds View. But the postgame scene after the Mounds View game was something Caitlin will remember much longer than what transpired on the ice.
An article about Caitlin in USA Hockey Magazine had caught the eye of a 6-year-old boy who also has been missing a hand since birth. Moline had been contacted by the boy’s mother and invited them to meet Caitlin after the game. The child, fascinated by the story and photos of Tate playing hockey, had been sleeping with the magazine. He wanted to be a goaltender, just like Caitlin.
“He came out to our game when we played Mounds View and I got to meet him,” Tate said. “That was really cool. Something like that, inspiring him, makes me so happy. That’s part of the reason why I keep doing this. I hope to be that symbol; ‘Don’t give up. If you put your mind to it, you can do it.’ ”
Life has not always been easy for Tate. She remembers being on the playground in elementary school, wishing she could climb the monkey bars like her friends. Her brother Dan helped her learn to tie her shoelaces with one hand.
“I’ve had a really good support system,” Caitlin said. “Dan said, ‘You don’t have to be different from other people, you can still do the same things.’ All the things he did helped give me confidence. I had two older brothers looking out for me.”
Julie Tate said she can remember only one instance when her daughter openly expressed frustration at having just one hand.
“In middle school she was upset maybe once,” Julie said. “She had heard some kids talking about her or something, and that was the only time she had ever told me she felt different and wished that she wasn’t.
“She was born this way and it’s all she knows. We never tried to treat her any different.”
Moline, who has been working with Tate for eight years, learned early on that Caitlin wanted no special treatment. The first time they were together at a goalie clinic, Moline looked at the little girl with one hand and thought to himself, “How in the world are we going to do this?”
One of the first drills involved pushing nets across the ice to build up strength, and then skating backwards while pulling the nets. When Moline told Caitlin she didn’t have to take part, he learned a quick lesson.
“That was a big mistake for me because she said, ‘Mike, I can do this.’ Ever since then, I’ve never shied away from anything with her. I’ll shoot pucks at her as hard as I can.”
Caitlin faces issues in places like the weight room, where conditioning without a right hand can be problematic.
“It’s a challenge for her to do some things in the weight room,” Morse said. “She makes the decisions on what she can do and what she’s not comfortable with.”
Moline said, “She inspires me every day. It’s going to be so hard at the (season-ending) banquet; I’m already an emotional guy as it is. I love the kid like my own. If I ever had another daughter I’d hope she would be just like Caitlin.”
Caitlin is a very busy teenager, with a life that revolves around hockey, friends, a retail job at the Mall of America and school. Her current classes are College Writing, International Baccalaureate English, French, Physics and a college prep program. In college she wants to major in acting or performing arts and minor in journalism or broadcasting. She has applied to several universities in California.
“I always have dreamed of being on the red carpet someday and winning an Oscar,” she said with her usual smile. “I’ve done acting classes and I absolutely love it. I don’t have a problem being in front of people, public speaking. It comes natural for me.”
Julie Tate, while already worrying about Caitlin being so far from home after high school, knows that her daughter is a special person.
“She was born without two hands but she was also born with great character. She’s always been so impressive. We’ve always been so proud of her.”
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 368
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 4,981
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
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