By Steph Coratti
That’s what first comes to mind when Nancy and Greg Popovich describe their son, and Guelph Storm starting netminder, Anthony Popovich.
“He’s so resilient,” Nancy said, offering Popovich’s challenges moving from minor midget to a season as one of three goaltenders with the OJHL’s Wellington Dukes in 2015-16, and starting his OHL career as a back-up with some tough games along the way. “All of that combined has made him who he is right now, knowing that hard work pays off and that you just have to keep working at it.”
Self-motivation is another descriptor that Anthony’s dad, Greg, believes to be key to his son’s success so far.
“His ability to bounce back all the time and keep working and not give up on what he’s set out to do,” Greg said of what he’s most proud of, at this point, in his son.
While for the 18-year-old Storm sophomore, it’s been all about the learning experience.
“I’ve learned from last year and I know what it feels like to have some tough games,” Popovich explained. “This year, I think everyone on our team has matured, including myself.”
Being given a leadership role this season has been an important goal for the Belleville, Ontario native, too.
“Being the oldest goalie on the team puts me in that role where I have to be a leader and I’ve enjoyed it so far,” Popovich said. “It’s something I’ve wanted since last year, and I think putting me in that role has made me learn a lot and it’s made me a better leader, a better teammate, and a better person.”
Having the ability to lead within the hardest position in the sport might stem from Popovich’s start – a start that only had one option.
“He was a goalie from the beginning,” Nancy said.
“Even in Timbits Soccer,” Greg added.
“There’s a baby picture of him when he was three – he’s already wearing a Belleville Bulls jersey with goalie pads on, a blocker, and a trapper,” Nancy explained, sharing that even in minor hockey when the team finished the first rotation of being the goalie, Anthony would do it every time. “There was never really an option.”
Trying to be the goalie with player gear on in Timbits Hockey is a memory Popovich recalls of his original start in the crease.
“I finally got my first set of pads after that when I was around six years old, and I was a goalie from that time on,” he said, offering that reading a book on Montreal Canadiens legend, Jacques Plante, as a kid was the inspiration behind his passion for the position.
Despite that passion for a position that often sees a lot of time spent on your own in a game setting, Popovich is known for his humble, team-first mentality.
“His goal is to show people that he’s a good goaltender and that he’s a good team player, but he wants to help the Guelph Storm succeed, make the playoffs, and be the best they can be,” Nancy explained of her son’s goals.
“He wants the team to do well,” Greg continued. “I think that’s what he really wants, for the Storm to be a top team and to be part of that, and then, if other things come out of that, like a chance to keep playing longer, then that would be really great too.”
A sentiment echoed by Popovich, who when asked about his personal goals for the season, quickly looked at what’s ahead for the team.
“To give the team a chance to win every night – it doesn’t mean make 50 saves, but play the best that I can, and continue to work hard for the team in front of me,” Popovich offered.
Having that opportunity to play behind a team and give them a chance to win every night isn’t credit that Popovich shoulders himself, instead a list of others who have helped along the way.
“It’s the goalie coaches and coaches – coaching has really made me the goalie I am today, just because you can’t really learn all of that stuff without any coaching,” he explained. “Obviously my teammates are in there too, and my parents, just because they’re the ones who taught me everything.”