ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Ty Pozzobon and his family’s arena in Merritt, British Columbia, had two purposes throughout the bull rider’s childhood.
During the warmer months, his father had the arena set up for team roping and bull riding events, while in the winter months, Ty would trade his chaps and bull riding vest for his hockey stick and a pair of skates, as his father transformed the bull riding arena into a pond-hockey rink for Ty and his friends.
Beyond being a talented young bull rider, Pozzobon was also a standout goalie in the Canadian city of roughly 8,000 people. He eventually rose his way through the youth ranks and wound up becoming the starting goalie for the Merritt Rep (AA) hockey team, and even spent some time traveling with the Merritt Centennials – a Junior A team in the British Columbia Hockey League that has produced a variety of professional hockey players globally – for a few games as a backup goalkeeper.
However, even with professional hockey teams beginning their seasons this week across North America – including the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, who call the PPL Center home, the site of this weekend’s Built Ford Tough Series event – there was never a high-desire for Pozzobon to one day put on his goalie pads at hockey’s ultimate level.
Instead, the goal was always to ride in the PBR.
“I knew from the very start kind of what I was going to go do,” Pozzobon said. “I was going to be a bull rider all along. Hockey was more of a winter sport for me and it kept me in good shape in the winter and I always loved hockey.”
“I still like to play a little hockey when I go home for Christmas, but I always knew deep down I was going to be a bull rider. It was never really any question.”
Pozzobon began skating around local ice rinks and in his backyard when he was 4 years old, eventually swapping his forward gear for goalie pads.
His parents always preferred for him to be a winger or a center because of his small frame and speed on skates – even today Pozzobon weighs in at only 5-foot-9-inches and 135 pounds.
Still, something intrigued him about stepping in between the pipes.
“I just always liked being the goalie with all the big pads,” Pozzobon said. “I was a fast skater, but I was too small. That was the only thing that I had holding me back.
“I guess I was built to be a bull rider.”
Pozzobon started riding his first calves at 6 years old.
Before turning his focus completely towards bull riding after his junior year of high school, Pozzobon would split time between bull ridings, rodeos and hockey practices/games.
What Pozzobon lacked in stature, he made up for in athletic ability and work ethic, remembers Keith Rauch, who coached Pozzobon during his final season with the Merritt Rep Team.
“His reaction time was as good as I have ever seen in kids that I have coached in hockey,” Rauch said. “He was extremely quick.”
Rauch compared Pozzobon’s style to that of future Hall-of-Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur, another smaller goalie that was known more for his quickness than his size.
The former hockey coach with 15 years of experience added that Pozzobon’s bull riding background helped him on the ice, as well.
“Oh, definitely, just his quickness and his ability to turn his upper torso to follow the play,” Rauch said. “He was a highly touted bull rider even back then, (and) I heard that was his forte. You could see where it carried over to the ice.”
Pozzobon could have potentially played college hockey in Canada and was beginning to receive some scholarship offers. Yet, he knew his size would ultimately be an issue and his number one passion was always bull riding.
Plus, it wasn’t fair to the other committed kids on the team.
“It just got to the point where I felt bad missing practice to go get on bulls,” he said. “It wasn’t fair to the other guys.”
The 22-year-old made his BFTS debut in 2011 and believes his two-sport childhood certainly benefitted him when it came time to getting on the rankest bulls of the PBR. Playing goalie forces young athletes to develop and work on their reaction skills and timing, two attributes that are critical to bull riding.
Pozzobon also believes that participating in goalie drills helped him develop the flexibility that he still has today. He also has been able to avoid groin injuries in bull riding because of the training he did all those years on the ice.
“I would say hockey definitely helped me with what I do now, because it is a competitive sport,” Pozzobon said. “We always strived to win and I carried that over to bull riding. Then, my flexibility, I was really flexible in high school with being a goalie, especially. Goalies always are up and down and I never really lost that flexibility because I carried it over to my bull riding.”
Pozzobon enters this weekend’s BFTS event ranked 24th in the world standings and takes on Jared Allen’s Dynamite in the first round – and Marty in the second round – of the Cooper Tires Take The Money and Ride.
Just as he has come to love the friendships and pals he has made in the PBR, he also will always hold a special place for those moments growing up with his hockey-playing friends in Merritt.
“Those are memories that I will never forget with my good buddies from my town.”
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