Monday, January 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Emergency NHL goalie: The most unusual 1-day job in sports

TAMPA

You want to hear a story about emergency goalies? Bobby "The Chief" Taylor, the Lightning's pre- and postgame TV analyst who played goalie over 12 pro seasons, including six in the NHL, has one.

It's from a game in the 1969-1970 season when he took a puck to the head while playing for the Jersey Devils in the Eastern League. That was before goalies were required to wear masks.

Play was stopped while the trainer applied butterfly bandages to a gash that would require 78 stitches. Taylor soon skated back to the net.

And then …

"Remember Arte Johnson from the old Laugh-In shows? The guy who would always fall over? Fall off his bike. Fall off a bench," Taylor said. "That's what I did."

Teams carried only one goalie then, but the Devils were okay because the guy who had just patched up Taylor's head was also their emergency goalie.

One problem. No one could find him.

"As soon as he saw me fall, he took off," Taylor said.

The Devils used forward Jamie Kennedy in goal to finish the game. He gave up two goals.

The trainer? He surfaced the next day.

"He had some cockamamy story about a family emergency or something like that," Taylor said, laughing at the memory. "Yeah, right."

•••

Emergency goalies are a popular topic around the NHL in this new year, thanks to Jorge Alves. He is the Hurricanes' equipment manager who dressed as the emergency goalie on New Year's Eve against the Lightning at Amalie Arena.

Backup goalie Eddie Lack became sick after the morning skate, and Alves, who had played goalie in the minor leagues and occasionally goes between the pipes during a practice or morning skate, signed a contract that paid him $500 plus his jersey, and, as it turned out, one heck of a memory.

With play stopped and 7.6 seconds remaining in the Lightning's 3-1 victory, Hurricanes coach Bill Peters sent the 5-foot-7, 175-pound Alves into the game. Play resumed, and the final seconds ticked away without a shot on goal by either team.

"When I did realize it was going to happen, it was kind of disbelief," Alves, 37, said afterward. "For years it's always been kind of a joke around the locker room that I might go in, and for it to actually happen, that was an amazing experience."

Lightning assistant equipment manager Clay Roffer has known Alves since their days working in the minors. Roffer was an equipment manager with two teams that needed Alves in an emergency.

Roffer was preparing for the game against the Hurricanes when word jumped from one locker room to the other that his old friend was going to dress that night. He poked his head into the Hurricanes locker room and asked, "Am I hearing this right?"

"I was happy for him, and I was so pumped when they put him," Roffer said. "That's a classy move by their coach to get him a game in the National Hockey League. Whether it was seven seconds or seven shots, that's a game, and they can't take it away from him."

In the minors, equipment managers and trainers wear many hats.

"I've taken warmups (as a goalie) and all that fun stuff," Roffer said, "but never played."

•••

The NHL didn't allow teams to carry two goalies until the 1965 playoffs. It wasn't until last season that the league made teams provide a list of emergency goalies that can be used by either team.

Brad Leonhardt is the Capitals' video coach. A goalie in college, he has been used twice by the Capitals as an emergency backup.

He never entered either game. In the first one, Leonhardt dressed and sat on the bench for only 10 minutes, until Semyon Varlamov — now with the Avalanche, then with Washington at AHL Hershey — arrived at the Verizon Center.

Noting that the NFL dresses a third emergency quarterback for games, Leonhardt wonders if the NHL might someday do the same.

"It's the most important position," he said. "One shot can take the most important position out and now you have the backup in with no one behind him."

Scotty Bowman coached in 2,141 NHL games during his Hall of Fame career and cannot remember needing an emergency goalie in any of them.

"Maybe once," he said. "I'm thinking we had to put a defense­man in (net), but I don't know when."

Emergency goalies have come from the minor leagues and rec leagues, from the trainer's room and the equipment room. They have been members of team public relations staffs and interns.

The Wild held open tryouts in 2012 for emergency goalies. The year before, it had been ready to use 51-year-old Pat Deutsch, a rec league goalie, when the wife of its then-No. 1, Niklas Backstrom, went into labor on a game day. But its goalie made it to the arena in time for the game.

•••

Before this season, the Lightning asked retired goalie Mathieu Garon, who lives a short drive from Amalie Arena, if he would like his name on the list of emergency goalies.

"I said yes, but I never put much thought into it," he said. "It's never happened, but I look around the league and I see it happened. You never know."

Garon played in 341 games over 12 NHL seasons, including two with Tampa Bay. He's 39 and keeps in shape by playing forward in a rec league. He attends maybe 15 Lightning games a season. He said he doesn't wake up on days when the Lightning is home wondering if he might be wearing his old goalie pads that night.

"I don't know how it would work," he said of filling in in an emergency. "Hopefully we never find out."

What if he had to play in a game?

"I would probably not be a hero," he said. "These guys are professionals. They play every day. I'm not at that level anymore, but I could probably hold my ground, hopefully."

Despite not playing in an NHL game since the 2012-13 season, Garon believes he wouldn't embarrass himself.

"I'll be careful," he said. "Who knows."

•••

Got time for one more emergency goalie story? It's from Bowman.

Claude Pronovost, known as "Suitcase" because he played for 10 minor-league teams in an 11-year career, found himself playing for the Bruins against the Canadiens during the 1956 season.

The Bruins' goalie was hurt, but they got one of their minor-leaguers to Montreal in time for the game. Problem was, his equipment was lost. No big deal. Plenty of goalie equipment to be found in Montreal. Except, the kid wore size 13 skates. No one could find a pair that big.

So Suitcase, who played for the Montreal Royals in the Quebec league, got his chance.

He blanked a Canadiens team that was on its way to winning five straight Stanley Cups, 2-0, and helped snap Boston's 11-game winless streak.

"How about that?" Bowman said. "Quite a story."

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