A History of NHL Emergency Backup Goalies

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An emergency backup goalie in an NHL game is one of the most exciting times to watch. It is always a blast to see the player get a chance to spend an NHL game watching from the bench with the team. Even more exciting, and probably terrifying for those involved, is when they actually get a chance to take the crease. That is what happened for the last two and a half minutes of Saturday night’s game between the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks.

Although he was technically not an emergency backup goalie as he signed an actual contract before the game, Matthew Berlin was the latest amateur goalie to make an appearance in an NHL game. And the situation is close enough in how it played out to refer to him as an EBUG.

Less than a few hours before the Oilers were set to take on the Blackhawks, Stuart Skinner was scratched due to illness, which left the team scrambling to find an actual backup to dress that night. Berlin made it, though he did have to delay studying for a psychology midterm to get to the rink.

With the Oilers up 7-3 as the clock was winding down, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl actually proposed the idea to head coach Jay Woodcroft of letting Berlin close out the game. So at a stoppage in play, the goalie change happened.

Berlin made one save in his appearance and left with a memory that probably feels like a complete dream but will last a lifetime. And be a great icebreaker for him in any situation. Or, maybe he could be the next Oiler to take on the “The Answer” moniker.

Now that the topic of NHL emergency backup goalies has been brought up by it happening again, let’s take a trip down memory lane to some of the other EBUGs that have taken the crease in the past.

Jorge Alves, Carolina Hurricanes

Jorge Alves may have only gotten 7.6 seconds of ice time in his debut, but it was more than enough to get to say he has played in the NHL. In 2016, the Hurricanes were up against the Tampa Bay Lightning but found themselves in need of a goalie quickly when Eddie Lack was unable to play.

The Hurricanes’ equipment manager, who was still carrying out his duties and sharpening skates during the game, was put in net at the very end of the game on an offensive zone faceoff for his team.

Scott Foster, Chicago Blackhawks

For this game in late March 2018, the Chicago Blackhawks were desperately in need of a goalie after their top two goalies had gone down with injury in quick succession. Collin Delia was making his debut with Scott Foster dressed as the backup.

Shortly into the third period, Delia was injured and unable to return. Which put Foster in net for the final 14 minutes of the game.

Foster, who saved all seven shots he faced, became the first emergency backup goalie in NHL history to record a save. Following his NHL debut, he made a guest appearance at the NHL Awards where he presented the Vezina Trophy and still joins the Blackhawks when needed as a second goalie for morning skates.

David Ayres, Carolina Hurricanes

In February 2020, a story for the ages that spawned some top tier memes and trash talk towards the Toronto Maple Leafs had its origin story.

When both of the Hurricanes’ goalies went down with injuries in the same game, David Ayres was summoned to take the crease for Carolina. A building operator for the arena the Toronto Marlies play in, he ended up suiting up for the opposition while wearing a Maple Leafs t-shirt and gear from one of the Marlies’ goalies.

Regardless, when Ayres entered the game just past the midway point of the second period, the Leafs scored two quick goals. But he settled in quickly and stopped the remaining shots, along with recording a shot on goal himself, as the Hurricanes won 6-3. He became the first emergency backup goalie to record a win, and the oldest to win his regular season debut.

Thomas Hodges, Anaheim Ducks

John Gibson and Anthony Stolarz both went down with injury in the final game of the 2021-22 season for the Anaheim Ducks. With only 54 seconds left in the last game of the season that has no playoff implications and the team is losing, there is no sense in trying to tough it out with one of the regulars. So, in comes Thomas Hodges to close out the game.

In an Anaheim Ducks jersey that didn’t even have his nameplate while wearing Dallas Stars gear, Hodges made two saves on three shots, the goal against ended up being the game-winner for the Stars. Hodges became the first emergency backup goalie to record a loss.

With the addition of Berlin to this list, the NHL has now seen five emergency backup goalies take the crease. And as is especially the case with Ayres, they go down in folklore and become the answers to trivia questions that will stump fans decades down the line. But for those who get to participate, it will become an unforgettable experience and story they can tell with pride.

Main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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Sean is a lifelong, stubborn Oilers fan who somehow still has hope that next season will be the year. Hockey is his biggest interest and hobby, so he follows the whole league as closely as he can.