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Matt Hewitt carefully navigated his 2008 Ford Explorer Sport Trac into his parking space at Rogers Arena on Tuesday.
This was arguably the most stressful moment of the University of British Columbia goaltender’s evening that included an emergency call-up to the Vancouver Canucks in their 2-1 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues. Hewitt had to make sure he didn’t accidentally hit his car into the gorgeous high-end vehicles surrounding him owned by the Canucks players pulling NHL salaries.
“I didn’t want to have to run into one of those and explain myself,” Hewitt joked. “But these guys are professional, they get paid a lot of money for a reason. I guess they’re able to buy those toys so good for them.”
Hewitt is the latest in a line of UBC goaltenders to be called into action in Vancouver as emergency NHL netminders.
Chris Levesque of UBC backed up Johan Hedberg in a 2003 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins after starter Dan Cloutier was injured at morning skate. When Hedberg took a first period collision with Konstantin Koltsov it seemed Levesque would have to jump in. But Hedberg didn’t leave the game and Levesque stayed on the bench.
The 23-year-old Hewitt noted the possibility of this is sometimes in the back of his mind when the Canucks are in town. Before the season Hewitt says the UBC goaltenders give the Canucks basic information about themselves in case they need to join the team at a moment’s notice.
“They have a lot of opportunity if they need a goalie for practice or for example Tuesday night – an emergency call-up to be ready to go so it really works out well for both organizations,” he said.
When the 5-foot-11, 165-pound Hewitt woke up Tuesday his phone had several messages from family and friends saying there was a possibility Canucks starter Ryan Miller could miss that night’s game. Also there were rumors that the team would have to call on an emergency backup.
About 10 minutes later UBC coach Sven Butchenson phoned Hewitt to say that he would indeed wear a Canucks uniform at Rogers Arena that night to back up Jacob Markstrom.
“That moment my heart literally did stop,” Hewitt said.
A native of New Westminster, British Columbia, Hewitt played three seasons and 146 games with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League in major junior.
Before then he played minor hockey in the Vancouver suburbs. Hewitt said he was a fan of the Canucks growing up, referencing the West Coast Express years of Todd Bertuzzi, Brendan Morrison and Markus Naslund as well as the team’s recent successes centered around the Sedin twins and Roberto Luongo.
“I think I just had posters of the Canucks growing up and just watching game after game and dreaming of playing for the Canucks one day just like every other kid in Vancouver,” he said.
When Hewitt got to the arena, Canucks development coach Manny Malhotra was there and welcomes him to the team. Hewitt knew Malhotra from the times Malhotra skated at UBC and the former NHL veteran put Hewitt at ease.
Said Hewitt, “He was like ‘it’s great to see you buddy! Are you excited?’ and ‘enjoy every moment of it.’”
During the game, there was an anxious moment for Hewitt in the third period when Blues forward Patrik Berglund collided with Markstrom. Even though Hewitt admitted he wanted to get into the game he also wanted Markstrom to get up so he could continue his strong outing.
“I mean, the nature of hockey is pretty competitive so I know those things happen but in the back of my mind you’re a little bit ‘whoa, this could be my opportunity, you never know,’” Hewitt said. “I was ready if the opportunity arose but I’m really happy Marky stuck it out because he was playing a great game and deserved that win and so did the team.”
The majority of Hewitt’s action came in warm-ups when he took shots from Canucks players in front of his family and friends. Hewitt made sure to point out the franchise helped him with quickly organizing ticket requests as best they could on short notice.
“They were really opening, just really thankful I was coming. They said, ‘whatever you need we’ll help you out,’” Hewitt said. “Everyone was so excited so I tried my best to get them out to the game and a lot of people ended up making it out.”
During his time around the Canucks, Hewitt initially asked about getting player autographs, but ultimately decided against it. The experience was enough and he didn’t need any signatures from the players on the team to enhance the event.
“I loved every second of it,” Hewitt said. “Once we tied it up late in the third and scored that overtime goal that was quite a crazy feeling, just jumping on the ice with all the guys and just hugging all the guys at the end of the game was a pretty surreal feeling and being part of such an exciting, fun, professional game was super crazy. And also taking part in the warm-up and being on the ice with the guys and interacting and taking in all the feelings and the surroundings was a surreal feeling.”
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) October 20, 2016
Hewitt is a sociology major and has two seasons left at UBC. Last season held a 2.53 goal-against average and .920 save percentage with the Thunderbirds. After his time at University is up, he said he’d like to continue his hockey career in Europe. But after his experience in the NHL, he joked he may set his sights a little higher.
“I’d love the Canucks to give me a tryout,” he laughed. “But seriously I am trying to continue my hockey career after university at UBC.”
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