On Saturday, goaltender Eric Semborski made an unlikely return to the NHL.
The Philadelphia Flyers brought in Semborski, a former club netminder at Temple University and local youth hockey coach, to serve as insurance as a possible emergency backup in case Anthony Stolarz, who was recalled from the AHL earlier in the day, could not arrive soon enough for that evening’s home game against the New Jersey Devils.
Starter Steve Mason was sick and the Flyers found out that afternoon that he couldn’t play, which meant they had to quickly line up goaltending options. Stolarz was on a minor league trip to Wilkes-Barre and had to actually get there first before he could turn around and head to Philadelphia.
“I got home from work and I was going to hang out with my friends and have a quiet night and then all of a sudden I was heading to the Wells Fargo Center again and so yeah, they called me and were like ‘can you get here?’ and I was like ‘no problem, I’m home, I have my gear,’” Semborski said via phone to Puck Daddy. “Then I realized I left my skates in my office, so I had to run all the way back to work so it was a little bit of a time crunch again.”
If Semborski’s name sounds familiar, it’s because 23-year-old was an emergency backup for the Chicago Blackhawks in Philly last December when Corey Crawford couldn’t play because he had to undergo an appendectomy. Semborski – who is from Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania – said he was also put on notice during a Florida Panthers trip through Philadelphia this year when it seemed they may have needed him.
Since the Blackhawks experience, Semborski said he had had practiced with the Flyers, but never had an opportunity to serve as an emergency backup for his hometown team.
When Flyers’ Saturday starter Michal Neuvirth collapsed in the first period and was stretchered off the ice, Semborski made his way down from the press box and began to put on his gear. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall later said that Neuvirth was awake and alert and heading to the hospital for “precautionary reasons,” but at the time the situation was frightening for everyone in the building – Semborski included.
“It was definitely a scary looking thing,” Semborski said. “So just I was concerned because it looked so bad. But as soon as he was down, I was on my way down to the locker room.”
With the Flyers soundly beating the Devils 3-0 and 24.5 seconds left on the clock, Philly coach Dave Hakstol tried to put Semborski in the game for a defensive zone faceoff. For a few seconds it appeared Semborski would actually get a chance to see some NHL action, but the on-ice officials quickly told the Flyers that Semborski could not play.
Since Semborski was an emergency backup so he could only enter the game if Stolarz was hurt.
“When I saw it was 3-0 near the end I thought, ‘well, maybe they’ll try the last couple of seconds if the opportunity comes.’ They tried more than I thought (they would) because it was a defensive zone draw for the Flyers and they tried to put me in,” he said. “I’m just thankful the coaches tried and I appreciated it.”
Semborski’s goaltender’s mask actually sports the Blackhawks’ logo since the team had it painted as a ‘thank you’ to the goaltender. Chicago also gave him a bunch of other team-related gear and even invited him to a game.
“Chicago took great care of me,” Semborski said. “They gave me all new gear and they painted that mask for me so I knew there was going to be a lot of Chicago stuff on there. I did sneak one Flyers’ logo on there but it’s hard to see.”
Because he came to the arena on such short notice, Semborski didn’t have any family or friends in the stands, but all watched on television and called or texted him immediately after the game.
“I never really thought that I would ever do this. Not for Chicago, not for anyone,” Semborski said. “Then with the Flyers having my number for these situations, it’s a dream come true, really and just the opportunity that they would think to call me if whenever they needed me is pretty awesome.”
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