December 17, 2010
We've heard this story before. A team is in desperate need of a backup goaltender because a sudden injury or illness hits one of their netminders and a local player or even team employee is called into duty.
That's how 26-year-old Tom Fenton's day went as he went from getting a haircut Thursday afternoon to backing up Phoenix goalie Jason LaBarbera(notes) against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden Thursday night because Ilya Bryzgalov(notes) came down with the flu.
"My phone rang, I didn't pick it up," Fenton said, according to the Coyotes' website. "I eventually saw who it was so I picked it up after the haircut and called them right back. They basically said I have to get my butt down to MSG as soon as I can."
[Rewind: Stay-at-home dad gets NFL break]
At first Fenton, a graduate student and hockey coach at Manhattanville College, thought it was a prank, but then realized he had the opportunity of a lifetime. And while Fenton wasn't paid for his services, he was just happy to take home a jersey, he told ESPN during an interview. He even missed a final exam for the game.
Fenton played four years of goal at American International College in Springfield, Mass., and currently works at Manhattenville College in Purchase, N.Y., as coach for the ice hockey team, and doubles as the head of community relations and team operations. Phoenix's head of scouting lives in the area and looked everywhere for an amateur goalie before finding Fenton.
According to Dave Lozo of NHL.com, the Coyotes considered signing goaltending coach and former NHLers Sean Burke to the gig, but because of his professional status he would have had to go through 24-hour waivers. Lozo also pointed out that Leonhardt is a good friend of Fenton's college roommate.
So how did Fenton handle the job on the bench? He sweated it out:
"I wasn't even trying to think about that," Fenton said. "I was just trying to take everything all in. There was one point Barbs came across and made a pretty good save and he was kind of favoring his groin and I immediately started sweating on the bench.
"Goaltending's a little different. Just seeing these guys shoot in warmups was pretty spectacular. A lot of the guys can really wind up the puck. I don't know about (Marian) Gaborik coming down on me or anything like that."
This isn't the first time something like this has happened. Last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins signed Tri-City Americans goaltender Alexander Pechurskiy(notes) to a one-day amateur contract when both Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) and Brent Johnson(notes) went down with injuries while the team was in Vancouver. John Curry(notes) got the start against the Canucks and was pulled after allowing five goals. Pechurskiy was called into action for the final 35 minutes and even earned third-star honors despite the Pittsburgh loss.
[Junior recruit: 11-year-old boy signs racing deal]
Two years ago, a Washington Capitals website producer famously went from the press box to the bench to backup Jose Theodore(notes) because Semyon Varlamov(notes) didn't arrive in time from his call up and Brent Johnson was suffering with a hip injury. Brett Leonhardt(notes) didn't see any action that night, but did more media than any Washington player the rest of the week.
The joke about grabbing a guy off the street to play goal makes for a nice story here, but maybe for some NHL teams it could make a difference.