No April Fool’s joke. Lightning’s emergency backup goalie’s ready to go

TAMPA — There have been many times when Kyle Konin was told he might be needed to suit up for a Lightning game. As the team’s emergency backup goaltender — known around hockey as the EBUG — the 26-year-old Konin is always on call in case the Lightning or their opponent needs a goaltender on the fly come game time.

“It happens all the time,” Konin said Monday morning, sitting in a stall inside the main Lightning dressing room. “Probably 20 times a year, where someone pulls (a muscle), does something weird, tweaks something and they’re always ready to go for the game, but you’re always ready.”

Over the weekend, things seemed a little different. Konin was called in to skate on Sunday’s off day, and he knew heading into Monday that he would take the ice before morning skate to be in net for injured defenseman Mikhail Sergachev’s on-ice rehab session. That wasn’t unusual, as Konin often helps out when the Lightning need a spare goaltender during skates, practices and scrimmages.

But then the Lightning asked him to stay for Monday’s skate with backup goaltender Jonas Johansson dealing with a sudden lower-body injury. Director of hockey operations Mathieu Darche told Konin the Lightning might need him to dress as Andrei Vasilevskiy’s backup for Monday’s game against the Red Wings.

“I texted my dad in my family group chat,” Konin said. “And they’re like, ‘They’re pranking you. It’s April Fool’s.’”

It’s turned out to be no joke. He did indeed dress for Monday’s game.

“I kind of wish they told me after practice because your head is just going a million miles an hour and not even thinking about anything specific,” Konin said after morning skate. “Just crazy. ... I’m sure it’ll hit me later. I’m gong to try to go home and take a nap, but no chance I’m falling asleep.”

Konin has been the Lightning’s EBUG for the past four seasons. He grew up a Lightning fan, spending most of his childhood in Clearwater. He went to youth camps in Brandon and skated on the ice as a Thunder Kid before a game at Amalie Arena.

He was playing college hockey in Michigan in 2020 when the pandemic hit and he moved back to Florida to be with his parents, Jeff and Gina. He quickly immersed himself in the local hockey scene, making connections with Lightning alumni like John Tucker, Mathieu Garon, Dwayne Roloson and Filip Kuba. And soon enough, Konin found himself invited to a lot of gatherings and shootarounds because there was a need for goaltenders.

When the Lightning started preparing for their return to play, Konin was invited to be an extra goaltender for informal skates. He was then invited to be the team’s EBUG, which involves attending every home game, equipment in tow, and being ready to join either team if needed.

“It’s probably the coolest position in sports,” Konin said. “We all have a group chat. Everyone’s just happy just to show up to games and see NHL hockey every night. Practices are an added bonus when you get to see the best shooters in the world and try to keep up with them. And then when something like this happens, you have no words because it’s not something you really plan for.”

There is no other situation in professional sports in which an average Joe can go from sitting in the stands to being on the bench, but it did already happen once for Konin.

On Dec. 3, 2021, on the morning of the Lightning’s home game against the Blues, St. Louis starting goaltender Jordan Binnington was placed in COVID-19 protocol and the Blues were unable to call up a goaltender from the AHL to back up Ville Husso because of salary-cap issues.

That morning, Konin came off the ice to three missed calls from Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois. He signed a one-day contract with the Blues and dressed as St. Louis’ backup goaltender that night.

“It was a little different because I didn’t know anybody,” Konin said. “I didn’t know the coaches, the players.”

Konin operates a custom airbrushing and goaltender mask design business, Nujax Airbrush, in St. Petersburg.

“A few people (Monday) are probably not going to be happy,” Konin said. “Their mask is going to be a little delayed. Actually I had one guy who asked if he could pick it up (Tuesday). And I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll make sure it happens.’ I’ll text him after this to let him know.”

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