The Dallas Stars entered Friday night with a chance to move into the 7th spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In order to do so, they needed two points against the Anaheim Ducks and a regulation loss from the Nashville Predators. What came next could not have been predicted.
Stars vs Ducks EBUG
In Dallas, the Stars and Ducks were tied 2-2 entering the third period. Thomas Harley scored his first career goal and Joel Hanley added a tally while Sam Steel and Troy Terry each scored for Anaheim. John Gibson left the game after the first period and Anthony Stolarz was injured in the second period, meaning that the Ducks were forced to call on the Dallas EBUG (Emergency Backup Goalie) in the third.
In came Thomas Hodges. The 28-year-old Texas resident had played AA hockey and appeared in a few minutes of an ECHL game for the Allen Americans during his career. After moving to Dallas from the UK at the age of 12, he lost all vision in his left eye from a puck to the helmet. He decided to get back into the net years later and eventually found himself skating as an extra goalie for both Allen and the Dallas Stars.
“I always dreamed of one day getting to play a game in the NHL,” Hodges said. “When I was about 12 years old, I lost the sight in my left eye and so it became an impossibility. I worked hard and played 18U AA. After not playing for a little bit, I wanted to play some hockey again, maybe just an adult league. I got with a goalie coach who happened to be the goalie coach for the Allen Americans in the ECHL. That’s really what I do now, I practice with the Allen team when they need a goalie and I practice here when somebody needs a day off.”
Now, he was set to play the third period in a regular-season NHL game with playoff seeding on the line for the opposing team. When asked what he was doing when he got the call, he told Stars players that he was up in the stands eating a hot dog and had to run out of the arena to get his gear and get suited up.
“I might have exaggerated a little bit, to be funny,” Hodges said. “But I was eating up there, yeah. It’s just interesting, I go from being in the stands watching a hockey game to having to play the third period in the course of like 20 minutes is like unreal. On normal nights, my gear is just kept in my car. It’s a little bit of a jog from the car to the locker rooms. It’s not that bad, but hey, it helped me get warmed up for the game.”
Hodges made two saves and allowed one power-play goal by Jason Robertson on a puck that was deflected off his own defenseman in front of the net. The goal gave Dallas a victory at home but the spotlight, and all of the biggest cheers were on the third star of the game, the EBUG Thomas Hodges that lived his dream at the American Airlines Center.
“I think once we got on the ice and started skating around a little bit doing my normal routine it felt like any other hockey game I’ve played before,” Hodges said. “I think everybody could tell I was a little nervous and to have the support of the home fans made a big difference, so I really appreciate all of them.
Hodges added some humor following the game when he joked about his brief stint in the ECHL, where he played just a few minutes and did not face a single shot. “I think I led the league in goals-against that year,” Hodges laughed. When asked about his full-time job, he quickly informed the media that he sold life insurance, and then made a quick pitch “I sell life insurance,” Hodges smiled. “So, if anybody needs some life insurance, let me know.”
Following the game, each player from both teams congratulated Hodges on the ice before he was met with a water shower back in the Ducks locker room. Now, he has a game puck, a jersey, and a memory that will last him a lifetime.
“In that locker room, when I got the call that ‘Hey, you’re actually going to have to go out,’ because it was 50-50 there for a little bit, I was probably about as nervous as I’ve ever been,” Hodges said. “I’ve never played in front of so many people, but experience of a lifetime and something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life, for sure.”
The Comeback Yotes
After an eventful and entertaining finish in Dallas and some heartfelt media moments with Thomas Hodges, the Stars looked up at the scoreboard to see the Predators already up 4-0 on Arizona in their final game. It seemed all but certain that Dallas was on their way to Colorado for a first-round matchup with the Avalanche and the Stars players and coaches had already set their minds on that reality. Then, everything changed.
The Coyotes somehow found a way to score five straight goals in their final game at Gila Arena and overcome a 4-0 deficit to beat the Predators 5-4 in regulation, tying the largest comeback in franchise history. This was the second time in two games that the Yotes overcame a deficit of three or more goals (3-0 Wednesday in Dallas) and this one was even more shocking.
“A little storybook ending,” said Shayne Gostisbehere. “It was cool to see all the old legends of the Phoenix and Arizona Coyotes. It was a pretty cool and good ceremony. Obviously not the best start when they score on the first three shots, but it just shows the resilience of our team and just what we’ve been going through all year and it’s cool to end it on a good note here in Glendale.”
With the Nashville loss, Dallas moves into 7th and will take on the Calgary Flames in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Looking at the night overall, the fact that a power-play goal against an EBUG and a five-goal comeback from Arizona decided the fate of Dallas in the playoffs is truly bizarre. It was one of many crazy stories across the NHL on the final day of the regular season and it was enjoyed by the players, coaches, fans, and certainly the media. Now, it is time for Dallas to flip the switch and get ready for Game 1 in Calgary on Tuesday night.
“That didn’t prepare us for the playoffs,” Stars coach Rick Bowness laughed. “That was a no-hitter, which was to be expected. We’ll be ready for Tuesday.”
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Sam Nestler is a credentialed Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the Stars, the NHL, and college hockey. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!