On Saturday night, Dave Ayres forever etched his name into NHL history by becoming just the second emergency goalie in recent years to be called into a game due to injury.
Ayres, a Zamboni driver for the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies, came on in relief for the Carolina Hurricanes after both of the goalies on their active roster, James Reimer and Petr Mrazek, had to leave the game due to injury. Ayres came in midway through the second period, and, despite conceding goals to the Toronto Maple Leafs on the first two shots he faced, stopped the final eight and earned the win.
This brought back immediate memories of Scott Foster’s heroics in 2017-18 when he came on in emergency relief for the Chicago Blackhawks and stopped all seven shots he faced. Foster, then a 36-year-old accountant and beer league hockey player, delivered a memorable performance against the high-powered Winnipeg Jets offense.
A lesser-known emergency goalie story, however, almost occurred in Philadelphia in the 2016-17 season. (from ‘Emergency goalie Eric Semborski fondly recalls brief time with Blackhawks,’ Chicago Tribune, 11/09/2017) On April 1, 2017, in a game against the New Jersey Devils, Eric Semborski, an employee at the Flyers’ practice facility, almost made history.
Eric Semborski’s Shot at History
The drama began when regular Flyers starting goalie Steve Mason had to miss the game due to illness. As a result, backup goalie Michael Neuvirth was pressed into action, while the Flyers also recalled its minor-league goalie Anthony Stolarz just in time for puck drop.
Early in the game, Neuvirth collapsed, forcing Stolarz into net and Semborski to dress as the emergency goalie for the Flyers. Fortunately for the Flyers, Stolarz stopped all 26 shots he faced and helped set the Flyers up for a 3-0 victory.
In the closing seconds of the game, with the game well in hand, the Flyers decided to make a classy move to show their appreciation for Semborski. With just 24.5 seconds to go, the Flyers asked Semborski to finish up the game in net.
It seemed like Semborski would have the chance to make history as the first emergency goalie in recent years to appear in a game. Nonetheless, the referees ruled that Stolarz must remain in the game, as he was not injured. There is never a time to wish an injury upon a player, but if Stolarz were to have gotten a sudden “muscle cramp,” it might not have been such a bad thing.
Interestingly, Semborski nearly made history for the same reason just a few months prior against the Flyers. Prior to the Blackhawks’ game in Philadelphia on Dec. 3, 2016, starting goalie Corey Crawford developed sudden appendicitis. This forced backup goalie Scott Darling into net while Semborski was called on to serve as the Blackhawks’ emergency goalie.
Per NHL rules, the emergency goalie is available to either the home or the away team should either of a team’s two active goalies have to leave the game due to injury. In this case, since the away team’s two goalies both got injured, Semborski was made available to the Blackhawks as its emergency goalie.
Unfortunately for Semborski, he did not get to take the ice, as Darling avoided injury for the entire game. Nonetheless, it might have been difficult for Semborski to take the ice anyway against his beloved Flyers.
Although Semborski did not get the chance to make history on either occasion, he was still left with memories that he will never forget. That is not bad for a practice facility employee.
These days, Semborski is 26 and still works in Philadelphia. While we wish no harm upon Carter Hart or Brian Elliott, we have to wonder if Semborski might one day get the chance to finally make history.
Covering the Flyers for THW | Lifelong Islanders fan, but promise to become a little more sympathetic to the Flyers | Also a 4X marathon-runner | UChicago ’19