The NHL Backup Goaltender Phenomenon- Amateur Hour

Who doesn’t like a nice feel good story? A cat rescued from a tree? A dog surfing? Imagine this; Pavelec, a few hours before game time for the Jets twists his ankle, nothing serious but he won’t be playing. Mason will start but no time to call up someone like Pasquale from the St John’s farm team. The only option besides not having a back-up at all, a bad situation for any NHL team, would be to contact the nearest local amateur player from a team such as the University of Manitoba Bisons, sign him on a one day trial contract and hope for the best.

This situation is not uncommon in the NHL and has happened several times in the past decade. Below are some recent examples of amateurs called up for NHL games and their stories.


Chris Levesque

9 December 2003, Pittsburgh Penguins at Vancouver Canucks

The morning of the big game against the Penguins, Dan Cloutier injured his groin resulting in backup Johan Hedberg listed as the starter. Manitoba Moose goalie Alex Auld was over East so the Canucks were forced to sign University of British Columbia Thunderbirds second backup goaltender Chris Levesque, the only goalie eligible by the NHL to play the game on the same day due to a one-time exemption from the Canadian Inter-University Sport rules. Levesque was almost called into action when Hedberg collided with a Penguins player but was ultimately the designated door opener for the Canucks team.


Tom Fenton

16 December 2010, Phoenix Coyotes at New York Rangers

On game day, Phoenix starting goaltender Bryzgalov had a case of the flu and was unable to play. Labarbara was going to start but with no goalie in the area besides coach Sean Burke who would have required a 24 hour waiver period to play due to being a former NHL player, the Coyotes found Sarnia, Ontario’s  Tom Fenton as he had never played in an NHL game and had played 4 years of hockey at the American International College (located close to Madison Square Gardens in Springfield, MA). As shown in the interview, Fenton missed the original call as he was getting a haircut  and thought the actual call was a prank. Tom never saw any game time but as usually happens in these cases, got to keep both the personalized jersey and the story to share with his buddies.


Jordan White

20 January 2011, San Jose Sharks at Vancouver Canucks

Usually stopping shots for UBC in Vancouver, Canucks fan Jordan White received a phone call he would never forget from the San Jose Sharks asking him to be their number two goaltender after an injury to regular backup Antero Niittymaki. I was actually at this game and Jordan looked nervous but not out-of-place wearing the number 35 for San Jose. Though just cheering the Sharks on from the bench for the duration of the game, White’s Sharks beat the Canucks 2-1 at Rogers Arena and coach Todd McLellan commented  “Whitey may be our good-luck charm, We had the fathers for the first two games of the (winning streak) and Whitey for this one. Maybe we need to keep him around for a few more.”