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Devils, Kings Announce Tryouts For Emergency Backup Goalies

University of British Columbia goalie Matt Hewitt was an emergency back up for the Vancouver Canucks after No.1 Ryan Miller sustained a minor injury on game day last season. (Photo by Richard Lam, courtesy of UBC Athletics)

What do you do when both of your roster goalies are unable to play? In professional hockey if a team doesn’t have two healthy goalies available — if, for instance, a call up is unable to make it to the arena in time for the game — the call goes out for the Emergency Back-Up Goaltender (EBUG).

This year two NHL teams are being proactive in searching for a local EBUG by opening tryouts to the public. The New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings are taking applications for local players with high level competitive experience to compete to win the chance to become a hero. The EBUG will be available to either team, should need arise.

Since 2013, NHL rules have allowed for former pros to sub in as EBUG, but before that the opportunity was only open to amateurs.

The old rule mandated amateur tryout contracts, which led to a lot of memorable situations featuring local college students and even the odd rec league goalie suiting up for an NHL game as the backup goalie. It was a colourful list that included both a Washington Capitals website producer and a 51-year-old beer league veteran.

But it also left teams scrambling at times because they couldn’t use the same amateur as an emergency backup twice, so the NHL changed the rules, which previously required former pros to spend 24 hours on waivers before they could be signed – not exactly ideal for an emergency situation that usually includes not enough notice for the NHL team to fly in a minor league call up of their own.

Although in recent seasons, the EBUG has often been a goaltender coach or other staff member, the New Jersey and Los Angeles situations may indicate that opportunities for local goalies to stand in could be increasing. That could mean a return of the stories of  lucky local goaltenders who are asked to rush to the arena for emergency duty. Like Nathan Schoenfeld, a former college goaltender, who was giving his twins a bath when he got the call to dress for the Arizona Coyotes in February of 2016.

The Devils and the Kings are asking for goalies to submit online applications for a spot at tryouts. While there’s considerable buzz around these programs, they’re not simply promotional gimmicks. Whoever these teams choose will be filling a necessary role for the league and its teams and will have to demonstrate their skill in order to make the cut.

  • New Jersey is looking for players age 18-35 years old able to attend the majority of Devil’s home games and possible practices, who can bring their full equipment setup to the rink with them, and have have some experience beyond high school or youth league (juniors or NCAA, for instance). Applications are being accepted online until September 18 for a tryout scheduled for September 23. The team is expecting to select 12 to 15 candidates for the on-ice tryout.
  • To qualify for the Kings audition, players must be at least 18, have high level amateur competitive experience (but have never signed a pro contract), and be able to be present at all home games. There are thirty openings for the September 27 tryout.

This isn’t the first time a team has held public tryouts for an EBUG. The Florida Panthers held a similar competition in 2015, although that had more of the air of a fan contest. It came after a scare when both Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya were injured in the same game. At the time, the Panthers called on goalie coach Rob Tallas, but Luongo finished the game despite having been diagnosed with a fracture in his shoulder.

It’s a rare enough occurrence that an EBUG has to dress for a game, but the chance to make it onto big league ice is exciting in and of itself. It will be interesting to see if more teams follow suit and look outside the fold for emergency backups.

About The Author

Clare Austin

Clare Austin is a reluctant "stats nerd" living in Nashville, where she has never worn a cowboy hat or boots.