Niittymaki hurt, Sharks sign emergency college backup
InGoal Magazine Speaks with University of British Columbia Goalie on his way to NHL
New: Scroll to bottom for post-game video as Jordan spoke with InGoal
Jordan White’s day started normally enough.
First there were classes at the University of British Columbia, followed by an early afternoon practice with the varsity Thunderbirds. But things changed quickly after he was called into the coach’s office while putting on the pads for practice, and by the time his day was over, Jordan White was in the NHL.
After losing goalie Antero Niittymaki to a groin injury during the morning skate and placing him on the injured reserve, the San Jose Sharks needed a backup for Thursday night’s game against the Canucks. Unable to get one of their minor-league goalies to Vancouver in time, the Sharks signed White to a one-day amateur tryout.
“My goalie coach Jeff [Battah] had a little smirk on his face so something seemed odd,” White told InGoal Magazine as he waited to board the Sharks bus to the game, admitting he was nervous about being called in by the coach. “Then they told me and I was kind of overwhelmed with excitement. It was surreal.”
But it was not hard to believe, insisted White, A 22-year-old in his second season in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport league. White said he’d already read about Phoenix signing former college goalie Tom Fenton to back up against the Rangers after Ilya Bryzgalov got sick on an Eastern road trip earlier this season, and recalled Washington using website worker Brett Leonhardt, another ex-college target, to fill in for warm ups and the first period two years ago when Jose Theodore hurt his hip and Semyon Varlamov couldn’t get to the rink in time.
As a long-time Canucks fan, however, White mostly remembered Vancouver signing UBC third-stringer Chris Levesque under eerily similar circumstances in December, 2003. Levesque, who almost missed his chance because he was studying for a final exam in one of the campus’s half-dozen libraries and no one could find him, nearly got into the game after starter Johan Hedberg was injured in a collision.
With Hedberg lying in a motionless heap, television camera’s quickly found Levesque on the bench, chewing his gum so hard and fast it looked like he too might soon require medical attention.
“I totally remember seeing Hedberg on the ice and him being so nervous he might have to go in,” White said.
What most don’t remember is Hedberg revealing a few days later he had broken his wrist in the collision, but stayed in because of the backup situation. That didn’t keep Pittsburgh from using an emergency back up in Vancouver last season, but at least the young Russian Alexander Pechurski was drafted by the Penguins.
Starter Marc-Andre Fleury broke the ring finger during a win in Edmonton the night before playing in Vancouver, and regular backup Brent Johnson was already out with a lower body injury, so the Pens started John Curry, and signed 19-year-old Pechurski, a prospect playing junior in Tri-City, to a one-day amateur contract. But after Curry was lit up for five goals on 14 shots less than five minutes into the second period, Pechurski, who had played the night before in the Western Hockey League, took over. Despite wearing Fluery’s pads because his were not approved by the NHL, Pechurski stopped 12 of 13, many of them brilliant saves and was named third star.
That, not Levesque, is how White envisions any opportunity he gets.
“Hopefully for the Sharks and goalie [Antti Niemi] that doesn’t happen but if opportunity arises I would definitely jump on it,” he said. “It would be definitely be nervous excitement, but you’d want to perform well.”
White, who has played both major junior in the Western Hockey League and junior-A in the tier-2 BCHL, has done just that in the past.
In 2007, he led the Prince George Spruce Kings to an unlikely spot in the Royal Bank Cup finals at the Junior-A national championships by making 91 saves in a 5-overtime win in a semi final win over the heavily favoured Camrose Kodiaks. White also spent parts of three seasons with Prince George’s team in the WHL, as well as a stint with the major junior Portland Winter Hawks before going back to school last season.
Unlike Levesque, who rarely played and was 0-4-1 with a 4.77 goals-against average when he got the call, White has started all 18 games for UBC and is 7-7-4 with a 3.51 goals against and .876 save percentage.
“He was excited but I don’t think this will phase him,” said Battah, who has also coached in the WHL. “He’s been our MVP. We don’t score a lot, kind of grind it out, so as he goes, we go.”
As Battah predicted, White certainly didn’t let the opportunity to be an NHL goalie for a day throw his routine at UBC off. He finished dressing for practice after getting the news about his once-in-a-lifetime call up, and went back out for practice, taking a break from taking shots to sign the necessary paperwork when it was ready.
“It’s not like a negative nervousness,” White said later of his mental state going to the game.
White should also be more comfortable in The Show because he played major junior with Sharks’ forward Devin Setoguchi in Prince George. But that doesn’t mean White wasn’t still in awe of some other new teammates.
“A lot of these players are just guys I’ve seen playing for Team Canada or on TV before,” White said. “So it’s going to be an amazing, positive experience just to meet them and watch them go through their trade for the day.”
A native of the nearby suburb of White Rock, White said his mom and dad will be at the game, and expects a lot of friends to make the short trip. But they won’t be cheering for him.
“They’re all Canucks fans so it’s ‘good luck, have fun but I hope you guys lose,'” White said. “So it’s been comical.”
And just a little surreal too.