Monday, March 09, 2015


Who Wants to go in the Net?

A little more than a month ago, I was privileged to sit at a dinner table on the ground floor of the B B & T Centre in Sunrise, Florida. That is the home of the Florida Panthers. The room is a bit of a hangout for hockey folk before the puck drops. I had entered with Nick Polano, a veteran of the hockey wars as a player, coach, scout and administrator. Nick works for the Ottawa Senators, keeping an eye on hockey talent in South Florida.

Another scout at the table was Mark Dobson, who works for the Winnipeg Jets. I remembered Mark from long ago when he played university hockey in San Diego. He hailed from Stirling, Ontario, and always had the best tan at the Quinte Sports Centre when he came home on breaks. Greg Stephan played goal for the Red Wings, and now scouts the league as well. As we settled in, another hockey guy dropped by to chat. His name is Scotty Bowman, and he is revered in hockey circles.

Scotty has a mind like a trap door, and really enjoys chewing the fat about hockey history. He recalled the game in Belleville when an errant elbow caught Claude Ruel in the eye, virtually ruining Claude’s career. That was in the days when the Ottawa Hull Junior Canadiens played against the Mcfarlands. Those were exciting days for us as young fans. The Canadiens wore the bright red Habs jerseys, likely handed down from the NHL team. They looked like the Habs, and that was all we needed. They played that dashing game so typical of young teams from that era, exciting hockey.

The conversation at one point got around to the use of backup goaltenders. Scotty remembered “Lefty” Wilson, the venerable Red Wing trainer, who would strap on the pads if Terry Sawchuk got knocked out of a game. Others threw out a story or two about other curious incidents that came to mind about odd goaltending incidents.

Lo and behold!! In last week’s momentous game for the Toronto Maple Leafs, when they won 3-2 against the Panthers to end the 16 game road loss record, the backup goalie question arose in a major fashion. In the first period, Panther goalie Roberto Luongo took a shot to the head. After a brief delay, he stayed in the game, and finished the period. Al Montoya started the second period, with the Cats enjoying a 1-0 lead. 

Early in the second period, Tyler Bozak tied the score on a power play goal. Aaron Ekblad returned the favour for the Panthers with his 11th goal of the season, establishing a new team record.

In the third period, the Leafs tied the score on a strange goal by Kadri. He had quietly positioned himself behind the Panthers defenceman, Brian Campbell. Kadri grabbed the puck as it came back to him off the boards from behind the net, and tucked it in as Montoya sprawled to reach it. In the process, Montaya sustained a “lower body injury” of some sort. I put that in quotation marks because those types of injuries look harmless, but can be very series to goaltenders. Flexibility is critical to a goaltender, always.

At this point, the Panthers have two injured goalies. Even goaltending coach Rob Tallas strapped on the pads, but was not required to go between the pipes. 

I spoke with a former tender during the pause when the Panthers tried to decide who would finish the game. Eddie Johnston spent 16 seasons in the NHL with Boston, Toronto, St. Louis, and Chicago. “For many years, we just had someone in the stands who would fill in if either of the goalies got hurt. Teams dressed one goaltender. I remember a game when I got hurt and couldn’t play. The guy came down to the dressing room. His knees were shaking so bad. I had to hold his knees just to strap on the pads. The first shot from centre ice went right by him! After that, he played pretty well!”

The Panthers are now four points behind the Bruins for the final playoff spot. The Senators are also in the hunt. Definitely a race to the finish line!

James Hurst
March 9, 2015  

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