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Alves Lives Out Dream with Hurricanes

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / CarolinaHurricanes.com

Jorge Alves fought back tears behind a goalie mask he painted himself as he stood in the hallway leading from the visiting dressing room to the Amalie Arena ice in Tampa Bay.

Here he was, all 5-foot-7-inches and 175 pounds of his officially-listed self, outfitted in the No. 40 Carolina Hurricanes road white sweater with "ALVES" stitched on the back, getting ready to live out his dream of dressing for a game in the National Hockey League.

Alves, 37, has been one of the Hurricanes' full-time equipment managers since the 2012-13 season. On Dec. 31, 2016, he added NHL goaltender to his resume after signing a professional tryout contract in an emergency situation.

"I've been skating with the guys for years now, and it's always been kind of a joke around the locker room, 'Oh, you might go in today, you might go in today,'" Alves said after the game. "For it to actually happen, it was a pinch-myself moment. It was an amazing experience."

"I think it was a special night. It was a night he'll never forget," head coach Bill Peters said. "It was the perfect storm of opportunity for him, and it couldn't happen to a better guy."

"It was obviously a big day for him. He's worked hard for us," Jordan Staal said. "He's been out in practice a lot taking a lot of high heat from us. He deserved a day like that, and we're all very happy for him."

Eddie Lack skated on Saturday morning at Amalie Arena, but by mid-afternoon he had fallen ill.

"We actually walked back to the hotel together, talking. He seemed to be in good spirits," Alves said. "I was pretty surprised when I got the call this afternoon. I was kind of worried. I didn't know if something had happened to one of them, Wardo especially because I knew Eddie looked pretty good this morning. That was my concern. It wasn't immediately excitement. It was more concern."

Word then came from Hurricanes Assistant General Manager Ricky Olczyk that Alves would be signed to a professional tryout contract and would back up Cam Ward. Using his right pointer finger, Alves signed the contract on the iPhone of Vice President of Communications and Team Services Mike Sundheim.

Tweet from @NHLCanes: Jorge Alves signs his professional tryout contract to serve as the #Canes back-up goaltender tonight. #CARvsTBL pic.twitter.com/i3DOaTLlr2

It was real.

"First off it was, don't get excited because it might not happen," Alves said. "Secondly, when I did realize it was legitimately going to happen, it was kind of disbelief."

Alves, a native of Stoughton, MA, played club hockey at NC State University from 2002-2004 following four years of service in the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, NC. He has worked with the Canes' equipment staff since the 2003-04 season and had numerous short stints in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) and Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL).

"You run through the scenario 100 different times. Maybe it will happen," Alves said of playing in the NHL. "Then you get to the point where, OK, it's probably never going to happen and it is what it is."

And then Saturday night happened.

Tweet from @MikeSundheim: A dream comes true. Proof that good things happen for good people. #HipHipJorge #Canes pic.twitter.com/nu20NfFZM6

"It was a surprise," Alves said, searching for the right word to describe the night. "It's unbelievable."

Prior to warm-ups, Alves addressed the team.

"I just wanted to thank everybody for basically allowing me to go out there and joining me in this special moment in my life," he said. "I just said, 'Hey, I don't want this to be a distraction here. We've got a job to do out there.' I just basically thanked everybody.

"When I practice with the team, it's not like I get a chance to thank them. It's not every day you get an opportunity to skate with the best players in the world. Although I've had the opportunity to do that a lot, it humbles me every time I do it. I haven't forgotten that. Just the opportunity to actually wear the uniform in an actual game situation, I felt that was my time to get up and thank them for that."

Encouraged by his teammates, Alves led the Hurricanes onto the ice for warm-ups. Ward and the rest of the team waited in the tunnel as Alves skated a lap on his own, a typical rookie initiation.

Tweet from @MSmithCanes: Jorge Alves leads the #Canes onto the ice. #CARvsTBL pic.twitter.com/pNWyWc2mL1

"Yeah, I definitely didn't see that coming. I don't know how I missed that," Alves said with a smile. "I took a little wheel around, and I looked over and was like, 'Oh, OK."

The setting was a bit different, as Alves is usually on the bench during warm-ups, chucking pucks out onto the ice for the team to pick up. But the circumstances were pretty similar to what you'd find "Little Wardo," as Peters affectionately refers to him, doing at the tail end of practices: taking shots from NHL players.

"I think some of them were trying to shoot it at my glove and everything, but it was good," he said. "I got a couple bruises still from warm-ups, so I can take those home with me."

Tweet from @NHLCanes: When the backup goalie is sharpening skate blades during play #HipHipJorge #CARvsTBL pic.twitter.com/DBfeTgKoUL

When he wasn't sitting on the bench during Saturday's game, you'd find Alves sharpening skates or taping sticks in full uniform. Old habits.

"I can't shake the habits," he joked. "I have a duty with the team, and I wasn't going to break that."

Late in the third period, the Tampa Bay Lightning iced the puck. Alves was heading back down the tunnel when he heard the head coach shout his name.

"I'll never forget that look when I looked up at him and he said, 'Get your stuff on.' It was a dream come true," Alves said. "For them to think enough of me to just do that for me was really great."

With 7.6 seconds remaining in the game, the Canes down two goals and the faceoff set to take place at the other end of the ice, Alves took to the crease and officially recorded eight seconds of NHL ice time.

Tweet from @NHLCanes: Jorge Alves is a goaltender of record in the @NHL after coming in tonight's game with 7.6 seconds remaining. #HipHipJorgeWATCH �� #CARvsTBL pic.twitter.com/cS2sLKJXaS

"I just remember looking down the ice, seeing the puck in the corner and saying, 'Stay in that corner,'" Alves joked. "It was amazing. It's still pretty emotional for me. It was amazing."

"The opportunity arose to get him in, and I thought it was the right thing to do," Peters said. "If he would have had to, he would have made a save."

His teammates offered #HockeyHugs after the horn, and alternate captain Jeff Skinner grabbed the puck and dropped it in Alves' glove.

Tweet from @NHLCanes: ��: #HockeyHugs for Jorge Alves from his #Canes teammates after tonight's game. #HipHipJorge pic.twitter.com/D8IsE8qtDX

"You're kind of fist-bumping everybody. Skins came over, I'm trying to fist bump him and he's holding his hand out. I didn't understand what it was," Alves said. "I flipped my hand over, and he dropped the puck right in my glove. That was really special, and to come from him, it's classy for him to think about that for me."

Ward awaited him on the bench and gave him a glove tap before the two headed back to the room. Later, Alves found a congratulatory message from Ward on his phone.

"I've known Cam for a long time, and obviously we've shared the ice a lot in practice," Alves said. "I've always looked up to him as a goaltender and also as a person, so it meant a lot."

After the game, Alves spoke with the media like a seasoned veteran, in between snagging various scattered bits of equipment that needed to be stowed away for travel. Again, old habits.

Once on the plane, he finally had the chance to begin sorting through the deluge of messages that hit his phone from family, friends, players, former teammates, former coaches - the list goes on.

"Ron Francis sent me a message and he actually thanked me. I was like, no, thank you," Alves said. "There are a lot of people to thank for that opportunity, and it's something that I'll never forget."

Sunday is an off day for the Hurricanes, which will give Alves the chance to watch the broadcast and see for himself how New Year's Eve in Tampa Bay played out.

"I'll be able to soak it in a little bit and realize what actually happened," he said. "I'll get a chance to take a look at [the broadcast] and relive it and do it with my family, too, so it will be great."

Jorge and his wife, Amanda, have two kids, Madison and Jaxon. When he plays hockey with his son, Alves said Jaxon always wants to be the Hurricanes and assigns his dad the Lightning, making his first NHL game all the more fitting. When he plays hockey with his son now? Alves said he'd tell Jaxon, "Nope, I'm the Hurricanes."

On Monday, Alves will continue in his role as one of the team's equipment managers. But for one night - and officially for eight seconds in an NHL game - he got to live out his dream as a National Hockey League player with the Carolina Hurricanes.

"There were a lot of times, just thinking about the situation, looking down at the crest on my jersey and realizing what was happening. It just got really emotional, especially what happened at the end of the game," Alves said. "That's something I never expected. After the game, as I was taking my stuff off, I couldn't hold it back anymore. It was real. It happened."

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