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Coyotes sign emergency goalie to back up LaBarbera

by Dave Lozo

The Phoenix Coyotes got bad news before their game against the New York Rangers on Thursday night. Starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov came down with a case of the flu, leaving the team no time to call up a goaltender from their system who could get to Madison Square Garden for the 7 p.m. game.

So the Coyotes signed Tom Fenton, who works in the community relations department at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y., to a pro contract just hours before Thursday's game.

"I was getting my hair cut at the time," he told MSG Network when asked about receiving a call from the Coyotes. "At first, I thought everyone was playing a big joke on me -- a couple of my buddies playing a prank."

The Coyotes only became aware of Bryzgalov's illness after the team meal Thursday afternoon. They considered signing goaltending coach Sean Burke, a longtime NHL goaltender, but he would have had to spend 24 hours on waivers first.

Fenton played four years of ice hockey at American International College in Springfield, Mass. The native of Sarnia, Ontario, had a 1-12-1 record, a 3.60 goals-against average and .886 save percentage during his senior season of 2008-09.

It was also the last season Fenton played organized hockey.

The 26-year-old Fenton backed up Jason LaBarbera and probably won't see the ice unless LaBarbera suffers a serious injury.

"I took some warmup shots in practice," he told MSG. "I was a little shaky at first, but the guys made me feel really comfortable out there.

Captain Shane Doan joked during a between-periods interview with FSN Arizona that "we're trying to find a way to get him on the scoresheet."

The Washington Capitals went through something similar in December 2008 when starter Jose Theodore suffered a hip flexor injury and there wasn't enough time to get Semyon Varlamov to the rink from Hershey to back up Brent Johnson.

So Brett Leonhardt, a producer for the team's Web site, dressed as the backup and took warm-ups before the Caps' game with the Ottawa Senators. Leonhardt was eventually replaced on the bench by Varlamov midway through the first period.

Fenton won't have that luxury Thursday, as he's expected to remain on the bench through the game.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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