Reaching the NHL is a lifelong dream for many, and thanks to some innovative thinking, the prospect of reaching the League was reborn for some lucky amateur goalies.
The New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings held open tryouts for their emergency backup goalie position this week, rekindling the dream for some who thought their shot had long past.
The NHL tweaked its rules this offseason, mandating every team have an emergency backup goalie, or EBUG, available for both teams at every game for 2017-18, after three different teams needed EBUGs during games in the 2016-17 season. The Kings announced their open tryout Sept. 14 and received almost 1,000 applications. They whittled that list down to about 40 for their session at their practice rink in El Segundo, Calif., on Wednesday.
"I was really surprised that we had close to 1,000 applicants who'd showed interest," Kings goalie coach Bill Ranford said. "I think that's exciting for California hockey to have that many goalies out here competing in something that was a lot of fun but also I think guys were trying to get this opportunity."
New Jersey received about 400 applicants, even though the team did not formally share its application publically, and had 15 prospective candidates at its tryout at Prudential Center on Saturday. The Devils decided to choose their emergency backup via a public tryout after an office brainstorming session.
"We had something of a meeting of the minds in the organization and decided that this would be a really great way to find a goalie or goalies to help out," Sarah Baicker, the Devils director of content and communications said. "It was literally born in a brainstorming session in the office."
Steven Porzio, an information technology professional from New York who played club hockey at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and still plays men's league hockey throughout the Northeast, was one of the candidates selected who was able to attend the Devils tryout.
In a household of Rangers fans, Porzio found himself growing up a fan of the Devils and legendary goalie Martin Brodeur, and relished the opportunity to play on the same ice as the three-time Stanley Cup champions.
"I've been a diehard fan for as long as I can remember. I knew I had to apply and hopefully come out, so it was cool to get accepted," Porzio said. "You walk through the locker room area, and see all the team photos and the replica Stanley Cups and that gives you chills a little bit. Then you walk out there and try to tune it out, and it's like any other time you hit the ice."
Anthony Felice, who was an emergency goalie in the Devils organization from 2007-15, also took the ice. Felice, who teaches and coaches hockey at Rye Country Day School in Rye, N.Y., is 43 and just came off a knee injury but took his one last shot with the support of his family.
"I kind of told them I'd love to walk in the Devils locker room one more time and be a part of the team; I'd give anything for one more chance," Felice said. "One day there's going to come a time when you can't do it anymore."
The Devils and Kings each put their potential goalies through legitimate workouts. New Jersey had prospects Blake Speers, Brandon Gignac, Josh Jacobs, Kevin Rooney and Brandon Baddock shooting on the goalies, with each goalie also taking a round of shootout attempts against the players.
Los Angeles had alumni Derek Armstrong, Nelson Emerson, Brandon Convery, Jaroslav Modry and Daryl Evans on hand as shooters.
Besides facing NHL talent, the goalies also received NHL training. The Kings had Ranford on hand as well as Dusty Imoo, who was an emergency backup goalie last season in the Kings' American Hockey League affiliate in Ontario, California. New Jersey had Scott Clemmensen, its goalie development coach who played 191 NHL games with the Devils and Florida Panthers, to scout and give the goalies training.
"What a great opportunity for them," Clemmensen said. "For these guys who grew up dreaming of playing in the NHL like so many do, and that don't make it, it might be an opportunity or a little glimmer of hope where you can kind of live that opportunity, obviously inadvertently, but who cares at that point?"
The Devils and Kings both intend to select multiple EBUGs, since it's difficult for one person to commit to all 41 home games, plus potential Stanley Cup Playoff games. The tryout served as an opportunity for these goalies to live out their dreams, but also for the organizations to gauge what they have if they get caught needing an emergency goalie.
"It's fun being out here and seeing the guys and putting them through the paces and getting to know them," Clemmensen said. "It was fun for me, and I hope they had fun too, but the process being what it is it allowed us to see them instead of just seeing a name on a piece of paper. It was beneficial for both sides."