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Fenton goes from college office to Coyotes net

by Dave Lozo

NEW YORK -- When Tom Fenton went to get a haircut Thursday afternoon in Purchase, N.Y., at the forefront of his mind was a Friday trip home to visit his family in Sarnia, Ont., for the holidays.

Those thoughts fell by the way side not long after he left his barber.

The Phoenix Coyotes called Fenton to let him know they wanted to sign him to a one-game contract because Ilya Bryzgalov was sick with the flu. There wasn't enough time to get a goalie from their minor-league affiliate in San Antonio, so the Coyotes tracked down Fenton for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

It was a life-changing phone call for the 26-year-old, who spent four years playing goalie at American International College.
It was also a call Fenton didn't answer.

"My phone rang, I didn't pick it up," said Fenton, who had less than three hours to get to MSG but arrived in time to back up Jason LaBarbera. "I eventually saw who it was so I picked it up after the haircut and called them right back.

"They basically said I have to get my butt down to MSG as soon as I can."

Fenton, who hadn't played hockey since his senior season at AIC in 2009, got to the arena in plenty of time and wore No. 35. He watched from the bench as the Coyotes fell 4-3 to the Rangers in a shootout. Fenton took part in pregame warmups and never saw any game action, but it's a night he won't soon forget.

What was Fenton's first thought as he came out for warmups?

"Good ice," Fenton cracked. "I wasn't expecting that to be honest with you. It was great. This whole place was electric. I know we always say that cliché, but once you're out there, it's totally different experience. Words can't really describe it."

Despite dealing with what had to be one of the biggest cases of nerves in recorded history, his pregame performance drew rave reviews.

"He was good. He was really good actually," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "It was talked about in the room, how good he was."

Fenton lives in Purchase and works at Manhattanville College. He's a coach for the ice hockey team and is the head of community relations and team operations.

Coyotes head of pro scouting Frank Effinger lives in Larchmont, not far from Purchase, so he knows the region. He scoured the area looking for an amateur goaltender and came up with Fenton. The team considered using goaltender coach Sean Burke, but as a professional, he was subject to the League's 24-hour waiver period. As an amateur, Fenton could sign a one-day tryout deal and immediately join the team.

It didn't take long for him to realize he was surrounded by the best hockey players in the world during warmups. There was also a moment when his heart jumped into his throat when LaBarbera looked like he could be hurt.

But the last thing Fenton was doing was wishing for a chance to see some action.

"My phone rang, I didn't pick it up. I eventually saw who it was so I picked it up after the haircut and called them right back" -- Tom Fenton

"I wasn't even trying to think about that," Fenton said.  "I was just trying to take everything all in. There was one point Barbs came across and made a pretty good save and he was kind of favoring his groin and I immediately started sweating on the bench.

"Goaltending's a little different. Just seeing these guys shoot in warmups was pretty spectacular. A lot of the guys can really wind up the puck. I don't know about (Marian) Gaborik coming down on me or anything like that."

Fenton isn't the first player to be plucked from obscurity in an emergency situation.

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 who occasionally served as a spare goalie at practices, 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 didn't have that luxury Thursday, as he remained on the bench through the game.

In a strange coincidence, Fenton has a connection with Leonhardt. Fenton's roommate in college, former AIC player Chris Campanale, is close friends with Leonhardt.

"Definitely not," Fenton said when asked if he ever thought he'd follow in Leonhardt's path. "I thought that was pretty cool. Never in my life did I think it was going to be in my shoes."

Fenton said when he first walked into the locker room before the game, he heard a couple of good zingers from his new teammates. One player told him he had to get rid of his stick, which had some AIC yellow on it. They let him keep his AIC pads, however.

To Fenton, there wasn't a single moment he'll take away from game. He said just being around NHL players is what made the experience so incredible.

"They were just great," Fenton said. "Keeping me relaxed and everything. The whole experience. I don't think I'm going to just point out one thing."

When asked how much money he'll receive for his one day of work, Fenton admitted he had no idea about the value of his contract.

"Oh, I don't know. I just signed the paper," said Fenton, who will get to keep his jersey. "I don't care if there is anything involved there. Great story just to go home with for Christmas."
Some things in life are worth more than money.
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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