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Canucks call on college goalie Matt Hewitt

University of British Columbia student to serve as backup Tuesday with Ryan Miller 'tight'

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- Matt Hewitt started the day as a student athlete at the University of British Columbia, happy to sleep in on a morning without classes.

Before the day ends, Hewitt will be an NHL goaltender, at least for one game.

Hewitt will dress as the backup goaltender for the Vancouver Canucks against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, taking the ice for warm ups as an emergency backup to Jacob Markstrom after No. 1 goalie and scheduled starter Ryan Miller felt "tight" in the morning. Unable to get one of their own goalies to Vancouver from Utica of the American Hockey League in time, the Canucks will turn to Hewitt.

"This is the opportunity of a lifetime and a dream come true personally," said Hewitt, a fourth-year sociology major.

Hewitt first got wind of the possibility after waking up late to a phone full of messages about Miller's injury and talk the Canucks might need an emergency backup from UBC, something they've done in past seasons. A few hours later, he got a call from his coach, former Canucks defenseman Sven Butenschon, telling him the NHL job was his for the night.

"He said 'you are going up kid' and my heart pretty much stopped right there," Hewitt said. "To have the opportunity to dress for the Canucks, words can't describe how excited I am."

Tweet from @ubctbirds: That moment when @Hewitt30 calls his Dad and tells him there are @Canucks tickets waiting at the box office. #GoBirdsGo

Hewitt, 23, grew up playing minor hockey in the Vancouver suburbs, so he will share his special call up to the NHL with plenty of family and friends.

"To be honest I can't even tell you how many messages of love and support I have got," he said. "I already had a bunch of buddies tell me they are coming to the game to support me."

Hewitt won't be totally out of his element. He played three years with Regina of the Western Hockey League before going back to school in 2013-14, facing players like Jake Virtanen of the Canucks and Ty Rattie of the Blues. He also filled in at Canucks practice when they needed a spare goaltender last week, but admitted he had no idea what to expect when he walks into Rogers Arena and the Canucks locker room for the first time, let alone what it will feel like skating onto the ice for warm ups.

"I think that's the fun part about it - I don't know what to expect so I am just going to go in there and enjoy every minute of it," said Hewitt, who signed a one-year amateur tryout with the Canucks.

Hewitt's goaltending coach at UBC was able to offer a little more detailed advice because he's been in Rogers Arena and the Canucks' locker room. Alex Auld spent five seasons in with Vancouver and played 81 games with the Canucks during a 12-year career.

"I told him 'don't get in the way in warm up,'" Auld said. "No, the biggest thing I said was 'enjoy it.' You never know when you are going to get another opportunity like this and it's such a cool experience and so unique to hockey and goaltending. I can't think of any other sport where this can happen and the fact he's a local kid, he is from here, it's really cool."

It's not the first time it's happened, however. Hewitt remembered former UBC goalie Jordan White getting called up as an emergency backup for the San Jose Sharks in 2011, but wasn't around when the Canucks had to use UBC third-string goalie Chris Levesque in 2003. Neither was Auld - in fact that's why the Canucks needed Levesque.

Unable to get Auld to Vancouver in time after No. 1 goalie Dan Cloutier, who is now the Canucks goalie coach, the Canucks searched frantically for an option, eventually finding Levesque studying in a library for an exam the next day. During the game starting goalie Johan Hedberg was in a collision trying to play the puck, and the cameras quickly found Levesque on the bench chewing his gum nervously. Hedberg stayed in the game despite what turned out to be a broken bone in his wrist, but Hewitt admits he can't help but think about the possibility of playing.

"I never wish for anybody to get hurt but obviously that led to this opportunity to go up with the Canucks tonight so I'll do my best to be ready if anything happens," he said.

No matter what happens, though, Hewitt knows his NHL moment ends with the game.

"This is a dream come true for tonight but come tomorrow I am a student again," Hewitt said.

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