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We need backup! Tales of emergency goalies in NHL

Coaches, former all-stars, beer-leaguers make up recent history of EBUGs

by Dan O'Leary @DanOLeary25 / Staff Writer

Eric Semborski recently joined an exclusive, and often terrified, club.

He became a member of the NHL EBUG unit.

The EBUG, emergency backup goaltender, is not someone teams ever really want to call on, but sometimes it's the one person they desperately need and can employ under NHL rule 5.3.

Tweet from @PR_NHL: Rule 5.3 explains how Dwayne Roloson would be permitted to play for ANA should he be needed as emergency 3rd goalie.

When the Chicago Blackhawks learned No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford needed an emergency appendectomy before their game at the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 3, they were scrambling for a goaltender to back up Scott Darling. 

Enter Semborski, a 23-year-old youth hockey coach who last played for the Temple University club team in December 2015. On his father's 58th birthday, Semborski got the emergency call from the Blackhawks and was in uniform 30 minutes before the 1 p.m. ET start time. The Blackhawks didn't have time to get him a jersey, so they sewed his nameplate on top of Crawford's No. 50 jersey.

"I was at the rink in Voorhees coaching … and I walked off the ice and started talking to someone with the Flyers who started asking me, 'Where'd you play hockey?' and, 'What's your playing history?'" Semborski said. "I didn't even know what he was getting at, and then I asked, 'Why are you asking me this?' Then he said, 'Oh, Chicago needs a goalie,' and I just lost it. So he said, 'Go home, get your stuff, and if they're going to use you, they'll call you.' I left right away and 10 minutes later I got a call."

Semborski sat on the bench for all three periods of the Blackhawks' 3-1 loss to the Flyers. The Blackhawks pulled Darling for an extra attacker with 1:31 left in the third period, and Semborski said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville told him that if the Flyers had scored an empty-net goal, he would have gone in to play the remainder of the game.

Video: Emergency goalie Semborski on his surreal experience

Although Semborski didn't get any money for his day as their emergency goalie, the Blackhawks rewarded him and his wife with a trip to Chicago, and the Blackhawks honored him during their game against the Dallas Stars on Sunday.

"I can't thank this organization enough for having me out here and just giving me the opportunity to bring my wife and see them at home," he said. "It was pretty cool."

Semborski's story is not a common one, but it's also not unique. Injury, illness or any type of extenuating circumstance before or during a game have caused NHL teams to scramble for a goalie, especially when there is no minor league option available. Here are some recent examples:

Paul Deutsch, Minnesota Wild, Nov. 23, 2011

Paul Deutsch was a 51-year-old recreation league goalie when he got the call to be an EBUG. He never had played a game at any level as a goalie until he was in his late 30s.

Deutsch said he had last played organized hockey in 1978.

"Minneapolis Roosevelt Junior Varsity. Defenseman. 1978," said Deutsch during a media session he was surprised he needed to be available for at an NHL game. "I started [playing goalie] when I was 37 years old. Not very long. You know what? When you play senior men's hockey and you show up to the rink and there is no goalie, there is no game. So that's how I started playing."

That didn't stop the Wild from pursuing Deutsch when starter Niklas Backstrom's wife went into labor before a game against the Nashville Predators, making Josh Harding the starter.

The Wild were trying to fly in Matt Hackett, who was playing for their American Hockey League affiliate in Houston, but since the game was the night before Thanksgiving, the Wild were unsure if Hackett could get there.

Former four-time NHL all-star Mike Ramsey, an assistant coach with the Wild, was friends with Deutsch in high school, so he put in a call to Deutsch's St. Paul-based screen printing business. Deutsch arrived in time for warmups, but Hackett arrived in time for the game, and Deutsch was relieved of his duties.

Robb Tallas, Florida Panthers, March 3, 2013 and 2015

Robbie Tallas played 99 NHL games (28-42-10 record) from 1995-2001 but almost got into a game twice with the Florida Panthers since being hired as their goaltending coach in 2009.

The first time Tallas was pressed into duty, an airline was to blame.

Starter Jose Theodore was out because of an injured groin muscle, so the Panthers turned to regular backup Scott Clemmensen and called up prospect Jacob Markstrom to serve as the backup against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 3, 2013. Markstrom made it to the game, but his equipment bag went somewhere else.

Tallas participated in warmups, and Markstrom's equipment arrived at the arena sometime during the first period. 

Tallas' more recent adventures in emergency goaltending came on the same day two years later. Starter Roberto Luongo and backup Al Montoya were injured in the same game, and Panthers center Derek MacKenzie was sent to the locker room to dress as an emergency goalie. A skater hasn't appeared in goal since 1960, when Jerry Toppazzini went from right wing to goalie for the Boston Bruins to replace Don Simmons for the final 30 seconds of a game at the Chicago Blackhawks.

But the Panthers decided to dress Tallas, then 42 years old and retired for 14 years. In the end, neither Tallas nor MacKenzie got between the pipes. Luongo, who had changed into his street clothes following a medical examination, put his uniform back on when Montoya was injured and finished the game.

"I joked that the first guy walked off, the second guy limped off, the third guy would have been carried off," Tallas said.

Rob Laurie, Vancouver Canucks, Jan. 5, 2014

Rob Laurie, who spent 10 seasons playing in the minor leagues, mostly the ECHL, had taken to playing roller hockey. He had been an emergency backup for the Anaheim Ducks once during the 2012-13 season but did not see any ice time.

He got closer this time around.

The Canucks needed an emergency goalie after Luongo was injured, with their AHL affiliate in not-so-nearby Utica, New York, a mere 2,700 miles away. Laurie, 43, agreed to back up Eddie Lack in a game against, of course, the Ducks.

Near the end of the second period, Lack was bowled over in the crease by Ducks forward Kyle Palmieri. With Lack down on the ice, the camera quickly focused on Laurie, his nerves on full display.

"I knew the cameras would be on me too, so I tried to act calm," Laurie said.

His deliberate gum-chomping gave him away, however.

Lack was OK, and Laurie never got in the game. But if Lack couldn't play anymore, who would have been Laurie's backup? The answer was in the training room.

Dave Zarn, assistant athletic trainer, had suited up for practices with the Canucks on a semi-regular basis and his goalie gear traveled with the team all last season. Zarn has yet to appear on the ice during a game.

Dwayne Roloson, Anaheim Ducks, Nov. 2, 2014

Already missing starter Frederik Andersen, Ducks rookie backup John Gibson was injured during warmups for a game against the Colorado Avalanche. That left Jason LaBarbera as Anaheim's lone healthy goalie.

The Ducks goaltending coach at the time was Dwayne Roloson, who played 15 seasons in the NHL and in the 2004 NHL All-Star Game, but he didn't need to dust off his gear this time.

Arturs Irbe, Buffalo Sabres, Nov. 18, 2014

When Michal Neuvirth was injured in the first period, backup Jhonas Enroth entered the game. Arturs Irbe, the Sabres' 47-year-old goaltending coach, padded up as the contingency plan despite not having played in 10 years.

The Sabres, coincidentally, were playing the San Jose Sharks, who Irbe represented in the 1994 NHL All-Star Game.

In perhaps an even more amazing coincidence, Hackett, the goalie who replaced Deutsch in Minnesota in 2011, was on hand for the game and tweeted a picture of Irbe heading to the bench. Hackett was with the Sabres at the time but was injured.

Tweet from @MattHackett31: Heeeeeeesssss BACK !

Nathan Schoenfeld, Arizona Coyotes, Feb. 15, 2016

When Anders Lindback was injured during warmups for a game against the Montreal Canadiens, the Coyotes went searching for an EBUG for Louis Domingue. Head equipment manager Stan Wilson knew just the guy; his son-in-law, 31-year-old rec player Nathan Schoenfeld.

Schoenfeld is the son of Jim Schoenfeld, the assistant general manager of the New York Rangers and former Coyotes coach. Nathan got the call five weeks after his wife gave birth to twins. In fact, he was giving his newborn twins a bath when Wilson sent him a text message. Next he called his mother-in-law, asking if she could help out with the babies, quelling the fears of his stunned wife.

"She said, 'You're leaving me now, with the twins?' And I said, 'I'll call your mom, she can come and help,'" said Schoenfeld. 

"This was incredible," Schoenfeld said after the Coyotes' 6-2 win against the Canadiens. "It's going to take a little while for it to soak in that this all really happened. Five weeks ago, my wife delivered twin boys, and tonight I'm on the bench as the backup goalie in an NHL game. Pretty good year so far."

Matt Hewitt, Vancouver Canucks, Oct. 18, 2016

Semborski's story was great, but it wasn't even the first time this season an EBUG was needed. Matt Hewitt, a student at the University of British Columbia, was called upon to back up Markstrom when Ryan Miller missed a game with an abdomen injury.

Like Semborski, Hewitt was 23, but he still regularly was playing as an ice hockey goalie -- something we've learned isn't always the case in these scenarios.

Brett Leonhardt, Washington Capitals, Dec. 12, 2008, and Nov. 29, 2013

Prior to joining the Capitals' website production department, Leonhardt was a 6-foot-7 goaltender at two NCAA Division III colleges. That experience has made him a valuable member of the organization on and off the ice; he's filled in at Capitals practices when the regular goalies were injured or needed a day off. 

But twice he's nearly been pressed into game action. 

On Dec. 12, 2008, Capitals starter Jose Theodore injured his hip flexor during the morning skate prior to a home game against the Ottawa Senators. The Capitals recalled Semyon Varlamov, who was playing for Hershey in the American Hockey League, but the team was in Houston.

With the Capitals unsure if Varlamov would make it to Washington in time for the game, Leonhardt was told to get his hockey gear out of storage and signed an amateur tryout to back up Brent Johnson. 

"George [McPhee, then the Capitals general manager], kind of came into my cubicle, tapped me on the shoulder and just told me, 'Make sure your gear is down at Verizon [Center] and be ready to go at 5:00,'" Leonhardt said during a between-periods television interview.

He took part in warmups and sat on the bench for the first 10 minutes of the first period but was relieved when Varlamov arrived at the arena.

Leonhardt's work that night wasn't done once he took his pads off. 

"I had to do my job after that," he said in a phone interview with that was conducted after his work on the Capitals website was done. "I didn't get the night off."

Leonhardt left the Capitals for a job with the NHL in 2011 but returned as video coach in 2012. A year later, another goalie injury put him back in uniform.

Neuvirth was injured during warmups for a game against the Canadiens. Braden Holtby started the game, and since the Capitals had no time to get an AHL goalie to town, Leonhardt signed a second ATO.

This time, Leonhardt spent the whole game on the bench but wasn't exempt from his off-ice duties, which included breaking down video for coaches while in his goaltending gear.

Tweet from @SergeyKocharov: 2nd intermission for Stretch.

Jorge Alves, Carolina Hurricanes, Dec. 31, 2016

How often does an EBUG paint his own mask? Well, Jorge Alves did. That's because he is also one of the team's equipment managers.

Also, how often does an EBUG get in a game? Alves also did that.

Believed to be the first emergency goalie to ever see game action, Alves entered for the final 7.6 seconds of the Hurricanes New Year's Eve game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With the team since the 2003-04 season, Alves is also a former marine who practices with the team semi-regularly and played for North Carolina State's club team. When Hurricanes backup Eddie Lack got sick, Alves dressed behind Cam Ward.

Back to the mask: It was drawn by the brother of one of Alves' co-workers and paid tribute to his fellow equipment managers.

Not only did Alves paint it himself, he also continued to sharpen skates and perform his usual important tasks during the game. In full goalie gear.

Tweet from @NHLCanes: When the backup goalie is sharpening skate blades during play #HipHipJorge #CARvsTBL

Bobby Segin, Florida Panthers, Jan. 6, 2017

This EBUG could really sell himself as a goalie.

Bobby Segin not an actor, rather a ticket sales representative with the Panthers and he got his chance to be an emergency backup after Robtero Luongo was injured during warmups before a game against the Nashville Predators.

A former backup for UConn who didn't see much ice time, Segin is a regular at Panthers practice. His big hit doing his day job? Bringing "Star Wars Night" to life at BB&T Center.

The Panthers beat the Predators 2-1 and Segin didn't get off the bench. Still though, he had some great humor about the situation afterward.

"I'd like to think I'm 1-0 now," Segin said.

Tallas, who is still with the team as goaltending coach, did not get the call this time.

Tweet from @JamesonCoop: Bobby Segin: "I'd like to think I'm 1-0 now."

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