ST. PAUL, Minn. - Paul Deutsch's pals in his recreational hockey league needed to find a replacement goalie Wednesday night. The 51-year-old embroidery shop owner was going to be suiting up for another team: the NHL's Minnesota Wild.
The Wild signed Deutsch to an amateur tryout contract to serve as an emergency backup to starter Josh Harding for Wednesday's game against the Nashville Predators.
"Actually giving up my Wednesday night game," Deutsch said. "We play at Bloomington Ice Gardens at 9:45 p.m. till they turn the lights off. Tonight's the night. I can't make it."
Deutsch was signed after Niklas Backstrom was declared out for personal reasons. Matt Hackett was recalled from Houston, but his flight wasn't scheduled to land in the Twin Cities until about 6:30 p.m. and, with the holiday traffic, Minnesota couldn't take any chances of being short a goaltender.
Deutsch's improbable shot at playing in an NHL game ended almost as quickly as it started, though. Hackett arrived at the arena just before the 7 p.m. game time and Deutsch was scratched.
Wearing a pair of former Wild goaltender Manny Fernandez's pads, Deutsch participated in pre-game warmups.
"Pretty nervous and I just want to make sure I don't do anything stupid," Deutsch said. "Stay out of their way and do what I'm supposed to do, give Harding a break when he needs one and let the guys fire away."
Deutsch never made it to the bench during the game. Instead he watched from a suite with members of his daughter's under-14 girl's hockey team. Deutsch is a coach for the team and the suite was arranged long before Deutsch received a call from the Wild.
"Another goaltending controversy there, if he got in there, who knows," Wild coach Mike Yeo joked after the game. "It's great for him and he handled it great. Guys really enjoyed having him in there."
Deutsch watched the Wild win their fifth straight game with starting goaltender Josh Harding making 23 saves. He likely felt much more comfortable watching from the suite than he would have at ice-level.
"Told me I better be good tonight so he didn't have to go in," Harding said. "It was a lot of fun for him."
Deutsch's signing was not as unlikely as it seems for someone who last played in a competitive league in 1978, when he was a junior varsity defenceman for Minneapolis Roosevelt High School.
He is a good friend of former Wild assistant coach Mike Ramsey and has been used as a fill-in goalie at Minnesota practices.
And because of NHL rules, the Wild weren't allowed to sign a goaltender with professional experience. Deutsch's amateur tryout contract fit within the rules.
"It's very nervous," Deutsch said. "Practice is one thing. I have to tell you the game faces are on. I don't see that very often with these guys. At practice it's calm, laughing and ha-has. Game day is different."
Deutsch runs a screen printing and embroidery store in a St. Paul suburb and plays recreational hockey. He didn't even start playing goalie until he was 37.
"When you play senior men's hockey and there is no goalie, there is no game," Deutsch said. "That's how I started. I was tired of coming into the room and saying 'Oh rats, there aren't two goalies.' Guys would literally go home. So I said, "You know what, I'm going to play."