As he worked on finalizing a project in his screen-printing and embroidery shop in Richfield last Wednesday afternoon, Paul Deutsch was gearing up for a big night. He was planning on playing hockey later in the night, but only after attending the Minnesota Wild game -- in a suite with his daughter’s Eastview U-14 team.
Late that afternoon, Deutsch got a call from Wild goaltending coach Bob Mason. It was just one of those typical phone calls asking if the former junior varsity defenseman from Minneapolis Roosevelt high school in 1978 could sign an amateur tryout contract and suit up for the Wild as a backup goaltender that night.
Instead of playing in a senior men’s league in Bloomington that night, Deutsch was going to be suiting up for the Wild and facing shots at Xcel Energy Center.
When asked if he thought someone was screwing around with him, Deutsch quickly replied, “No, because Mase doesn’t screw with me.”Niklas Backstrom
, who was scheduled to be the starter against the Nashville Predators on November 23, had a personal matter to attend to. The Wild immediately recalled Matt Hackett
from the Houston Aeros, who boarded a flight bound for Minnesota that afternoon.
Hackett was scheduled to land in the Twin Cities about 30 minutes before gametime, but with the night before Thanksgiving being one of the busiest travel days of the year, who knew if there would be some issues in him getting there on time?
There had to be a plan B, which meant the Wild would have to sign a goalie to an Amateur Tryout Contract, and per NHL rules, he could not have had any previous professional experience.
Deutsch fit that description. In fact, he didn’t even start playing goalie until he was 37 years old.
“When you play senior men’s hockey and you show up to the rink and there is no goalie, there is no game,” explained Deutsch. “So that’s how I started playing. I was tired of coming, walking into the room [looking around and], ‘Oh, Rats! There’s not two goalies.’ Guys would literally go home, so I said, ‘you know what? I’m gonna play.’”
But in Deutsch’s relatively brief goaltending career, he has faced more than guys with beer bellies and shots that clock about 50 miles per hour on a radar gun. As a longtime friend of former Wild assistant coach Mike Ramsey, he was often recruited to fill in at a Wild practice if one of the Wild’s goalies was given a day off.
Prior to taking the ice for pregame warmups against Nashville, Deutsch admitted this was slightly different.
“Practice is one thing, but I have to tell you the game faces, if you will, are on,” noted Deutsch about two hours before puck drop. “And I don’t see those very often with these guys. Usually it’s a practice and we’re calm and we’re laughing and 'hahaha' because it’s an optional. But gamedays are a lot different so I’m trying to stay out of the way and not get in any trouble.”
When it came time for warmups to begin, Hackett had yet to arrive. That meant Deutsch headed out there with the rest of the Wild team. When he stepped on the ice, he was greeted by screams from 14-year-old girls coming from one suite at the other end of Xcel Energy Center.
“I had no idea where I was going or what I should be doing,” admitted Deutsch. “Those guys get out there and they’re moving so fast and in one direction. I was like a salmon swimming upstream.”
Deutsch had to learn quickly what to do, so he took a queue from Nashville backup, Anders Lindback, who he saw stretching in the neutral zone.
“I went over by him because I just wanted to get out of the way. He looked at me and in his Swedish accent he said, ‘what are you doing out here?’ And I just said, ‘Same thing you’re doing.’ He said it was pretty cool.” Josh Harding
, who was the starter that night, took the brunt of warmup shots, but when a break was needed, there was Deutsch.
“At that point, I was having fun,” he said.
Deutsch came off the ice after warmups still not knowing if he'd be the backup goaltender or not. He got to the locker room and saw that Hackett had arrived, and he admitted that while him being on the ice would have been a disaster, he would have liked his night with the team to last a little longer.
“I wanted more,” he said. “I knew for the Wild’s chances to win, I could not play in the game. But I wanted the national anthem. I wanted the bench just to experience a game right there on rink level.”
“It was the greed factor coming into it, but I knew it was done, and that’s okay because it couldn’t have worked out any better.”
While it appears Deutsch’s NHL career is over, he’s still dealing with national media attention as he gets back to the screen printing biz. But he’ll never forget that special day in November and he made special mention of all the people that helped that dream come true, from Ramsey and former coach Jacques Lemaire to the security guards and ushers who helped him get into the building.
“It was really fun,” he said. “I felt like Mick Jagger for a day.”