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Wild's McIntyre has gone from fan in the stands to team's No. 3 goalie

Thief River Falls native is up with the big club after an outstanding -- and unusual -- journey to Iowa

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe / Wild.com

ST. LOUIS -- Zane McIntyre's perch for Wild games is significantly worse than where he saw his first one this season, but there's nowhere else the Thief River Falls native would rather be. 

Back in October, when the Wild was starting its run to its current position in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, McIntyre -- a former standout at the University of North Dakota -- was without a contract and without a job for the first time in his professional career.

On Oct. 23, a family friend was having a birthday party in St. Paul that would culminate in an afternoon at the rink and the Wild's game against the Anaheim Ducks. 

McIntyre's wife, Mallory, approached her husband with trepidation. McIntyre was, admittedly, still a little bitter he was sitting at home and not on a roster somewhere.

"Our family friends up at the cabin in Duluth, their daughter had a birthday and so they came down and had a party for her," McIntyre said. "So we went to lunch before the game, then went and watched the Wild."

When Ryan Hartman scored the game-winning goal with 13 seconds left in overtime to secure yet another Wild victory, McIntyre was sitting in some prime seats on the side of the rink, 100-level at Xcel Energy Center, cheering like every other one of the 18,055 in attendance.

"She was tentative to ask me," McIntyre said with a chuckle. "But I loved it. It ended up being a good day and we had a great time celebrating the family friend's birthday."

Now six months later, McIntyre has a front row seat to every Wild game, serving as the team's No. 3 goaltender behind Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Talbot.

It's a role that would normally be mundane, but No. 3 goaltenders have been the talk of the first week of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Pittsburgh's Louie Domingue, Nashville's Connor Ingram and Carolina's Pyotr Kochetkov have not only dressed for playoff games, they've played critical roles in keeping their clubs afloat as starters and backups have sustained injuries or been ineffective.

"You see it in a few of these series right now and they're in the net and they're playing a big role in these games and having a lot of influence," McIntyre said. "I'm just trying to stay ready, stay sharp and stay on top of my game."

All three starters in Pittsburgh, Nashville and Carolina sustained injuries late in the season and have uncertain immediate futures. 

In the case of Hurricanes backup Antti Raanta and Pittsburgh No. 2 Casey DeSmith, they sustained injuries during the first week of postseason play, forcing third-string netminders into prominent roles on the biggest of stages.

That was especially the case for Domingue, who entered cold in Pittsburgh's Game 1 against the New York Rangers midway through the second overtime in a game that was tied at 3-3.

Not allowed any time to warmup, Domingue -- powered by some spicy pork and broccoli he had during the intermission between the first and second overtimes -- ultimately stopped all 17 shots he saw in that game to deliver the Penguins a remarkable 4-3 victory in three overtimes. 

"It's pretty special," McIntyre said of what Domingue did. "It's kind of like the backup quarterback, right? You gotta stay ready and stay sharp because who knows when your name might get called."

DeSmith, who sustained a lower-body injury in that game, is out for the rest of the postseason no matter how far the Penguins advance, meaning Domingue -- who played in just two NHL games during the regular season -- is assured of being a key piece to the puzzle, even if starter Tristan Jarry returns soon. 

Luckily for the Wild, it has a pair of healthy veterans on its depth chart right now, with Marc-Andre Fleury playing outstanding through three postseason games and Cam Talbot ready and able behind him waiting in the wings.

Still, McIntyre said he'll prepare every day like he's the guy between the pipes, because like he said ... you just never know.

"The biggest thing I've learned over the years is you have to be a pro, be prepared to come every day ready to go," McIntyre said. "It's a lot of the same stuff [as a night he's playing]; have the same food, do the same stretches, get a little nap, and just try and stay in it as much as you can. Just treat it like I am out there and see it as if I am out there playing."

The opportunity to be with the Wild during its playoff run is the culmination of a dream for McIntyre, who grew up watching Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez lead Minnesota to the 2003 Western Conference Final. 

Drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 NHL Draft by the Boston Bruins, McIntyre's only NHL experience came with the B's in 2016-17, when he earned three starts and played in five others in a relief role.

Since then, the 29-year-old former University of North Dakota star has bounced around the American Hockey League, playing 24 games for the Utica Comets, four games with the Binghamton Devils and 19 games with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. 

When this season began, McIntyre didn't have a contract for the first month of the season and wondered if his playing career was finished. A couple of weeks after his trip to the X as a fan, McIntyre signed a professional tryout contract with the Tucson Roadrunners, a young team that badly needed some veteran leadership and a good human in the locker room, as well as someone who could perform on the ice.

But his stay in the desert was short-lived. By early January, McIntyre was signed to a two-way contract with his homestate club, a team whose organizational depth in the crease had been hard hit by injuries.

Iowa, in the midst of a potential playoff season, needed someone who could step in and play. A surge in COVID-19 cases also prompted the return of taxi squads, so the big club would need a No. 3 goaltender just in case. 

McIntyre fit the bill as a talented goalie with experience who is also a model citizen off the ice.

"A couple of teams called when I was in Tucson, but one of them fell through. The other was Minnesota," McIntyre said. "It was a weekly process, just because of COVID. It was ramping up and it was tricky in that respect because being in Arizona, they didn't know what was going to happen with the taxi squad there either. 

"And likewise here, they needed someone to come in and fill that void. It was about a two-week to three-week process to negotiate and figure something out and get me here. 

"It was interesting, but it worked out. And looking back, it has been such a blessing."

After spending some time with Minnesota on the taxi squad in January, which allowed him lots of time to work with goalie coach Freddy Chabot, McIntyre returned to Iowa and was leaned on heavily down the stretch.

He answered the bell to the tune of a 2.45 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage, a performance that provides the Wild with plenty of confidence should the unthinkable happen here like it has with other teams around the playoffs.

If it does, McIntyre said he'll be ready.

"Thinking back to the fall, and going to that game sitting in the stands ... and here I am now, up as the third guy," McIntyre said. "There have been a couple stops and detours, but I think that shapes you and you learn a few things along the way."

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