Fans of the Arizona Coyotes who watched the team’s home game Monday night heard a lot of talk about the team’s Emergency Backup Goaltender for the game. It was the big story on the broadcast, drawing mention during the pregame show and an interview during the first intermission. For a guy who didn’t face a shot or take a shift, they spent a lot of time talking about Nathan Schoenfeld, a Scottsdale banker who got the call Monday evening when the Coyotes’ backup goalie injured his Achilles tendon before the game. Schoenfeld got the call, packed up his gear and hit the road, arriving just in time to miss the warmup but still be ready for game time. Had he not been the son of former Coyotes Head Coach Jim Schoenfeld (and the son-in-law of Equipment Manager Stan Wilson), he may not have been such a hot topic. But nonetheless they had fun with it and it made a nice story. The team was so appreciative of his quick response to their call for help that they awarded him the “Championship Belt” as the player of the game. I’m pretty sure that was the first time that a backup goalie had ever been so honored.
I worked in professional hockey for over two decades. I’ve seen a lot of EBUGs in my day. For those of you not in the know, EBUG is the official acronym for Emergency Backup Goaltender. Technically speaking, it includes any non-rostered goalie who is called upon to sit on the bench to satisfy league rules in a professional hockey game.
All professional leagues mandate that each team have a backup goalie dressed for each game in case the starting goalie gets injured. This ruled is designed to avoid lengthy delays while a team scrambles to suit up a replacement goalie. In the early days of the NHL, a team would have to dress a regular player to play goal in the event of an injury, meaning everybody would have to wait while that player got suited up in the goaltending accoutrements. In one famous incident, the New York Rangers found themselves without a goalie when Lorne Chabot got injured during a game in the 1928 Final. Lester Patrick, the team's 44-year-old Head Coach and General Manager, dressed and finished the game in goal, stopping 18 of 19 shots and becoming the oldest goalie to play in the Stanley Cup Final as he beat the Montreal Maroons in overtime.
These days, the NHL requires that each team not only has a backup goalie dressed for each game, but they have to have the name of an available local goalie to act as a fill-in goalie on an emergency basis. There have been several occasions over the last few seasons where this rule has come into play and some lucky men’s league player has gotten the call to fill in. In my years in hockey I’ve seen some very interesting EBUGs.
Probably the most interesting one I’ve seen was the time our EBUG was also our coach for the evening. We were in Winston-Salem for a 2-game series against the Twin City Cyclones. Game One devolved into a bench-clearing brawl that led to numerous suspensions on both sides. Our Coach was suspended because it was one of our players who left the bench first. Additionally, our backup goalie left an off-ice area to come onto the ice and join the fray, fighting the other team’s backup goalie. This led to both our Head Coach and our backup goalie being suspended for the Saturday night game. Luckily, our Assistant Coach had made the trip, and had some experience playing goal, and he was able to pull double-duty as both our Coach and EBUG. He was quite a sight behind the bench in full goalie gear (minus the gloves and mask, of course).
Another interesting EBUG story came out of the United Hockey League. One night the Fort Wayne Komets found themselves short a goalie and turned to their Equipment Manager, Joe Franke, to fill in for the evening. He took his place on the bench in full backup goalie splendor, hoping nothing would happen to their starting goalie, Pokey Reddick. Much to Franke’s dismay/horror, Reddick became dehydrated and had to leave the game. Franke took the net for the final 11:03 of the third period, stopping 4 of 6 shots he faced and even assisting on a Komets goal. The period ended in a 3-3 tie and the game went to a shootout. Franke stopped 3 of 4 shots in the shootout and recorded the win for his team, and legendary status for all Equipment Managers. He even made NHL 2Night!