Last night’s Rangers-Sabres game served as a backdrop for a potential bit of history. No, it had nothing to do with the Rangers having a goal disallowed in three straight games. Rather, it has everything to do with the Blueshirts facing the possibility of entering a game without any healthy goaltenders.
When Henrik Lundqvist arrived at the Garden late Thursday afternoon, the flu bug that has been running through the Rangers hit The King hard so backup Martin Biron got the start on short notice. Disaster almost struck during warmups when eventual-hero Artem Anisimov hit Biron in the sternum – a shot that took Biron a few minutes to recover from.
With Chad Johnson not likely to make it to MSG prior to the start of the game, Lundqvist served as the “backup goaltender” but spent the night in the Rangers lockerroom.
Ranger fans know all about the exploits of Lester Patrick’s stint as an emergency backup during the team’s first Stanley Cup run. The 44-year-old “Silver Fox” had no other choice but to replace injured netminder Lorne Chabot during the second period of the Game 2 of the 1928 Stanley Cup Finals against the Montreal Maroons.
Back in the day, teams only dressed one goaltender but were permitted to use an available goaltender in the case of such an emergency. However, Maroons coach Eddie Gerard refused to let Patrick use Ottawa’s starting goalie Alex Connell. Gerard also nixed the use of minor leaguer Hugh McCormick.
That Patrick went between the pipes was not as crazy as it might seem. During Patrick’s playing days as a defenseman, it was common for goaltenders to serve their own penalties. While playing in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, Patrick often filled in as the “goalie” whenever the starting goalie was in the penalty box.
As history reminds us, Patrick allows just one goal and the Blueshirts win in overtime. The NHL allowed the Rangers to use New York Americans goalie Joe Miller for the rest of the series. After losing Game 3, Miller won the next two games while allowing one goal as the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in only their second season in existence.
It was not until the 1950-51 season that the NHL changed their rules in respect to goaltenders. The league mandated that all home teams provide an emergency backup goaltender, with full equipment, to be used in case of illness or injury to the starting goalie.
The NHL did not make dressing two goaltenders mandatory until the 1965-66 season.
Despite this change, the Rangers nearly saw another GM/Coach don the pads for an NHL game almost 41 years after Patrick did.
On February 9, 1969, the metropolitan area was struck with a blizzard and the Rangers were set to play the Philadelphia Flyers that Sunday night. With no cancellation in sight – and uncertain that either Eddie Giacomin or Don Simmons would make it to the Garden – Emile Francis leaped into action.
The Cat, 43, went into his magic bag of tricks and pulled out an NHL contract with his name on it. Francis signed his $1 contract as he was ready to face his first NHL action since 1952 when he replaced an injured Chuck Rayner in goal. Francis had played since the 1959-60 season in the Western Hockey League.
Francis was denied the chance to be the hero when Simmons made it to the Garden and backstopped the Rangers to a 3-3 tie with the Flyers.
Prior to the 1981-82 season, the NHL adjusted their rules to allow a team to dress and play an eligible goalie that is available if both goaltenders are incapacitated.
During the last couple of years, NHL teams have had to rely on this rule change in order to dress a second goaltender.
In December 2008, the Washington Capitals had to sign their web site producer to be their emergency backup goaltender – as they received special permission from the NHL to dress three goaltenders.
Brett Leonhardt, who played four years of Division III hockey, signed an amateur contract with the Caps. The NHL version of Joe Hardy took the warmups with Washington and spent the first 10 minutes sitting on the bench as Brent Johnson’s backup. Leonhardt’s dream ended when Simeon Varlamov arrived in Washington after flying in from Texas – where his AHL Hershey team had played the night before.
The situation came up again this past March when the Edmonton Oilers went hunting for an emergency backup goaltender. The Oilers were set to start Jeff Deslauriers against Vancouver; however, Devan Dubnyk’s nasty bout with the flu kept him out of the lineup.
According to the Edmonton Journal, the Oilers had gone emergency goaltender hunting earlier in the year when Nikolai Khabibulin was hurt and Edmonton did not have enough time to bring anyone in from their AHL affiliate in Springfield.
The Oilers solved their problem by bringing in Torrie Jung – a goalie with the WHL Edmonton Oil Kings. However, the Oil Kings were not at home and a goalie from the University of Alberta was not an option because they were away as well.
In the end, the Oilers ended up signing third string University of Calgary goalie Nathan Deobald to an amateur tryout contract. Deobald was no stranger to filling in as an emergency goalie. The lone game he played with the University of Calgary came against the University of Alberta in a playoff game.
According to the University of Calgary’s web site, regular starter Dustin Butler was injured in Game 1 and backup Jeff Weber was ejected and suspended after Game 1.
Deobold started Game 2 and made 27 saves in a 3-1 loss.
Interestingly enough, Deobald’s stint with the Oilers was not his first taste of the NHL. He spent time with the Calgary Flames as a practice player during the Olympic break as Miikka Kiprusoff was off representing Finland.
Given Lundqvist’s dilemma last night, it does give one pause to wonder what the Rangers would do in an emergency basis. I suppose they could use Derek Boogaard in goal, but why waste his slapshot in goal
I know that Rangers had used Chad Killam, a goalie with Division III Manhattanville, in the past as a practice goalie. I am not sure if he still fills in or not, but given how much money the Rangers are paying to bury Wade Redden in the AHL, if it would be worth “signing” a former collegiate goalie to serve as practice netminder/goaltender insurance. They could keep him around the team by finding him a job with Jerry Dineen and the video crew.