I'm confident enough in the appeal of this story about a sports happening that I declined to use the "Skip This If You Hate Sports" tag.

First, a very brief dip into National Hockey League rules. A team forfeits a game if it does not have two goaltenders in uniform. This is intended to ensure that if one is hurt, the game can continue because goalies are not exactly interchangeable parts. You can't simply grab another player and tell him to play in goal, if for no reason more complicated than the dozens of pieces of equipment worn by hockey goaltenders having a custom fit.

A handful of times per year a team will suit up what is known as an Emergency Goalie. This happens when one of the two real goalies suffers an injury and is ruled out at the last minute. Ordinarily a team would call up a goalie from its minor league team to replace him, but sometimes (for example, a sudden onset of the flu the day of the game) it isn't possible. So, an emergency goalie is anyone they can put a uniform on and stash at the end of the bench to fulfill the "two goalies" requirement.

Note that this person is not expected to play. He's simply a guy who can put on a goalie's kit, sit on the bench, and if absolutely unavoidably necessary, stand in the net without falling down. Common ways to get an Emergency Goalie include putting a uniform on the team's goaltending coach (usually a retired goalie of advanced age), calling the local rec league team and signing the goalie to a 24-hour contract, or using one of the team's "practice" goalies (for example, the team equipment manager will sometimes put on goalie gear just to give the players something to shoot at during practice).

On March 29, the Chicago Blackhawks found themselves with one injured goalie replaced by a minor-leaguer, Collin Delia, who was to back up the usual second-stringer. But then the backup injured himself during warm-ups, making Delia the starter and leaving the Blackhawks in need of a second body on very little notice.

Just an hour before the game the team reached out to a local Beer League goalie – I imagine a list of guys to call in an emergency is maintained – a 36 year old Certified Public Accountant and just-for-fun hockey player named Scott Foster. He was playing with the other middle-aged guys at a facility right down the street from the United Center. They told him that if he could hurry over, he could tell his bar friends that he got to wear a Blackhawks uniform for one night. He took a cab and they slapped an ill-fitting extra jersey on him.

Unusually in what has been a horrible season for Chicago, the team jumped out to a 6-2 lead with 14 minutes left in the game. Delia, who played fine up to that point, said he felt leg cramps. In a more important game the coach most likely would have left him in, but in a meaningless game with a big lead and just 14 minutes left, Emergency Goalie Scott Foster was put in the game. A real game. A guy who worked 10 hours behind a desk and then took some shots on the ice (probably with a couple beers in him) found himself playing goal behind guys like Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith.

And he did fine. Winnipeg (a favorite to win the championship this year) was coasting in a game they didn't need to win, readying themselves for the playoffs. So it's fair to say they weren't playing their asses off. But still, this guy took 7 shots from the best players in the world and stopped them all.

Not much has gone right for the 'Hawks this year, so they seemed to enjoy this even more than Foster did. He was named first star of the game for what will undoubtedly be the only 14 minutes he will ever play in the NHL.

Imagine being an amateur church choir singer and getting a call asking you to rush down to Broadway to appear in a show in an hour. That kind of plucked-from-ordinary-life storyline rarely happens outside of movies. It was fun to watch it happen, and something about the story was obviously compelling to all of us and our boring lives – every media outlet in the US, and a lot around the world in places where nobody cares about hockey, ran with it. Hell, Money magazine reported it.

Something like this could happen to you someday. Will it? Nah. But it sure is fun to see it happen to someone.

17 thoughts on “NPF: WHAT A DAY”

  • Holy cow! I saw a post about this on Sunday on my Facebook feed and didn't even bother to click through to it—because it SO OBVIOUSLY was an April Fools post!

    Shows what I know. :P

  • This is an awesome story. Obviously because of the athletic requirements of most sports this could only happen as a hockey goalie (plenty of great basketball players, but a 36 year old even former D1'er couldn't possible keep pace in the NBA). Still, between basketball and hockey I'm glad it could happen for a player of one of those sports.

    I live in New England so I know a bunch of guys that still suit up for the beer leagues for their respective sports. I know 'love of the game' has reached BEYOND cliche status at this point, but really I know people that still do it weekly despite having to ice through some serious pain at the end of these games. They know they'll never be what they once were, but as a guy who coaches youth sports it always makes me happy to see someone participate in this stuff because it's fun. Not glory, not parents hyping up their kids as the next pro — just 'I like to play' and hence they never wanted to stop. The 12 year old in me salutes it, so it's nice to see it rewarded.

  • seniorscrub says:

    I remember a similar story happening a few years ago with the Philadelphia Flyers but under slightly different circumstances. They had somehow screwed up recalling a minor league goalie from a team that at the time played across the parking lot in the old Spectrum. The guy dresses and sat on the bench but luckily never got into the game which was a good thing because the history of Flyers goalies from 1976 to present is vast periods of suck interspersed with random stretches of competence…

  • I pay close attention to Marlins games in 2018 to see when they hold a raffle to let a fan pitch an inning. Two, if he’s better than the guys actually on the roster.

  • Ed, obviously the moral of this story is that YOU need to start playing Beer League (wtf does that MEAN?) hockey yourself ; )

  • The story of Scott Foster was well covered by Josh Levin and Stefan Fatsis on the Hang Up and Listen podcast last Monday. What a great story!

  • I think that all pro hockey teams must have a list of "guys who will do in a pinch" in every city they play in. There was a random local that ended up playing against the home team in an ECHL game here a few years back in a similar scenario (although I imagine that's more common since you can't call up a guy from the minors when you are the minors).

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