In the third period of a game against the Rangers two weeks ago, Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Jason LaBarbera made a big save but was slow to rise from the ice, seemingly injured.
On the Phoenix bench, before thousands of raucous Madison Square Garden fans, reality struck Tom Fenton like a blindside hit.
“Immediately it went through my head: God, I might actually be going into this thing,” he said.
He didn’t. But that night Fenton, by day a Manhattanville College graduate student, was an emergency backup goalie, or EBUG, one of a subspecies of Average Joe hockey players called upon to drop everything to fill a roster spot when a professional goalie is injured or ill.
EBUGs have become something of a staple of minor league hockey and occasionally find their way onto an N.H.L. bench for an evening. One thing they all have in common is they are not expected to play, and usually they do not. In fact, it is not believed that an EBUG has played in an N.H.L. game since the league mandated after the 1965-66 season that teams dress two goaltenders, the result of complaints that backup “house goalies” provided by the home team were not up to the task. Under the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the players union, teams may sign an amateur player to a one-game contract in an emergency.
Other EBUGs who have suited up for N.H.L. teams in recent seasons include Nathan Deobald, a Calgary drama student who was on the bench for the Edmonton Oilers in a game last season against the Vancouver Canucks. In 2008, the Washington Capitals dressed their Web site editor, Brett Leonhardt, against the Ottawa Senators until a farmhand arrived midway through the first period. And in 2003, Chris Levesque, a British Columbia college student, found himself in a Canucks uniform for a game.
EBUGs in the N.H.L. are generally not paid, nor do they receive a per diem. Fenton said the Coyotes paid him a little more than $100 and implied that it was for gas and parking. EBUGs in the minors receive $50 to $100 a game and a per diem.
Fenton got his opportunity after Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov had flulike symptoms.
“They tried to get their guy from San Antonio, but this all happened a few hours before the game,” said Fenton, an Ontario native who played for American International College and works with goalies on the Manhattanville men’s and women’s teams.
Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney said he found Fenton through mutual contacts in New York.
“I was actually on the phone with my son Donny,” Maloney said. “He’s 22, he’s a goalie, and he runs a rink up in Stamford. He’s pretty good. I was on the phone with him right before we got the call about Tom Fenton.”
He added, laughing, “I had to tell the kid that we’d filled the need and he was pretty upset about it.”
Of Fenton, Maloney said: “He did have two legs and skates and looked fine in warm-ups.”
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