Garret Bodington waddled down the Barclays Center hallway in full goalie gear, wearing a white Vegas Golden Knights jersey. It was Oct. 30, and the 46-year-old Southampton resident was one injury to Vegas’ Maxime Lagace away from going from superintendent at Sebonack Golf Club to making his NHL debut.
It didn’t happen, but that’s not the point. Bodington, the Islanders’ emergency backup goalie who is on call for both teams in a game, had done his job.
“It’s happened a couple of times,” Bodington said on Friday night, on call during the Islanders’ 5-4 loss to the visiting Maple Leafs. “I stay in the locker room, the coaches’ locker room, and you’re nervous. Earlier this year, I was nervous. But I think you’ve probably played over this game in your head a thousand times, so if you ever get that chance to go in, you get good defense out in front of you and you keep the shots kind of outside.”
The spotlight shone on the NHL’s emergency backups this past week when Scott Foster, a 36-year-old accountant and former college goalie, stopped all seven shots he faced for the Blackhawks in the final 14:01 of Thursday night’s 6-2 win over the visiting Jets.
Anton Forsberg was scheduled to be the Blackhawks’ starter but was hurt during warmups. Backup goalie Collin Delia, who started, suffered cramps in the third period.
Since the start of the 2016-17 season, the home team has been required by NHL rules to supply an emergency amateur backup goalie who would fill in for either team. Foster did not receive a dime for his efforts, though he gets free tickets.
Teams have gone about identifying the candidates in different ways and, typically, there is a rotating roster of emergency backups for each NHL arena. The Kings and Devils held preseason tryouts for the position.
Bodington, who played college hockey at Rhode Island and still plays league hockey for a squad called Beaver Dam that includes ex-Islanders Steve Webb and Marty Reasoner, knows many of the Islanders through golf and played in the same high school league as general manager Garth Snow. He’s been helping out the organization since 2007 as a fill-in at practices or wherever needed.
“You can’t really match what professionals are doing,” Bodington said. “It’s really pretty incredible what [Foster] did when he went in. Whenever I skate with professionals, you have to have the right mindset. The right mindset is to be confident and a little bit cocky about it.”
The Islanders keep a blue home No. 35 jersey with Bodington’s name on the back for the games in which he serves as Barclays Center’s emergency backup.
The road teams travel with an extra jersey with a number but no name on the back, just in case.
On Feb. 9, photos were sent out via Twitter of Rangers emergency backup goalie Andrew Margolin wearing a home Blueshirt with No. 69 and “McBackup” as a name plate.
Though that’s usually as far as an emergency backup gets — strapping on some gear in the dressing room — Foster was not the first to get into an NHL game.
Hurricanes equipment manager Jorge Alves entered for the final 7.6 seconds of a game against the Lightning on Dec. 31, 2016 after backup Eddie Lack took ill that night and Alves dressed as the backup.
Until he entered the game, Alves continued doing his usual equipment manager tasks, such as sharpening skates, even though he was in full goaltender gear.
Of course, the most famous example occurred during the 1928 Stanley Cup Final, when teams did not carry a backup goalie on their roster.
Rangers goalie Lorne Chabot suffered an eye injury in the second period of Game 2 and the Montreal Maroons did not allow the Rangers to use Ottawa Senators goalie Alex Connell, who was in the stands at the Montreal Forum.
Instead, Rangers coach Lester Patrick, who was 44, inserted himself and stopped 18 of 19 shots in a 2-1 overtime victory.