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Emergency goalie fraternity grows as Maple Leafs sign Canadian collegians

Jonathan Bernier took over for injured Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer, but what happens if Bernier goes down, too?Jonathan Bernier took over for injured Leafs goalie James Reimer on Thursday, but what if Bernier goes down?  (Icon SMI)

By Michael Blinn

When Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer was injured 0:32 into Thursday's game against the Hurricanes, Jonathan Bernier took over in the net. While one goalie replacing another is no outstanding occurrence in hockey, Toronto was faced with a dilemma: what happens if Bernier goes down, too?

Luckily, the Leafs were able to call on a couple of locals in University of Toronto goalies Michael Nishi and Brett Willows. The latter arrived at the Air Canada Centre and suited up, on stand-by while Bernier allowed a late goal in a 3-2 loss. Nishi suited up the next day at practice alongside Bernier and Reimer.

They aren't the first team to find a what amounts to a random goalie off the street, sign him to a one-day contract, and sit him on the bench in case of a serious problem. In face, the NHL, a forward-thinking league, has a protocol for such situations. From Rule 5.3: Goalkeeper:

In regular League and Playoff games, if both listed goalkeepers are incapacitated, that team shall be entitled to dress and play any available goalkeeper who is eligible. This goalkeeper is eligible to sit on the player’s bench, in uniform.

Over the past few seasons, the practice has made some headlines, with everyday people getting to play out their professional hockey fantasy, for at least part of a game.

In pulling on their Leafs' jerseys, Nishi and Willows joined a fraternity of emergency back-ups in the NHL, one that's grown in the past few seasons to feature beer-league goalies, ex-collegians, and perhaps most famously, the guy operating the team's own Web site. Here's a look at some of the more memorable emergency back-ups in the NHL:

Brett Leonhardt, Dec. 12, 2008

Leonhardt is possibly the most well-know emergency back up, as the former Division III Neumann College goalie had built up a cult-like status in D.C. as the Capital's Web editor. He filled in at practice on several occasions for the team, and at 6-foot-7, he instantly became one of the NHL's tallest goalies. Unfortunately, he never got to take the ice as Seymon Varlamov arrived in between periods and took his spot on the bench. His whirlwind of a night actually ended with him posting his own post game comments on the Capitals' site.

'Stretch' did eventually make it to the NHL -- as a video editor. He's still active in the big leagues, as he went back to the Caps in 2012 as the team's video coach.

Tom Fenton, Dec. 16, 2010

Fenton, a former goalie at Division I American International College in Massachusetts, was getting his hair cut when his phone wouldn't stop ringing. The 26-year-old Director of Game Operations and Communications as Division III Manhattanville eventually took the call and ended up on the Phoenix Coyotes' bench after starter Ilya Brygalov came down the with flu, watching Jason LaBarbara in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Rangers.

The story became a little stranger and oddly representative of how insular the hockey world is when it was unearthed that Fenton's college roommate is a good friend of Leonhardt's.

Paul Deutsch, Nov. 23, 2011

Deutsch, a 51-year-old recreational league goalie and embroidery shop owner in Minnesota actually skipped his regular Wednesday night game for a chance to serve as Josh Harding's backup when Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom was unable to play. Unfortunately for Deutsch, who strapped on the goalie pads for the first time at the age of 37, minor league call-up Matt Hackett arrived just before game time, relegating him to a suite in the Xcel Energy Center where he watched the game with his 14-year-old daughter and her hockey team.

Jordan White, Jan. 20, 2011

A 22-year-old student at the Univeristy of British Columbia, White was signed to a one-day Amateur Try Out contract after San Jose Sharks goalie Antero Niittymaki hurt his groin during the morning skate. Despite not getting onto the ice, White was able to witness an exciting goalie duel between short-lived teammate Antti Niemi and Roberto Luongo, with the visitors taking a 2-1 shootout win in Vancouver.

A Canucks fan, White's loyalties were changed for at least one night:

“I can be a Canucks fan every other night but tonight I’m going to be rooting for the guys on the bench with me,” he said.

Rob Laurie, April 5, 2013

Laurie played 11 years as a professional, splitting time in a few different minor leagues, though it was 11 years after his career ended that it got a jump start when Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller went down with an illness before a game against Dallas. The 42-year-old signed a one-day PTO, and served as Viktor Fasth's back up for 3:53 of game action until Igor Bobkov made it to Anaheim.

Dustin Butler,  April 10, 2013

After five seasons with the University of Calgary, 25-year-old Dustin Butler got his taste of the big time, backing up Luongo in Calgary for a 4-1 win against the Flames with Cory Schneider being too sick to dress for Vancouver.

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