On Thursday night in the middle of a National Hockey League game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Winnipeg Jets, an unfamiliar figure in a No. 90 Blackhawks jersey stepped onto the ice at the United Center.
“Hey, who’s this guy?” an announcer joked.
That guy was Scott Foster, the team’s emergency goalie, a 36-year-old accountant who hadn’t played in a high-stakes hockey game in more than 10 years. He played hockey for Western Michigan University from 2002 to 2005 and plays in an amateur league, albeit a high-level one composed of former college and professional players. His venue most of the time is not the Blackhawks’ United Center, with a capacity of 23,000, but Johnny’s Ice House in Chicago’s elite league.
Foster has never played in the NHL.
Less than 15 minutes after he took the ice, the Blackhawks came away with a 6-2 victory, and Foster emerged a hockey hero, delivering a performance that left everyone who watched it in awe.
How did the father of two and amateur player end up trending on Twitter and stealing the spotlight from fellow Blackhawk Brent Seabrook, who played his 1,000th-regular-season game that same night?
Foster is one of a small group of “emergency backup” goaltenders who are kept on hand, usually in the press box or the stands, in the highly unlikely event both regular goalies on the roster are hurt or otherwise unavailable.
“Among hockey’s great quirks,” as Hockey News explained, “is that it’s the only pro sport with the potential for someone not on the roster to come out of the stands and actually play in the game.” But, “it takes a very rare set of circumstances to open that door.”
Hours before the game, goaltender Anton Forsberg injured himself during a morning practice, according to the Chicago Tribune. Down to one goalie, rookie Collin Delia, the Blackhawks signed Foster as an emergency backup. Delia got hurt. Foster was told to put on his helmet.
Here’s a sampler of the play-by-play that followed from the Blackhawks Twitter account:
This isn’t the first time Foster has been tapped for the emergency backup role. In a postgame interview, he said he had been designated as the emergency goalie for 12 or 15 games this season, but his usual duties involved sitting in the press box and taking advantage of the free food.
So imagine his surprise when he learned that Delia — in the midst of his own NHL debut — had suffered an injury in the third period, and he was needed.
“The initial shock happened when I had to dress, and then, I think, you just kind of blackout after that,” Foster said.
The cameras trained on him as he made his way past a bemused Joel Quenneville, the Blackhawks’ coach, and other players. Despite wearing his hockey helmet, his eyes seemed to show bewilderment.
When asked if he received any advice before his big moment, Foster said, “I don’t think I heard anything other than ‘Put your helmet on.’ ”
It turns out no advice was needed.
Foster was an impenetrable wall, stopping all seven of the shots he faced, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
In the 14 minutes and one second that Foster played, the Internet went wild.
His spotless performance stunned fans, with Sun-Times reporter Satchel Price tweeting an all-caps reminder that Foster had “NEVER PLAYED PRO HOCKEY.”
His own recreational league chimed in, tweeting their support for the burgeoning star.
His feat even earned him the team belt, which is awarded to the player of the game, according to WCVB.
“This is something that no one can ever take away from me,” Foster said. “It’s something that I can go home and tell my kids.”
In an instant, Foster became an icon for adult recreational hockey players who imagine themselves playing in the NHL.
On Twitter, a user said Foster “is why we all keep plugging away in beer leagues and pick up games.”
Despite his newfound fame, Foster said he still has to go back to his day job, where he will trade his Blackhawks jersey for a button-down shirt.
“Who would have thought?” he said to reporters after the game. “You just keep grinding away in men’s league, and eventually you get your shot.”
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