This is a busy time of year for accountants. With the tax deadline fast approaching, overflowing inboxes and late nights in the office are to be expected. To make matters even more hectic, an NHL team might need an emergency goaltender to take the ice in front of 20,000 people at a moment’s notice.
Well, that has only happened to one accountant, but given how well he played, it could certainly be the start of a trend.
On Thursday, the Chicago Blackhawks put Scott Foster, a 36-year-old who has never played professional hockey, in goal for more than 14 minutes. He made seven saves and didn’t allow a single goal, and the Blackhawks beat the Winnipeg Jets 6–2.
Foster is an emergency backup goaltender, or EBUG, for the Blackhawks. To paraphrase the classic 1997 film Air Bud, there’s nothing in the rulebook that says an accountant can’t play hockey.
An NHL team only has two goalies, the starter and his reserve, on its playing roster at any given time, but the league mandates that a third, last-resort option be present at every home game. To become eligible, all the EBUG has to do is sign a one-day amateur tryout contract. The opportunity comes with no compensation, but the backups get to watch the game and will often get a free meal out of it.
Rule 5.3 of the NHL rulebook reads:
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. In the event that the two regular goalkeepers are injured or incapacitated in quick succession, the third goalkeeper shall be provided with a reasonable amount of time to get dressed, in addition to a two-minute warm-up.
Perhaps it is a testament to the durability of NHL players, but an EBUG rarely has to do so much as look up from his free dinner, let alone actually suit up and prepare to be called onto the ice. In 2009, a college drama student put on pads for the Edmonton Oilers after an injury to one of their rostered goaltenders. In 2008, the Washington Capitals asked their website editor to sit on the bench. In 2011, the Minnesota Wild signed a 51-year-old embroidery shop owner to a one-day contract after its starting goalie had to attend the birth of his child and the team’s minor-league reserve couldn’t make it to the stadium in time. None of those guys had to actually play, however.
Before Thursday, only one EBUG in NHL history had ever seen any real action. Jorge Alves, the Carolina Hurricanes’ equipment manager, played the final 7.1 seconds of a game in 2016. Foster, meanwhile, had to play for more than 14 minutes against a team that’s gunning for home-ice advantage in the playoffs. His time in goal also included a span in which he had to face a power play.
Foster, who lives in suburban Oak Park, is one of a handful of local amateurs the Blackhawks invite to attend games as EBUGs. “I think I’ve done maybe 12, 15 games [as an EBUG],” he said after his faultless performance. “Usually I just head upstairs and watch the game from the press box, have a bite to eat, head home.”
When Anton Forsberg, Chicago’s starting goaltender, got injured before the game during warmups, Foster was still en route to the stadium. The team kept him in the locker room after he arrived, but when Collin Delia, Forsberg’s backup, suffered debilitating cramps in the third period, Foster got the call to hit the ice.
The only advice he said he got before facing a playoff-bound NHL team for a quarter of an hour was, “Put your helmet on.” Players and team personnel rarely even meet their EBUG, and when Foster waddled past through the bench and onto the ice, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville laughed at the stranger wearing No. 90.
Foster played college hockey for Western Michigan from 2002 to 2006, but he looked far from rusty against the highest-level competition in the world. He is a rec league regular, and his buddies at Johnny’s IceHouse in Chicago watched the broadcast as he repelled everything the Jets could throw at him.
When the final horn blew, Foster’s (professional) teammates swarmed him in front of his goal. The crowd, which had been chanting his name during the final period, saluted Foster as he skated a lap of honor around the ice.
‘‘You think there’d be a lot of pressure,’’ Foster said after the game. ‘‘But tomorrow I’m going to wake up, I’m going to button up my shirt, and I’m going to go back to my day job. What pressure is there for me?’’
Standing tall as the world’s best hockey players fire slap shots at you is one thing, but it really can’t prepare you for the intensity of being an accountant during tax season.