Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via GETTY IMAGES
Richard J. Brennan
Beer league goalie Paul Deutsch says it finally dawned on him that being called up by the Minnesota Wild wasn’t a dream when a valet parking attendant at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul opened his minivan door.
“Here they were valet parking my minivan. There is a Range Rover is in front of me and an Audi is behind and here I’ve got my four-cylinder minivan with the company logo on the side. The valet guys were dying (laughing),” Deutsch told the Toronto Star Thursday.
All the 51-year-old owner of an embroidery and screen sprint shop in the St. Paul’s area — called up by the Wild on Wednesday as an emergency backup goalie — says the only thing he can remember about the trip to the arena is being really scared and in a state of disbelief.
After all, his reason for making the trip is one of hockey legend, the kind of story that gives hope to pickup hockey players everywhere.
“I raced home and got my gear and started heading down to the arena . . . I don’t even remember how I got there. I was thinking to myself ‘I can’t go into this game … I don’t deserve to be there.’ I was very scared because what if …,” said the season’s ticket holder.
Earlier in they day he got the call from Bob Mason, the Wild’s goalie coach and golfing buddy, saying he had to sign a contract right away because he was needed immediately as an emergency backup to starter Josh Harding for Wednesday’s game against the Nashville Predators.
“I got called at 3 p.m. and I was probably at the arena by 4:30 p.m.,” said Deutsch, who joked that it did mean having to give up his regular Wednesday night game.
Because of NHL rules, the Wild weren’t allowed to sign a goaltender with professional experience. Deutsch’s amateur tryout contract fit within the rules.
Almost a year ago, a desperate Phoenix Coyote team in a game against the Rangers turned to Tom Fenton, a 26-year-old graduate student former goalie from Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. The Canadian-born Fenton too didn’t get into the game but has a story to tell his grandkids.
While Deutsch is no stranger to some of the Wild brass — he’s a good friend of former Wild assistant coach Mike Ramsey — and has been the practice goalie for a number of years for the team, this call was entirely different. He was one injury away from having the professional spotlight on him.
Deutsch, who didn’t even start playing goalie until he was 37, was signed after Niklas Backstrom was declared out for personal reasons. And it was unclear if the night before the U.S. Thanksgiving whether Matt Hackett, being recalled from Houston, could make it to the Twin Cities in time.
“I was very scared because here we were talking about Hackett coming from Houston on Thanksgiving eve. ‘Come on, how’s going to do that?’”
Deutsch’s improbable shot at playing in an NHL game ended almost as quickly as it started when Hackett arrived at the arena just before the 7 p.m. game time and Deutsch was scratched.
He did however get out on the ice for about a minute or so during the warm-ups and better yet, he gets to keep his jersey. Chuck Fletcher, the Wild general manager, has also promised a copy of his NHL contract.
“This is something that I didn’t even realize, on that ice for a warm-up there are 40 men out there, big guys … and there is nowhere to go. And I couldn’t get out of the way. I almost clipped (Minnesota Wild forward Brad) Staubitz with my stick. He came over and said ‘can you imagine if you cut me during warm-ups.’ I was just a buffoon out there,” Deutsch said.
After the warm-up was over he discovered that Hackett had arrived in time. Deutsch’s locker had already been cleaned out to make way for the NHLer.
“Reality hit in a hurry. I was just gone. And there was my little chair with towel on it sitting in the room off the locker room where the sewing machine is and the skate sharpener and that stuff,” Deutsch said.
Deutsch stuck around to sit in on Wild coach Mike Yeo’s pre-game team meeting before taking his equipment off and heading to a suite with members of his daughter’s under-14 girls hockey team, which he coaches. He watched his beloved Wild win their fifth straight game with Harding making 23 saves.
“The whole thing was pretty cool,” he told the Star, adding he hopes he doesn’t have to pay for the puck he threw into the crowd as a souvenir.