Beer-league goalie on Jets' roster of emergency Winnipeg netminders
Gavin McHale, 30, ready in off chance another goalie needed during playoffs
Odds are that Gavin McHale won't end up between the pipes for the Jets this playoff season, but that hasn't stopped the beer-league netminder from dreaming.
"I just got goosebumps just thinking about it," said McHale, 30, one of a few emergency goalies in the Jets' roster with a normal day job who could in theory get tapped to suit up for the NHL team, given the right circumstances.
It's a rare day when someone like McHale gets that call, but it did happen in Chicago last week. Scott Foster, a 36-year-old accountant, strapped on the pads for the Blackhawks and played the final 14 minutes in a win over the Jets on March 30.
"The initial shock happened when I had to dress. I think you just kind of black out after that," Foster said at the time.
"It's tough for anybody to come in 50 minutes into a hockey game, let alone a guy who hasn't played in the [NHL]," Jets coach Paul Maurice said of Foster after the game in March. "A great moment for him."
McHale manages a website and works as a personal trainer in Winnipeg, but when he was younger he played at elite levels, including two seasons with the University of Manitoba Bisons' hockey team.
He mostly plays in local recreational and beer leagues now with his team Shake 'n' Bake, which he says is full of former pro, junior and college players.
"We play Saturday afternoons and I'm always home for dinner, and I've had a beer or two, so it's perfect," says the 6-foot-7, 225-pound goalie.
Called up to big league
The NHL revised its rules in 2017 to ensure each team has at least one emergency goalie at every home game able to fill in for either team at a moment's notice.
This past fall McHale says Jets assistant general manager Craig Heisinger called him up to the big leagues. Sort of.
I think everyone knows that if I go in it's a really bad situation for that team.- Gavin McHale
"When you see that name come up on your phone, you answer," McHale says. "He just asked if I was still playing, if I was interested in this opportunity, and of course I tried to seem cool but I wasn't. I was super excited and I obviously accepted."
Since then McHale has been invited to take in Jets games from the press box about a dozen times in the low likelihood the team needed him, leaving his gear in his car in the parking lot.
"I definitely don't have a routine," he said. "I try not to eat too much popcorn and just try and stay as ready as I can, because I think everyone knows that if I go in it's a really bad situation for that team."
'Craziest 20 minutes of my life'
For the most part his NHL experience has been confined to the stands, but once in February against Colorado, McHale was notified just after the second intermission he would have to get dressed and don an Avalanche jersey.
Colorado goalie Jonathan Bernier got hit in the head during the second period of play and was replaced by Semyon Varlamov to start the third period, with McHale rushing to get dressed as a contingency.
"I had to basically run down, get my equipment, put it on as quick as I could and just wait in the Avalanche dressing room," McHale recalled.
"Nothing happened but it was the craziest 20 minutes of my life."
McHale hasn't heard yet whether the Jets need him in the stands for playoffs — just in case — but he's keeping his "fingers crossed." He can already imagine how overwhelming it would be to be surrounded by a raucous whiteout crowd of Jets fans at their arena.
"I don't know if I could say on air exactly what I would say or how I would feel, because I know how it felt in a regular season game in February," McHale said.
"So that's going to be one of those moments where, like what Scott Foster said, 'You just black out.'"
A Jets spokesperson would not confirm who has been identified as possible emergency goalies for the team this playoff season, but said "Gavin will likely be on that list."
With files from the Associated Press