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A Day in the Life of an Emergency NHL Backup Goaltender

In a matter of hours, Jett Alexander went from enjoying his normal, every day school life to backing up the Colorado Avalanche. Here's a look at what happened in the time leading up to the emergency backup getting called upon earlier this week.
Jett Alexander

If there's anything sports fans can agree to, it's that they all love chaos.

And when it comes to emergency backup goaltenders, their presence is so rare that people just love the mayhem associated with it. On Wed. Dec. 1 – for the third time since Feb. 2020 – fans at Scotiabank Arena bore witness to a team using what's commonly known as an "Ebug", following in the footsteps of David Ayres and Alex Bishop.

With Darcy Kuemper out with an upper-body injury and Justus Annunen not in the city yet to serve his backup duties, University of Toronto goaltender Jett Alexander was called upon to take warmups for the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday. 

So while he didn't get to actually sit on the bench in an NHL game, he got to take the warm-up against names like Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar. He got his 15 minutes of fame, only for the St. Louis Blues to dress another EBug the next day.

Still, it's an experience he won't soon forget.

Alexander is no slouch of a goaltender. While much was made about David Ayres not being a real, competitive goalie when he was called upon, Alexander is very much still looking to make a career out of hockey. In 2017-18, Alexander, a Mississauga Steelheads draft pick, set an OJHL-record 10 shutouts, helping North York to their first 40-win season in team history. In 43 games played that year, the 2018 OHA top prospect award recipient finished with a 1.67 GAA and a .945 SV%.

Alexander represented Canada East at the 2017 World Junior A Challenge and played in every single game with some fantastic efforts. That season, he was the OJHL MVP, the league's top goaltender and the top netminder in all of Canadian Jr. A.

After finishing his junior career with the Prince George Spruce Kings in 2019-20, Alexander joined the University of Toronto last season, but didn't play due to the pandemic. He has one start for the school this year while sharing the net with Bishop.

Wednesday proved to be a busy morning for Alexander, with class in the morning, an on-ice skate in the afternoon – and then the phone call came from Leafs assistant GM Brandon Pridham.

"He called and said that one of Colorado's goalies got hurt and they needed me," Alexander said.

Goalies on a team's emergency backup program have a rotating schedule, with whoever is supposed to be on duty showing up to the rink with a free ticket in their name. By 5:15, it was confirmed that Annunen hadn't arrived yet and that Alexander was needed, so he started getting his equipment ready at Scotiabank Arena.

But, of course, school comes first. University is serious stuff, and dressing in an NHL game doesn't often constitute a reason for handing in an assignment late. So as Alexander was signing his amateur tryout contract with the Avs, he was also trying to finish a paper due later that night.

"I don't remember what I wrote," he said with a laugh. "It was just a bunch of words on the page."

Due to COVID-19 protocols, Alexander had to dress in his own changeroom away from the team. But to him, it didn't matter. As he left the changeroom and joined the back of the line with the rest of the Avalanche. Alexander knew he wasn't going to play, and was told shortly after that he wasn't going to dress in the game itself and that he was just going to take shots in warm-ups.

But to Alexander, it didn't matter. He was going to soak up as much of the 15 minutes as he possibly could.

"Seeing everyone there, and people were taking pictures of me and with me, it was pretty cool," Alexander said. "Just to share the ice with the guys that are out there, with stars on two of the best teams. It was crazy."

Alexander said the Avalanche players were great to him, considering he didn't really get much time to chat with them beforehand. The whole thing was a quick rush and he suddenly become a big talking point on social media as fans rushed to find out who was wearing No. 1 for the road team.

"Those guys understand how cool it would be for me," Alexander said. They do it every day, they were pretty welcoming, tapping my pads and talking with me."

But he also wanted to make one thing clear: while he was the last one off the ice, it wasn't to take away MacKinnon's tradition of being the one that usually exits last.

"I know after warm-up, the guys are giving me grief because I was the last guy off the ice while MacKinnon was out there. I wasn't trying to outwait anyone, I was told I had to be last off because I had to go couldn't walk by their team room because of COVID."

Alexander's dad was in the United States on business ("I called him first and he was just like 'Holy [explicit]!), while his mom was at home working on the farm – too far away to make it to the game. But because he already plays in Toronto, many of his UofT teammates were there to watch him in warmups – helping to share the special moment with Alexander.

Unlike Bishop before him, Alexander didn't get to watch the game from bench and instead went back to his usual spot in the crowd. He said it was funny walking around and nobody recognized them – not that they would without a helmet on. In a matter of minutes, he went from skating around with some of the world's greatest players to socializing with his friends and girlfriend in the concourse area. 

Not a usual situation for an NHLer. 

"One minute I was on the ice and then I was in the stands and nobody knew who I was. That was pretty awesome," Alexander said.

Bishop is Alexander's roommate, so they got a unique bond that very in the goalie fraternity have managed to do. Bishop was actually the emergency backup to Alexander – an EBug for an EBug – on Wednesday. 

"It's crazy to think that the both of us have done this by Christmas," Alexander said. "It's super cool to share the experience with him."

Alexander's time in the spotlight as the latest EBug didn't last long. The following night, the St. Louis Blues dressed Kyle Konin as the backup against Tampa Bay. But the list of emergency goaltenders that have actually gotten to dress a game is short, and Alexander will never have that opportunity taken away from him, even if he didn't dress for the 60-minute portion himself. 

"It's pretty special. I'm just kind of lucky. Just one of those things, you're in the right place at the right time."


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