Being a career AHLer can have its benefits.
It typically means you're guaranteed a job for most of your pro hockey career, even if it means changing homes every few years. Teams always need goaltending depth, and if you're a veteran with a long resume to build off of – and some extra hardware helps – teams will always come calling.
That's exactly the situation for J-F Bérubé, a 30-year-old with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Bérubé has been a force in the AHL for the past decade, leading the league in wins with 37 in 2014-15 before being a mainstay through various organizations. He even had a full-season run with the New York Islanders in 2016-17, playing in 14 games as the team's third goalie behind Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss - the only season of his pro career in which he didn't play in the top development league. In all, Bérubé entered his NHL return with 34 games played with three teams to go along with 123 wins in 240 AHL games played with seven teams in 11 years.
When the Blue Jackets needed a goalie to fill in against Buffalo on Feb. 20 due to injuries to the team's top three netminders, it marked Bérubé's first NHL action since a 4-1 loss on April 6, 2018 with Chicago - a whole 1,416 days later. Berube looked sharp, stopping 33 shots in a 7-3 win over Buffalo.
His biggest challenge, though, was against Toronto on Feb. 22, one of the best teams in the NHL. Bérubé was up for the challenge, making 39 saves in a 4-3 overtime win.
So far, so good for the 2015 Calder Cup champion.
Further north, Andrew Hammond has also returned to make hockey headlines. The Hamburgler, stopped 30 shots against the New York Islanders on Sunday in a 3-2 shootout win, becoming the fifth goalie to play for the Canadiens this season. The 34-year-old was picked up from Minnesota on Feb. 12 in exchange for career AHLer Brandon Baddock.
Hammond had to wait even longer between games, 1,425 days. Hammond's case was different because of just how dominant his NHL career started. Nobody will forget his 20-1-2 record in 2014-15, marking one of the most explosive starts by an NHL rookie in league history. And it was a bit of a surprise then, too, after his rough start in the AHL with Binghamton.
Hammond never really could regain his form and by 2017-18, he was back to being a full-time NHLer. He got into the one game with Colorado in 2017-18, a loss, before bouncing around teams and not even playing as a taxi squad member in 2020-21. Hammond shared the net with Zane McIntyre, Dereck Baribeau and Hunter Jones with the Iowa Wild but his time with the Wild organization had run its course at that point.
The Canadiens needed an extra body to give Cayden Primeau the chance to go back to Laval, and, even in a small sample size, Hammond looked good. The Habs aren't done with him just yet, and it could be a way for the 34-year-old pending UFA to show he still has something left in the tank.
We're not expecting big things from either goaltender, but their successful returns to the flashy lights and sounds of the NHL have provided some nice feel-good stories. These aren't two prospects waiting for their first opportunity -- they're two veterans in the latter stages of their career just looking for another chance.
Both stints in the NHL will likely be short-lived, but when you're living the dream, you don't take anything for granted anyways.