Thanks to the Florida Panthers, Bill Ruggiero and Dustin Smith are going to get their shot at the NHL. Well, sort of.
Ruggiero, 34, and Smith, 27, have been selected as the finalists in the Panthers’ “Goal of a Lifetime” competition that will allow the winner to take part in practice as a backup goaltender for a day. The two hopefuls became finalists by beating out 63 other participants that were selected from more than 1,500 applications.
ESPN SportsCenter anchor Linda Cohn was one of the competitors who took part, but she didn’t make the cut. She was one of four women who took part in the competition.
"I look around and see all these fabulous goalies that also took advantage of this opportunity to live a dream, that's why the Panthers called it 'Goal of a Lifetime', that's what it is,” Cohn told the Panthers website. “To be out on an NHL ice surface, you can't even imagine how great it is."
For Ruggiero and Smith, they get one final shot to achieve the “Goal of a Lifetime.”
The competition was created following the now-infamous March 3 game where goalie coach Robb Tallas nearly had to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs after injuries felled Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya, and now Ruggiero and Smith will get their shot to show what they’ve got during the first intermission of this evening’s game.
In order to pick up the honors as the Panthers backup, Ruggiero and Smith will faceoff against each other in a shootout. Whichever goaltender fares better against a lineup of Panthers alumni including Marco Sturm and Radek Dvorak will take the honor of putting on the Panthers practice jersey and taking the ice with the team for a skate.
Both netminders have a bit of experience when it comes to stopping shots under pressure, so it should be an entertaining competition. Ruggiero, a Florida native and the brother of U.S. Olympian Angela Ruggiero, has tended goal for the CHL’s Tulsa Oilers, ECHL’s Johnstown Chiefs and IHL’s Flint Generals. Smith, who hails from Nashville, suited up for Middle Tennessee State University and practiced with the Nashville Predators.