Winnipeg emergency backup goalie: ‘Just being there and being part of it is cool’

The record-setting experience of Whitby, Ont. Zamboni driver David Ayres — who tasted NHL glory at age 42 over the weekend — has introduced the wider world to an unusual little quirk of the National Hockey League: the emergency backup goalie, or “EBUG”.

Ayres was called up when both goaltenders for the visiting Carolina Hurricanes were injured during a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and improbably led the Canes to a 6-3 victory Saturday night.

The former junior goalie isn’t the only regular Joe waiting in the wings for a rare chance to suit up, however. Each NHL city has its own EBUG ready for action in case either team loses both goaltenders.

Here in Winnipeg, one of those EBUGs is University of Manitoba Bisons goalie coach Byron Spriggs.

“Props to David for going in there with such poise and being able to play the way he did… and get credited with the win, which is amazing at any stage, especially in the NHL.

“It’s unbelievable. I’m so happy for him, honestly.”

Spriggs, who came closest to tasting NHL action as the EBUG for the visiting Colorado Avalanche in a November game against the Winnipeg Jets, said the idea of potentially playing on the big stage against big-league superstars is a bit of a nerve-wracking experience.

“It’s a very intimidating experience,” he said.

“Let alone getting in the actual game… just being there and being part of it was really cool, and all the guys made me feel like part of the team for the hour-and-a-half I was there.

“Half of you wants to get back in the car and drive away and not come back. The other half of you says it could be one of the most amazing experiences of your life.”

Spriggs said the EBUG process involves showing up at the arena half an hour before the game, goalie gear in tow. In 99 per cent of cases, the EBUG’s job is just to hang out and watch the game. If they’re needed, they’ll be pulled away by a representative of the team to get dressed.

“It’s mostly just sitting in the press box and watching the game and potentially getting one of the biggest calls of your life,” he said.

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