March 19, 2019

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Bisons goalie coach gets called up - way up, to the NHL

John Woods / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Washington Capitals' T.J. Oshie scores on goaltender Gavin McHale during the warm up prior to the Caps game against the Winnipeg Jets in Winnipeg on Wednesday. McHale is a womens' goalie coach at the University of Manitoba and was filling in for Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby who was not able to play.</p>

John Woods / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Washington Capitals' T.J. Oshie scores on goaltender Gavin McHale during the warm up prior to the Caps game against the Winnipeg Jets in Winnipeg on Wednesday. McHale is a womens' goalie coach at the University of Manitoba and was filling in for Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby who was not able to play.

Gavin McHale has a tale to tell his grandkids – one they'll surely repeat to their grandkids.

The goalie coach with the University of Manitoba women's team answered the SOS call from the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night to be their emergency backup in Winnipeg against the Jets.

McHale, 31, signed an amateur tryout contract and wore Capitals colours, backing up Pheonix Copley who got his second start in as many nights after stopping 26 shots in Washington's 5-2 victory over the host Minnesota Wild.

McHale, a full-time personal trainer, took the warm-up and even faced a few shots, the first coming off the stick of Washington sniper Alex Ovechkin. The 'Great 8' scored high. Then Nicklas Backstom beat McHale low before the lanky fill-in turned aside a deke by T.J. Oshie, one of a number of stops he likely won't soon forget.

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Gavin McHale has a tale to tell his grandkids – one they'll surely repeat to their grandkids.

The goalie coach with the University of Manitoba women's team answered the SOS call from the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night to be their emergency backup in Winnipeg against the Jets.

McHale, 31, signed an amateur tryout contract and wore Capitals colours, backing up Pheonix Copley who got his second start in as many nights after stopping 26 shots in Washington's 5-2 victory over the host Minnesota Wild.

McHale, a full-time personal trainer, took the warm-up and even faced a few shots, the first coming off the stick of Washington sniper Alex Ovechkin. The 'Great 8' scored high. Then Nicklas Backstom beat McHale low before the lanky fill-in turned aside a deke by T.J. Oshie, one of a number of stops he likely won't soon forget.

"I was hoping no one saw that. Uh, pretty star-struck," he told reporters after. "And then star-struck for the next three or four (shooters) after that until I kind of settled in and the guys said a couple of things to me."

McHale hasn’t played high-level hockey since the 2008-09 season when he suited up for two games with the Bisons men’s squad. Before that, he played two seasons in the Western Hockey League, split between Seattle and Lethbridge, as well as short stints in the Alberta and Manitoba junior leagues.

Now, he flashes his puck-stopping skills in a beer league.

Caps’ top goalie Braden Holtby was a late scratch because of an upper-body injury, although the details weren't disclosed. It happened too late in the day for Washington to call up a goalie within its organization.

At one point in the first period, Copley's mask flipped off  after a high shot by Winnipeg winger Brandon Tanev.

"I was thinking, 'Get that thing on as fast as you can,' " McHale said after.

He's part of a crew of recreational goaltenders who attend Winnipeg’s home games in case of emergencies for either squad.

"It’s definitely not something I thought would happen in the last 10 years since the career took a downturn. But it was a pretty exciting experience," said McHale.

"I think every single person in this room introduced themselves to me, so it just made me feel a lot more calm and they just kind of let me do my thing. They had to get ready for a game, so it just made me feel really welcomed."

After receiving a late-afternoon call that his services were required, McHale raced downtown from the U of M's Fort Garry campus and then let family and friends know he was lacing them up.

"I was actually at the Bisons women’s hockey practice and we were just finishing up and I had about 10 missed calls from Zinger (Jets assistant general manager Craig Heisinger) and a random Pennsylvania number. So, I got here as fast as I could and told everyone I knew.

"I had to fight with the traffic but I was weaving my way in and out."

His parents, Ian and Val McHale, got to watch their son's incredible evening from the press box.

"This is his dream come true to go on the surface in an NHL game," said Val, speaking with Canadian Press.

Added Ian, "His first shot in the warmups was Ovechkin. Over his shoulder," he said, smiling. "But it's OK. A couple of the other people have said that's the job of a backup, make the players feel good."

It’s the second time the 6-7, 200-pound former Portage Terrier has had his name on an NHL game sheet. McHale was the emergency backup Feb. 16 for the Colorado Avalanche in the third period of a 6-2 defeat last season to the host Jets when starter Jonathan Bernier got hurt and Semyon Varlamov entered the game to start the third period.

But that night, McHale never left the Avalanche dressing room.

"A couple of years ago, (Heisinger) called me and asked me if I wanted to do this. And of course, I pretended to wait a couple of seconds and then said, 'yes, I’d love to do this.' And you just pick your games and hope that that night you get the opportunity to dress. I’ve been lucky enough now that twice, when I saw that number... and that they may need me, it’s a pretty amazing feeling," he said.

Last year, the Jets faced emergency goalie Scott Foster, a Chicago accountant, at United Center against the host Blackhawks. He stopped all seven Winnipeg shots he faced in 14 minutes of work after in third-period emergency duty in a 6-2 win for the hosts.

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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History

Updated on Thursday, November 15, 2018 at 7:20 AM CST: Final

7:37 AM: Typo fixed.

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