By Jim Hagerty
CHICAGO — The Chicago Blackhawks were out of goaltenders when they called on a 36-year-old accountant to secure a 6-2 win against the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night.
Jeff Foster entered the game when Collin Delia was injured with more than half the third period to play. He was the emergency backup when Anton Forsberg was a sudden scratch. Foster had not played a sanctioned game since 2005, as a member of the Western Michigan University hockey team.
And what a contest to enter. The United Center was packed. It was Brent Seabrook’s 1,000th career game. But Delia had been proving himself with the Rockford IceHogs so there was no reason for Foster to believe he’d be anything but a standby, his customary behind-the-scenes role. Before anyone knew it, however, Foster was tightening up his pads, adjusting his No. 90 sweater and found himself between the pipes to preserve the win.
“It happened pretty quickly,” Foster said of his journey from the locker room to the crease.
The Winnipeg shots came just as quickly. The Jets knew a beer-league player was in net and the chance to close a four-goal gap had just presented itself. But Foster didn’t flinch. He shut down a barrage of quality scoring chances in what were possibly the longest 14 minutes of his life.
Foster is one a few emergency goalies the Blackhawks occasionally call upon. They’re usually just on standby, activated only if both netminders on the roster are lost to injury, which rarely happens. But the way Chicago’s goaltender situation has gone this year, anything was possible ahead of Thursday’s contest. As it got closer to puck drop, the more it started looking like one of those rare occasions. Anton Forsberg was a late scratch, which made Delia the starter, which meant Foster would be activated as the backup via a one-day amateur tryout contract (ATO).
Delia, who started the season in the ECHL, began seeing ice time in Rockford after Corey Crawford’s first injury and when Jeff Glass was recalled. Despite a spotty start, he became Rockford’s go-to guy. Delia was unbeaten in his last nines starts for the IceHogs before his March 28 recall and wasn’t expected to falter at the NHL level.
The Jets fired 33 shots on the Chicago net Thursday. Delia had 27 saves while Foster was 7-7.
“I’ll be back at my desk tomorrow morning,” Foster said of his day job.
Tomas Jurco had two goals in Thursday’s win. Dylan Sikura registered his first two NHL points, both assists. Forsberg is probably out for the year. Delia, who coach Joel Quenneville thought might return Thursday night to replace Foster, went on the team charter for Friday night’s game in Denver, where he will be joined by Berube.
Meanwhile, good old No. 90 was voted first star Thursday.
— with Bob Verdi, Blackhawks team historian