Not even in his wildest dreams.
Little did he know while getting a holiday haircut Thursday that the wheels were already in motion to give him his one day of NHL glory. And that’s all it was for the former college goalie. Fenton earned the story of a lifetime, but not one penny of pay from the desperate Phoenix Coyotes.
The 26-year-old graduate student and hockey coach from Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y., couldn’t care less.
Fenton signed a one-day amateur contract to be an emergency backup for the Coyotes. He never got into the game _ a 4-3 shootout loss to the New York Rangers _ but he was the most sought after interview subject during and after it.
“Oh, I don’t know. I just signed the paper,” Fenton said when asked if he would be paid. “I think it’s like a tryout contract, so I’m not even sure if there is anything involved there.”
Fenton found the spotlight when Ilya Bryzgalov, the Coyotes‘ No. 1 goalie, came down with the flu Thursday, hours before a game at Madison Square Garden. That left the starting assignment in the hands of Jason LaBarbera and created a void behind him. With no time to summon another backup goalie from their AHL affiliate in San Antonio, the Coyotes were left scrambling.
“Somehow my name got thrown out there,” Fenton said after the game, still smiling broadly. “I got the call, and I guess I just called back quicker than the other guys.”
Once Bryzgalov was ruled out of the game, Frank Effinger _ the Coyotes‘ director of professional scouting _ scurried to uncover some spare goalie to get the club through the second game of a six-game road trip. Ability was a secondary priority, because no one expected anyone but the veteran journeyman LaBarbera to handle the playing duties.
The first thought was to suit up goalie coach Sean Burke, but waiver rules and contract issues quickly quashed that plan. Burke, who won 324 games over 18 NHL seasons for eight franchises, would’ve had to be signed to a full-season deal and clear waivers to be eligible to play.
So Effinger, the winningest hockey coach Iona College history, reached out to one of his former players. When Effinger called Steve Ketchabaw _ another former goalie _ he was told Fenton was the perfect man for the job. About 2 p.m., Ketchabaw phoned Fenton, who was already involved in his haircut. So the call went unanswered.
“Obviously, I didn’t believe him,” Fenton said. “I first thought everyone was just playing a big joke on me, a couple of my buddies playing a prank.”
Ketchabaw, the president of the Rye Rangers Youth Hockey Program, has known Fenton for about 18 months. Fenton serves as head of game operations and community relations at Manhattanville and is a volunteer coach for the men’s hockey team. He also assists the Rye Rangers, which put him in the forefront of Ketchabaw’s mind at the right time.
“If you had 100 kids to pick from, this is the kid you’d pick,” said Ketchabaw, sounding like a proud papa. “He totally deserves it.”