Kukla's Korner

Tasca's Take

Ugly is Beautiful

While watching a Providence Bruins game last Friday, a friend of mine posed an interesting question:  “What would happen if a team’s starting goaltender got hurt, and was replaced by the backup, who was also injured during the same game?”

It’s not something I’ve really considered, but after a moment’s thought, I responded by saying, “The team would need to have a skater play goal.  Otherwise, they’d probably have to forfeit.”

Strangely enough, that very scenario played itself out two days later when 17-year-old center Connor Crisp had to don the pads for the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters after the team’s lone goaltender was injured early in a game against the powerhouse Niagara IceDogs.

Despite wearing equipment that wasn’t his and an obvious lack of experience between the pipes, Crisp acquitted himself quite well, stopping 33 of the 46 shots he faced.  It was a gutsy performance from a kid who hadn’t played a single game all season after having shoulder surgery in September. 

It’s important to note Erie had dressed only one netminder for the game because the team’s backup goalie suffered a concussion two nights prior.  Instead of calling up a goaltender from a lower tier junior league to serve as a temporary backup, Otters general manager Sherry Bassin decided to go with just a single goalie on Sunday afternoon. 

Not surprisingly, Bassin has taken a lot of heat for his decision.  Columnist Dave Pollard went as far as to say the Otters organization should be punished for making a mockery of the game.  He also called out the OHL, claiming the league needs to make sure a similar situation never happens again. 

The latter point is an easy fix.  All the league has to do is require its teams to dress two goaltenders for every game, something that is currently not mandated.  The former contention, however, is dubious, to say the least. 

As a duel owner and general manager of a junior hockey team, Sherry Bassin is accustomed to criticism.  In this case, the darts being tossed his way are well-deserved.  Even though it’s fair to say nobody could’ve expected the Erie Otters to lose their two primary goaltenders in back-to-back games, there’s no excuse for Bassin to have placed his team in a position where a centerman, fresh off a shoulder injury, had to step between the pipes. 

Indeed, the Otters could’ve forfeited the game, but that would’ve made an embarrassing situation even worse.  The kids that wear the Otters jersey would’ve looked like a bunch of quitters, rolling over in the face of adversity.  Instead, the team chose to gut it out against a supremely talented opponent, led by Crisp, who’s willingness to humiliate himself on national television has garnered him the eternal respect of hockey fans. 

While Bassin’s decision to bring only one netminder to Niagara this past weekend was suspect, by no means does it warrant a league reprimand.  Interestingly enough, at no point in his column does Dave Pollard specifically discuss how the Erie Otters should be punished for Sunday’s spectacle.  He simply states the OHL needs to take the appropriate action, although said action isn’t clearly identified. 

The Otters have had a tumultuous 2011-12 campaign.  With only ten wins in 63 games, Erie has had plenty of stinkers this year, so a 13-4 loss to a one of the best teams in the league is just another bump on a dead end road.  There’s very little the OHL can do to punish a team that’s been punishing its fans all season long.

Things aren’t going to get much better any time soon.  The Otters have been forced to call up Adam Wood, a youngster from a Junior C league, to be their main goalkeeper.  In his first OHL start Wednesday night, Wood yielded ten goals in a blowout loss to the Plymouth Whalers.  It’s painfully apparent that Erie will struggle mightily just to remain competitive in its final five games this season. 

In hindsight, it seems fitting that the worst team in junior hockey would have a centerman playing goal against a league juggernaut.  It was an unfortunate occurance, but not without some positive results.

As an organization, the Otters have responded to the situation quite well.  If fact, the club is using Connor Crisp’s bizarre goaltending appearance to raise money for charitable purposes.  The team is selling commemorative T-shirts marking the occasion, with all the proceeds benefiting Shriners Hospitals for Children.  Crisp’s jersey is also being auctioned off on eBay for the same worthy cause.

While the game itself wasn’t exactly a barn-burner, it was truly heartwarming to see the Niagara players line up afterwards to congratulate Crisp for having the courage to step into the crease that day, knowing full well he was going to look foolish in the process. 

It’s also worth noting that the Niagara fans were fabulous throughout the contest, cheering loudly every time Crisp made a save, and providing him with a standing ovation after the final buzzer.  Over three-thousand patrons rose in unison to acknowledge that, were it not for the youngster’s impressive effort, they wouldn’t have had a hockey game to watch. 

For that, Connor Crisp deserves all the credit in the world.  But the sportsmanship shown by the IceDog players, coupled with the classiness of their fans, are arguably the defining moments of what is easily the strangest junior hockey game in recent decades. 

In several ways, it was also one of the best.

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I think it’s worth adding that the lone goaltender (well, the lone trained goaltender) got injured when an IceDog player ran him hard in the first few minutes of the game. Was that a deliberate attempt to injure?

Posted by Ken on 03/09/12 at 10:30 AM ET

DocF's avatar

This sort of stuff used to be the standard in the old days. 

I remember well when no NHL team had a backup goalie.  If a goalie got injured, the home team’s assistant trainer played goal.  I remember well Lefty Wilson subbing for Sawchuk and Hall for the Wings.  I also remember him filling in for Gump Worsley and beating the Wings at the Olympia.

Yes, in this day and time, each team should be required to carry a backup goalie.  No, to punish the Otters would be folly.

Doc

Posted by DocF from Now: Lynn Haven, FL; was Reidsville, NC on 03/09/12 at 01:25 PM ET

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About Tasca's Take

Tasca's Take is written by Joe Tasca. Born and raised in Westerly, Rhode Island, Joe works as a broadcaster for seven radio stations in southern New England. Whether that's a testament to his on-air ability or because he has a desparate need for money is debatable.

Joe spends his summers playing golf, enjoying the beauty of Misquamicut Beach, and wining and dining girls who are easily awed by the mere presence of a radio personality. During the winter months, he can usually be found taking in a hockey game somewhere in North America. In the spring, he spends much of his time in botanical gardens tiptoeing through the tulips, while autumn is a time to frolic with his golden retrievers through piles of his neighbors’ leaves.