SAN JOSE -- Martin Moody wasn’t watching hockey on Feb. 22, until his cell phone demanded it.
Texts from friends and family and acquaintances throughout the Bay Area hockey community flooded his device, all demanding he turn on the Carolina Hurricanes game, like, stat. Both goalies got hurt against the host Toronto Maple Leafs and the emergency backup goaltender had taken the ice.
Moody’s heart rate quickened. His focus locked on David Ayres, the 42-year old part-time Zamboni driver then charged with preserving Carolina’s lead in a playoff chase.
Novelty didn’t draw him in. This was a personal investment.
Moody had an idea what Ayres was going through. The 35-year old is an emergency backup goalie at SAP Center, someone who must be ready to enter the crease for either the Sharks or their opposing team, should one run out of goalies on the roster. He is part of a four-man rotation here in San Jose that also includes Dave Guy, Eric Zagorski and Steve Mnich.
Moody has been one injury away from Ayres’ position before, and hopes to perform that well if ever called into action. Ayres allowed two goals on as many shots after stepping into the crease, but made eight straight saves after that to help Carolina get two massive points in a 6-3 win.
“It was such a cool thing to watch and see that guy be part of a feel-good story,” Moody said Thursday in a sit-down with NBC Sports California. “The last thing you want is to see him get lit up like a Christmas tree. He gave up the first two goals, but once he calmed some nerves and went through an intermission, he got composed and really finished strong.
“This situation has happened before, but this was really great because [Ayres] was in for so long and actually came out of it with a win. Everyone was made aware of the fact that an emergency backup goalie is a real thing. This is what could happen on a nightly basis in the NHL.”
Moody will be on the ice if it happens Thursday night when the Sharks and Minnesota Wild clash at SAP Center.
Job requirements aren’t difficult on a normal night. Moody will check-in Thursday through the players' entrance and set a bag of gear down near the Sharks locker room. He’ll get two tickets from hockey research and development analyst Charlie Townsend, who coordinates SAP Center’s emergency back-up goalie (EBUG) rotation, before heading with his wife Lea Nemeth to section 219 and watch the game.
“I try to eat smart and drink a water. That’s the routine,” Moody said. “If I have to go down there, I’ll be as ready as I possibly can. If I don't, I will have watched an NHL game for free. Then I’ll pick up my gear and take off.”
Moody has been doing this for all three seasons since the NHL established an emergency goalie network throughout the league, and he’s no slouch in front of goal. He started for San Jose State’s club team while earning a business management degree and played some low-level minor league hockey, including a two games as a backup for the AHL’s Iowa Wild. He has practiced with the Sharks as an extra goalie nearly 20 times about a decade ago and has worked some offseason Sharks captain skating sessions since.
The Sharks didn’t just pick their emergency goalkeepers off the street. They’ve seen all four guys work and recommended them for a job few know about since the league instituted the backup goalie network before the 2017-18 season.
There’s only one emergency backup on duty each game and can be assigned to either team as needed.
“It used to be sort of free-wheeling, where a team would dress an equipment manager or someone on staff to stand in the net if both goalkeepers were lost," Townsend said. “It didn’t happen terribly often, but they standardized it with this new procedure. What we do is provide a list to the league of goalies in the area that we know and are good enough to do the job. They approve that list and we schedule them from there for the games.
“We try to keep a smaller circle to keep the coverage spread out. We didn’t want it open-ended. We also know that these guys have regular jobs, so we didn’t want to make the commitment too big. Martin has probably done the most, but we have some good guys in the group.”
Moody, a regional manager for the Western Digital data storage company by day, has reported for duty about 40 times but assumed a backup role only once.
Adrenaline flow went stage-5 rapids on Nov. 26, 2017, when Winnipeg goalie Steve Mason took a Jannik Hansen slapshot to the head and couldn’t return for the second period against the Sharks. Townsend called Moody to the Jets locker room, where Mason was being examined. A doctor told Mason he was done for the night, turned to Moody and uttered four words he’ll never forget.
“It’s your lucky day.”
His night was a whirlwind after that. Moody had to formally sign with the Jets, get a jersey with his nameplate and warm up during an intermission period. There wasn’t time, he recalls, to be nervous.
“At first, you’re in awe of everything that has to happen quickly to get you ready to play if needed,” Moody said. “I was sitting in the locker room by myself and I had that moment of, ‘Oh, God. This is happening.’ Before then, it’s a race trying to get ready and check all the boxes. All my buddies came down and snapped photos from the edge. At that point, I was intensively watching their goalie because I started really thinking about what would’ve happened.”
Nothing else happened for Moody that night. He sat in a chair near the visitor’s tunnel and watched Connor Hellebuyck finish out a game the Sharks won 4-0.
Moody keeps a close eye on both goalkeepers whenever he’s on duty, and says he’d be excited about entering an NHL game. Fear doesn’t enter into his equation.
“There isn’t really nerves when you’re not yet on the ice, but I’m sure they would come if I were ever formally called upon,” Moody said. “There’s excitement in the first waves of getting ready, but there’s also confidence that I can handle an NHL shot. I have practiced with top-level pros before. We’re not clay pigeons out there, but we’re all varying ages and generally a good distance from our prime playing days. If I had to go in, the hope is that can hold my own for the period or small stretch where you get plugged in. The goal is to keep the ship afloat.”
Ayres did exactly that on Feb. 22 and has been treated as a conquering hero ever since. He has appeared on the "Today Show" and the "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert." His game-worn stick is now in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and the Hurricanes have honored the Toronto native at a Carolina home game. Ayres’ 15-minutes of fame aren’t up even now after faring well in his big moment.
The Sharks hope and believe their four emergency backup goalies would perform well in a pinch should a perfect storm ever take place in San Jose.
“Our guys have done an excellent job being diligent and respectful of their role,” Townsend said. “They have been great. It has been an evolving process year by year and our people have been there for us. When it’s gone into games the league gets a tremendous amount of exposure for it so, for the most part, it has been a positive experience for everyone involved.”