Eric Semborski woke up Saturday and drove to work in Voorhees, New Jersey.
It was just an ordinary morning for the 23-year-old, a Temple graduate with a bachelor’s degree in sports management.
Little did he know, in a couple of hours his world would turn upside down.
Semborski, who works for Snider Hockey and at Flyers Skate Zone running goalie clinics and roller leagues, hadn’t played competitively since suiting up for the Owls’ club team in the spring of 2015.
That was until Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, where, someway, somehow he was draped in a Chicago Blackhawks jersey and squaring up blazing shots off the sticks of Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith, just to name a few.
Quite the promotion, huh?
“It’s surreal, really,” he said. “I can’t explain it.”
“I couldn’t imagine the rush,” Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling said.
Incredibly and astonishingly, Semborski turned into an NHL goaltender for a day as Chicago’s second string to Darling, who suffered a 3-1 loss to the Flyers.
How Semborski was found and summoned by the Blackhawks is still somewhat of a mystery, even to the Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, native himself. Once Chicago received word that regular starter Corey Crawford had to suddenly undergo an appendectomy at a Philadelphia hospital, the Blackhawks started scrambling for an emergency backup to Darling.
“I was at work, at the rink in Voorhees just coaching,” Semborski said. “My boss called me and I missed it. I walked off the ice and started talking with someone from the Flyers, he started asking me, ‘Where’d you play hockey, what’s your playing history?’”
Semborski was confounded.
“I didn’t even know what he was getting at,” he said. “I asked, ‘Why are you asking me this?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Chicago needs a goalie.’ I just lost it. He said, ‘Go home, get your stuff and if they’re going to use you, they’ll call you.’ I left right away.
“I was like, OK, this probably isn’t going to happen, there’s no way.”
Ten minutes later …
“I’m in the truck and I got a call from Chicago,” Semborski said.
Who was it?
“I just know his name’s Tony,” Semborski said. “That’s all I know.”
How the heck did the Chicago Blackhawks, winners of three Stanley Cups since 2010, find a regular, hard-working guy living in Manayunk to be their reserve netminder?
“No idea,” Semborski said, still in awe talking after the game outside the locker rooms. “I think it had something to do with me working with Snider Hockey, working at Voorhees. They asked around and people just threw my name out I guess. I really don’t know how it happened. I’ll have to get to the bottom of that and thank some people. I have no idea who gave them my info, but whoever did, thank you, because it was awesome.”
So Semborski hustled from Voorhees to Manayunk, packed up his gear — including his old Temple mask, sporting the words “Philly Proud” and “Temple Tuff” — and quickly made his way to the Wells Fargo Center. He arrived around 12:30 p.m. before puck drop at 1.
“I hit some traffic on 76 (Schuylkill Expressway), of course,” Semborski said. “I got here as fast as I could in my street clothes. No time to put on a tie.”
Once Semborski signed his amateur tryout, it became real. He walked into the visiting locker room and there were the Blackhawks and his NHL jersey, a makeshift uniform with Crawford’s No. 50.
“It was hanging up when I got in there,” he said. “I guess they took Crawford’s and threw a name on it and made it work.”
Prior to hitting the ice for warmups, Semborski got acquainted with his teammates.
“Dream come true,” he said. “That was so cool, just hanging out with those guys. They made me feel welcomed right away, started joking around.
“When I got there, they put my number on the board and said I’m throwing in $200 for the holiday party. That was pretty good. I told them, ‘You better take credit because that’s all I got.’”
What about his big-money contract?
“No, I should be paying them for this,” Semborski said. “That was awesome.
“I signed some stuff when I came in, I don’t know what it was. I’m happy with a hat and the memories.”
Especially taking the net in warmups.
“I was a bit rusty, but no matter how much I play, I’m not going to be ready for them,” he said. “It was fast and I couldn’t even catch my breath because I was trying to take it all in. That was the best 20 minutes of my life out there skating with them.
“You’re playing against the best guys in the world. I knew I wasn’t going to stop most of them. I was lucky if it hit me.”
As for the game, Semborski didn’t play.
“Well you almost saw it,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said, referring to his frustration with a three-goal second period by the Flyers.
“That probably would have been a big mistake,” Semborski said with a laugh.
“That would have been so cool, but I wouldn’t change a thing. The experience was awesome.”
What did Quenneville think?
"That’s part of the process with all of the teams, they have the local amateur guys or sometimes guys who have played pro before," he said. "But with our cap situation, we needed an amateur, so he fit all the criteria and it was a good opportunity for him. ... It’s kind of a cool experience for the kid."
So Semborski sat on the bench, padded and ready. He smiled and watched, supporting his new team.
He, of course, is a Flyers fan, but …
“Not today,” he said with a smile. “Every other day, yeah, but not today.
“When I first got out there, I was like, ‘All right, if [the Flyers] score, don’t stand up. Just relax.’”
Semborski admitted to Chicago breaking his heart in 2010 when it beat the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final.
“That was one of the hardest things I ever watched,” he said. “But today, that’s all forgotten. I’m a ‘Hawks fan today.”
Afterward, Semborski said his phone was flooded with 70-something text messages and 20-plus phone calls.
“I’m going to have to start calling some people,” he said.
His first will probably be to a special loved one.
“It’s my dad’s birthday,” Semborski said. “So, happy birthday, Dad. Best present ever for you.”