ST. PAUL, Minn. — Josh Swartout played high school and college hockey, but had never been on a stage quite like the one he was on Sunday.
Here was Swartout, a St. Louis Park native, standing in goal and taking shots against former NHL players Wes Walz, Shjon Podin, Brian Bonin and Tom Chorske. He and fellow goalie Treye Kettwick were the two finalists trying to become the Minnesota Wild’s new emergency goalie. During intermission of the Houston Aeros’ game against Rockford at Xcel Energy Center, Swartout and Kettwick battled it out by competing in a shootout.
As Swartout took the ice, the nerves were shaking as he could feel all eyes from the announced crowd of 11,175 staring down on him. Then, on the first two shots by Bonin and Chorske, Swartout had already allowed two goals.
“I remember being out there and just thinking, ‘This is the best moment of my life,'” said the 24-year-old Swartout. “Then they scored on me and I said, ‘This is probably the worst moment in my life,’ in front of all these people.”
But both he and the 29-year-old Kettwick settled down after shaky starts as each goalie made six consecutive saves to force a sudden death. Due to time constraints during the intermission, the contest ended in a tie. The team said a winner will be determined at a later date.
Neither goalie was expecting a tie Sunday. Then again, neither goalie expected to be in this situation in the first place. Swartout, who coaches girl’s hockey in St. Louis Park, said his girlfriend was the one who originally nominated him for the contest. He was then selected as one of 11 semifinalists and, along with Kettwick, won a spot in the finals during a tryout last Thursday.
Kettwick played junior hockey in Montana and then played Division I hockey for Army before transferring to Division III University of St. Thomas for his final two years. Now living in the “real world,” Kettwick is a criminal prosecutor who plays once a week in a pick-up hockey game.
“I put in an application, kind of like you apply for, ‘Hey, win a car,'” Kettwick said. “You never expect to win a car. You never expect to get called back for anything like this. . . . The next thing you know, here I am.”
If the idea of an emergency goalie sounds silly, just look at what happened to the Wild last November. Starting goalie Niklas Backstrom left to be with his family when his son was born, leaving Josh Harding as the only goalie on the Wild’s roster. Minnesota called up goalie Josh Hackett from their AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros, but Hackett’s flight wasn’t scheduled to land until shortly before game time.
Enter Paul Deutsch, who signed an amateur contract with the Wild as an emergency goalie. Deutsch was on the ice with the team during pregame warmups, but Hackett arrived in time where the Wild didn’t need Deutsch’s service as a backup during the game.
When the battle between Kettwick and Swartout is settled, one of them will become the next Paul Deutsch.
“If it were ever to come to that, obviously this has been a dream come true as it is,” said Kettwick. “I can’t imagine that experience. I think either one of us, Josh or I, would be ready for the call, that’s for sure.”