When the Erie Otters faced off against the Niagara Ice Dogs recently, something horrible happened. As Otters goaltender Ramis Sadikov attempted to make a save, an Ice Dogs player slammed into him and knocked him over. That was his first, and last, save of the game, as he would not return after trainers helped him off the ice. With second goalie Devin Williams not dressed because of his own, earlier, injury, the team was left with 58:15 minutes of ice time and no dressed goalies.
What were they to do? Call Connor Crisp, the Otters centre who, after sustaining a shoulder injury, hadn't played since the 5th of April, 2011. Crisp was watching the game from the stands when he got the call from Dave Brown, the Otters' assistant general manager, asking him, "Are you ready?" Crisp couldn't believe it. With news that Sadikov would be the only goalie dressed for the game, the Otters designated the now-healthy Crisp as his backup, taking the risk, hoping, that nothing would go wrong. Unfortunately, something did, and Crisp soon found himself sprinting to the change room before having equipment he'd never donned before strapped on him by the equipment manager and a teammate, while the goalie coach attempted to teach him a lifetime worth of accrued knowledge and refined technique in fifteen minutes.
By the time he got to the ice, he struggled to make it to his end in his loaned skates, three sizes too small. "As soon as I stepped on the ice and could barely skate at first with the goalie skates on, I was thinking this could be a long day," he recalled later. Crisp faced his first shot 23 seconds after the game restarted, when the Ice Dogs' Freddie Hamilton streaked into the Otters zone and took a long, high shot that clanged off the crossbar, bounced off Crisp's back, and dropped into the net. His next series of attempted saves did not fair any better, resulting in another pair of goals. It looked like the beginning of, at worst, a hockey massacre, and, at best, an unwinnable situation. But Crisp and the Otters persevered, bringing the score to within one by the end of the first period, before the Ice Dogs turned the game into what ostensibly should have been an embarrassing blowout, but shifted into a mere predictable one.
In the end, Crisp made 32 saves on 45 shots, giving up 13 goals in a 13-4 loss, the Otters' worst of the season. After any other game, fans would have jeered and players would have avoided the pupils of their teammates as they silently trudged back to the locker room. But not tonight. Ice Dogs fans applauded Crisp's effort. Every single one of his teammates skated down to thank him for his courage. And when he was done with his own team, his opponents - both players and coaches - went over to pat him on the back. Crisp was awarded the first star of the game.
Having never played the position before, Connor Crisp came in and made over thirty saves, some lucky and some unbelievable, and let in over a dozen goals, some abysmal and some unavoidable. There was no Miracle on Ice - indeed, Crisp felt reality's sting in it: "[Defenceman Adam] Pelech and [defenceman Troy] Donnay were blocking shots left, right, and centre. The guys were behind me 100 per cent. It got embarrassing at points and you feel like you're letting the guys down and hurting their statistics. I know Pelech took a hard one off the ankle and is in a lot of pain right now." - but what the hockey world saw was on-ice drama in whose aftermath we will not likely see again for a very long time.
It is said that sport does not build character, but reveal it. On Sunday, 4th of March, 2012, Connor Crisp revealed his.
Sources and Notes:
- Buzzing The Net: "Erie Otters’ Connor Crisp, after not playing all season, gets his 58 minutes of fame by going into OHL game in as an emergency goalie"
- Erie Otters official website: "Crisp dons goalie pads in loss to Niagara"
- Erie Otters roster
- Erie at Niagara Game Summary
- Connor Crisp interview on Marek vs. Wyshynski, 5th March edition (mp3).
- YouTube video from user Ramboshaw: "Connor Crisp Plays Goalie for Erie Otters 'The Saves'"
- Quote ("sport does not build character, but reveal it") is attributed to Heywood Hale Broun. Original: "Sports do not build character. They reveal it.”
- Although Crisp did have his obligatory turn at goalie in pee wee, that was the extent of his involvement with the position.