SUNRISE — Zach Andrews is quite busy these days. As an accountant, this is his busy season. The 31-year-old is also an emergency backup goalie who works Florida Panthers’ home games. Friday night, the Chicago Blackhawks needed him in a bad way.
Andrews was so busy working his real job scouring tax returns, he texted Braden Birch of the Panthers to tell him it was likely he would not be able to attend Friday night’s game in Sunrise.
”I might have been late coming in from the office,’’ Andrews recalled. “There is another EBUG, sort of the ‘backup to the backup.’ I said ‘make sure he is there just in case’.’’
Then Birch got a call from the Blackhawks.
While Petr Mzarek would start for Chicago, Alex Stalock was out sick and the Blackhawks needed a backup.
Like, a suit-up-in-an-NHL-game backup.
”Birchie told me to stop what I was doing,” Andrews said. “He told me I was going to dress tonight. I could not believe it. It was a pretty cool moment.
“Usually, if I am getting called, it is an unfortunate incident. Someone is hurt or someone is sick. And you do not wish that upon anyone. But at the same time, it is exciting to be a part of the game in any fashion. So that was awesome. A dream come true, actually.’’
Andrews was able to move some things around — his father Lewis took his 3 p.m. appointment and he was able to find an ‘emergency’ babysitter — so he could get to the arena in time to meet his new ‘teammates.’
At 6:30 p.m., Andrews skated out on to the FLA Live Arena ice wearing a white Blackhawks jersey with his name and No. 80 on the back.
This, of course, came after he finally got his cellphone to download the NHL contract Chicago sent him. That all went down at a gas station in Coral Springs.
”My phone was not complying with the PDF they sent me and here I am, in 100 degrees, sweating through my suit at a Mobil station on University Drive,” Andrews said.
“Every time I drive past that Mobil station from now on, I will think about signing my first NHL contract.”
Andrews grew up in South Florida playing hockey for a variety of teams including the Jr. Panthers, Golden Wolves and Sunrise Ice Sharks.
He played high school hockey at North Broward Prep, junior hockey in Walpole, Mass. and in Manchester, New Hampshire, and collegiately at UMass-Boston.
When his college days were done and he returned home, Andrews continued to help out Florida goalie coach Robb Tallas — his longtime coach — at camps and ended up joining the Panthers in 2017 as one of the team’s practice and emergency goalies.
If the Panthers need a goalie for practice, Andrews is usually out there.
”I was a little busier back then because Roberto Luongo was not very fond of practicing so they would have me out there all the time,” Andrews said.
“But Sergei Bobrovsky loves practice and never takes a day off. So my practice days are a lot less these days.’’
During warmups Friday night, a number of Panthers got a kick out of seeing Andrews on the ice wearing Chicago gear.
“Directly across from me, Eric Staal was stretching and he was smiling and laughing at me the whole time,” he said. “That was pretty funny. Ryan Lomberg and a couple of other guys were smirking at me when they skated by. That was weird but funny at the same time.”
So, what was going through his mind when he came out for warmups?
”I played in juniors, played in college so I have played the game,” Andrews said. “Once you get onto the ice, you sort of immerse yourself into the atmosphere. But, of course, this is the NHL. You think about that for a little bit.
“But I didn’t have that this is the NHL moment when I was on the ice. I did have it in the locker room when I was sitting there looking around.
“It was like ‘Wow. I am really here. This is really happening’. But then I got dressed like I was in college again and tried to be the best backup goalie I could be.”
Although Andrews did not get into the game, there was certainly a possibility he could have been the latest South Florida product to make his NHL debut on Friday night.
Had things gone the way everyone expected, perhaps that would have been the case.
Instead, the Blackhawks took a 2-0 lead into the third period and ended up tying the score in the final minute to force overtime in an eventual 4-3 loss to the Panthers.
If the Panthers had blown the game open, it would not have been out of character for Chicago coach Luke Richardson to put the backup in for a special moment not only for the Blackhawks but the game and, of course, Andrews.
Maybe next time.
If, of course, there is a next time.
”The next best thing would have been to get on the ice,” said Andrews, who was back at the arena on Saturday night just in case he was needed by either the Panthers or visiting Winnipeg Jets.
He was not.
“I did think about potentially getting in, but it turned out to be a great hockey game. The Panthers weren’t scoring but were creating some chances and it was a great game.
“Bob was making some great saves, their goalie — I should say our goalie — was making some great saves. I thought it may be a blowout because the Blackhawks are rebuilding and the Panthers were playing so well. But it turned out to be a great game. Chicago played well. They are a young team and played a great game.”
As for his brief stint as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, Andrews said the team has told him they will send him the game jersey when they get back home.
Because the team continued its road trip in Tampa, there was a possibility that jersey may be needed for the Lightning’s EBUG.
Regardless, the Blackhawks gave him a number of trinkets including gear and a game puck.
Tallas, who almost became an EBUG himself a few years ago, made sure to snag some game sheets and official rosters with Andrews’ name on it.
The Blackhawks did give Zach Andrews a memory he will not soon forget.
“It really was a dream come true, super surreal,” he said. “It was awesome that my wife and my dad were able to be there, I had a lot of friends in the building. My two kids were at home and they’ll be able to see some of this stuff when they are older.
”But the EBUG situation in hockey is such a great story. No other sport does anything like this. It creates such a buzz whenever we have a situation like this.
“It was such a cool thing to happen.’’
PANTHERS ON DECK
MONTREAL CANADIENS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 3-1
- This season (Florida leads 2-0): Panthers 7, Canadiens 2 (Dec. 29); Panthers 6, Canadiens 2 (Jan. 19)
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 53-38-11, 6 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: New Jersey Devils at Florida, March 18, 5 p.m.