Eric Semborski was greeted by loud applause as he skated onto the ice at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night.
Semborski, who played club ice hockey at Temple from 2011-15, thought he was just going to spend the night watching the game between the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils as Philadelphia’s second emergency goalie.
But dressed in a No. 49 Flyers jersey and wearing a custom Temple mask, Semborski stood between the pipes ready for a faceoff with 24.5 seconds left in the game.
Moments later fans booed and Semborski waved as he was forced to leave the ice due to an NHL rule preventing emergency goalies from entering the game without an injury taking place.
“I grew up watching these guys my whole life,” said Semborski, a Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania native and lifelong Flyers fan. “And then to be in the same room with them, wearing the same jersey, briefly to be on the ice with them wearing the uniform was something special.”
Semborski didn’t have any big plans Saturday night. After work, he was headed to hang out with some friends.
Then he got a call from Philadelphia Flyers Assistant General Manager Barry Hanrahan around 5 p.m. Hanrahan told Semborski he needed to get to the Wells Fargo Center because Flyers goalie Steve Mason had the flu, and their emergency goalie, Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ netminder Anthony Stolarz, was driving from Allentown, Pennsylvania.
“They wanted me there just in case Stolly was getting there later or hit traffic or something,” Semborski said.
It wasn’t the first time Semborski had been called to the Wells Fargo Center. The Chicago Blackhawks needed an emergency goalie for their Dec. 3 game against the Flyers after starting goalie Corey Crawford had an emergency appendectomy. Semborski suited up for the Blackhawks, took part in warm-ups and spent the game in uniform on the bench.
On March 2, the Florida Panthers were worried goalie Roberto Luongo would not be well enough to suit up, so Semborski came to the Wells Fargo Center and sat in the tunnel near the bench in case he was needed.
“You never think in your wildest dreams it could happen, then it happened to me twice,” Semborski said. “I never thought it would happen, then to actually get out on the ice was a dream come true.”
He thought Saturday would be similar to the Flyers-Panthers game as he acted as the second emergency goalie. Semborski started the game up in the press box with the Flyers beat reporters and the team’s healthy scratches.
Then, less than eight minutes into the game, Flyers starting goalie Michal Neuvirth collapsed to the ice and left the game. Neuvirth was diagnosed with a chest cold and released from Pennsylvania Hospital on Sunday.
After Stolarz entered the game for Neuvirth, Semborski put his Flyers uniform over his goalie pads. He spent the rest of the game in the Philadelphia locker room and in the tunnel in case Stolarz went down with an injury.
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol tried to send Semborski into the game unaware of the rule preventing emergency goalies from entering the game.
“That was definitely a class act by coach Hakstol and the entire Flyers organization trying to get me in for the last 45 seconds,” Semborski said. “I’m so grateful that they tried.”
Going from the American Collegiate Hockey Association to the NHL was a farfetched concept that Semborski and his teammates used to joke about at Temple.
He has now spent two days living that pipe dream.
“I don’t consider myself to be a guy that was in the NHL, but I was just lucky enough to have these experiences for a few days,” Semborski said. “We used to say, ‘ACHA to the show,’ was always the joke. For a few days, I got to live it.”
Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.