Johnny's IceHouse, a local rink just a few blocks from the United Center, the Chicago Blackhawks' arena, is home to several beer leagues. It's where one would typically find Scott Foster tending goal.
But Foster wasn't there on Thursday night, even as his Wight & Company rec-league team was preparing for its regular-season finale against the Lumberjacks. The 36-year-old accountant and father of two was instead at the United Center for the Blackhawks' game against the Winnipeg Jets. As one of Chicago's three emergency goalies, Foster attends 13 games per season, and "gets to show up in his suit and eat nachos and hot dogs in a box and go home, with minimal probability that he's ever going to get in a game," according to beer-league teammate Michael Hendrie. "A lot of stars have to align for him to play. And they did last night."
The alignment began when Blackhawks goalie Anton Forsberg, himself filling in for the injured Corey Crawford, hurt himself while warming up in a pregame soccer kick-around. That meant Collin Delia, who had been summoned from the AHL, would see his first NHL action. It also meant that Foster would need to be ready to enter the game if necessary.
Word started to spread down the street at Johnny's that Foster had suited up for the game in a side room at United Center, although he hadn't skated in warm-ups.
"It was the talk of the locker room: That Fozzy is one fluke away from going in," Hendrie said.
Six minutes into the third period, the stars finished aligning for Scott Foster: Delia left the game with muscle cramps. The Golub Capital accountant by day, beer-league goalie by night was about to take the crease for the Blackhawks.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was seen laughing from the bench at the turn of events. "I think I would, too," Foster said after the game.
Back at the IceHouse, one of his teammates darted into the dressing room with a message: "Fozzy's going in!"
The news traveled quickly at the IceHouse, leading to a rather hilarious visual in the building's lobby: Foster's teammates, their opponents, and two over-40 elite league teams that had just completed their game were crowded, shoulder to shoulder, in full gear, around a modestly-sized television, watching one of their own play for the Chicago Blackhawks.
As is tradition in beer-league hockey, the jokes were flying as they watched Foster step into the crease: "Boys, we can still make it. This is proof. Johnny's is a gateway to the Hawks ..."
2 times this year goalies have been called to NHL teams from our Elite League. Alec Rounds to LA. Scott Foster to Chicago. Come see Scott play in the semis this Friday at Johnny's East. #eliteleague pic.twitter.com/aIJ5VXLkGU
— Johnny's IceHouse (@johnnysicehouse) March 30, 2018
As the Zamboni resurfaced the IceHouse rink behind them, the players let loose a boisterous cheer as Foster denied Jets defenseman Tyler Myers for his first save about a minute after he came into the game. But as the machine completed its final laps, the players hurriedly laced up their skates while keeping an eye on Foster, because it was game time.
Foster's beer-league team played its regular-season finale as he lived out his NHL dream, stopping all seven shots he faced. "A few hours ago I was at my computer, typing on a 10 key, and now I'm in front of all you guys, having just finished 14 minutes of NHL hockey," he said after the game.
The bar at Johnny's IceHouse features several TVs, including some that are visible from the ice. So as the beer-league teams were taking a faceoff during their game, the players happened to glance up and see Foster skating out on the ice again, having been named the first star in the Blackhawks' 6-2 win over the Jets.
The faceoff would have to wait. Both teams stopped and began cheering for him.
After watching Foster make another stop on Myers and turn away shots from Paul Stastny and Dustin Byfuglien in the final minutes of his NHL debut, Hendrie was impressed but not surprised by the effort of his teammate, who played 55 games at Western Michigan from 2002 to 2006. "The Stastny one showed he was legit," Hendrie said. "He didn't give up rebounds on NHL slap shots from the blue line. That requires high-level goalie skills. But the Stastny one was the highlight -- flailing around and making the glove save on an NHL sniper.
"I wasn't surprised at all. [Foster] plays twice a week. He's kept his game at a Div. I level."
After their game, the players exchanged text messages with Foster, but they didn't meet up for a postgame celebration. "He's too good for us now," Hendrie joked.
So what happens next weekend, when Foster returns to his beer-league team for the start of its postseason?
"We were debating just giving him the silent treatment, like nothing had happened," Hendrie said. "Like, 'Hey Fozzy, what's up man? Anything new?'"
Even if they rib him a bit, they'll ultimately celebrate this surreal achievement with their teammate. "We knew that it wasn't impossible, but it was improbable," Hendrie said."The probabilities were very low. You do that role in the hopes that the stars align perfectly, and they did."