Growing up in a Vancouver suburb where hockey was king—baseball wasn’t even offered at his local high school—former Expos and Rockies slugger Larry Walker had aspirations, not of the big leagues, but of playing in the NHL as a professional goaltender. Baseball proved to be Walker’s true calling—the former National League MVP is headed to Cooperstown this summer—but the 53-year-old’s dream of becoming an NHL net-minder is still very much alive. A lifetime .313 hitter with seven Gold Gloves to his name, Walker will be on call as an emergency goalie for the Colorado Avalanche when the Avs host the Vegas Golden Knights Sunday in Denver.
It’s doubtful the 17-year MLB vet will actually see the ice for Colorado, though crazier things have happened. Just last month 42-year-old David Ayres, who makes his living as a Zamboni driver for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, filled in at net for the injury-depleted Carolina Hurricanes, stonewalling the Maple Leafs on a surprising eight of 10 shots in a 6-3 Canes victory. Ayres’ turn in net came two years after the Blackhawks called on accountant Scott Foster (a former college net-minder at Western Michigan), who denied all seven shots he faced in closing out a 6-2 win over visiting Winnipeg.
The NHL’s unique emergency goalie system was addressed at league meetings in Boca Raton last week, though ultimately GMs chose not to change anything. “The majority was happy with where we are at on it,” offered Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell. “Our general managers are fine with where it’s at now.” That’s obviously great news for Walker, who honed his goaltending craft as a youth by standing in against childhood pal and future Boston Bruins star Cam Neely. The incoming MLB Hall of Famer grew up idolizing Islanders save artist Billy Smith, a fellow Canadian who captured four Stanley Cups over his 18-year playing career.
With Walker added to the Avs' call-sheet, perhaps PR-savvy teams across the NHL will follow Colorado’s lead by enlisting other high-profile emergency goalies. Who wouldn’t want to see Keanu Reeves, who starred in net for De La Salle College in his native Toronto long before The Matrix took his career to new heights, between the pipes?