By Andy Kent
Naples Daily News
ESTERO — There really isn’t another position in all of sports that bears any similarity to that of an emergency backup goalie in hockey, certainly not in a league like the ECHL.
In fact, these guys have their own acronym, one that doesn’t sound very flattering when it’s spoken: EBUG. That’s just how the letters happen to fall in order, rhyming with the nickname of an insignificant insect.
Fans only become familiar with the name of the person occupying the job after one of the top two goalies on their team either goes down with an injury or is called up to the American Hockey League or the NHL.
In Cam McCormick’s case, some Florida Everblades fans remember him as the team’s regular goalie for 17 games during the 2002-03 season, when he went 9-2-2 with a 3.65 goals-against-average and an .885 save percentage.
For the past two years plus, the 29-year-old McCormick has become a fixture at Germain Arena as a member of the ice crew, cutting the ice, driving the Zamboni and setting up the goals before each and every practice.
When either Craig Kowalski or rookie David Shantz can’t practice for whatever reason, McCormick hustles into the Everblades dressing room, puts on his gear and becomes a human target for the team during drills. He does it all with a smile and a professional approach that has bestowed head coach Gerry Fleming with the confidence to dress him as the EBUG a number of times this season.
“We know what we’re getting, he’s a very capable goaltender,” Fleming says. “We know that he’s played in our league before, he’s played for me before and I know that if we have to throw him into a game in a pinch that I feel very confident with him going in the net and being able to get the job done for us.”
So far, Fleming hasn’t had to insert McCormick into a game, and McCormick doesn’t really mind — he admits he’s not in the shape he was a few years ago when he was playing full-time. But the stamina it takes to perform his regular job on days that he’s also helping out the team lends one to believe McCormick might just be able to hold his own on the ice for a long period of time.
On Feb. 27, when Florida hosted the Augusta Lynx in the last of a four-game homestand, Shantz still was on the shelf with an ankle sprain, so McCormick again was called into action.
Long before the players even arrived at the rink, McCormick was there getting the ice ready for the morning pregame skate. Then he practiced with the team, left the ice a little early to change out of his gear, take off the skates and then cut the ice and drive the Zamboni again so Augusta would have a clean surface to play on.
He had to wait until the late shift arrived at 3:30 p.m., after also checking on the two recreational rinks, before he could go home, shower, change into a suit and then zip back to the arena to get dressed with the team for that night’s game.
“I got home about midnight and then had to turn around and be back here by 9 in the morning,” says McCormick, whose fiancée, Collette Cribbs, also works at the arena in the food and beverage department. “It makes for a long day but you’re constantly busy, so it’s not that bad I suppose.”
Maybe not for McCormick, but the Everblades players appreciate his dedication. He hears from them all the time after practice, when they’re done for the day and going to lunch or to the golf course, and they marvel at the fact that his day has just begun.
The fact that veterans like Reggie Berg, Ernie Hartlieb and Brent McDonald know McCormick well and are friendly with him makes it easier for the younger players to not question his presence on the ice. And when he does make a quality save in practice, especially on one of the younger prospects, McCormick says it makes him feel good, though he’ll never rub it in. Kowalski and Shantz appreciate him probably more than anyone else.
“He’s been doing really well in pregame warm-ups and practices and gotten guys frustrated. He’s a good goaltender,” Shantz says. “He’s doing well, he’s making great saves, and if something were to happen in a game and he had to go in we have full confidence in him that we’re still at a point in a game where he’d give us a chance.”
On a few occasions this season and last, it wasn’t Florida that McCormick was being asked to help but its opponent, which has made for an interesting dynamic.
At the start of the season, every team submits a list of goalies in its area that would be available as emergency backups, and McCormick is on that list. He suited up last year for the Charlotte Checkers and Pensacola Ice Pilots, sitting on the visitors bench wearing their jerseys.
“I guess the hardest thing is just sitting on the bench there and the Blades score and you want to cheer for them but you’re sitting on the bench for the other team, so you’re just trying not to look too excited,” McCormick says. “I guess you have to be more of an actor than anything else, looking like you’re kind of upset about it. But no matter who you’re dressing for, the Blades or the other team, you kind of get caught up in the emotion of the locker room; it’s very easy to because you know you’re going to have to face those guys.”
McCormick says he always has been treated well by the visiting teams in those situations, even those who played against him when he was on the Everblades’ roster. And having played hockey almost his whole life, he has accepted that his professional playing days are over.
But the Everblades wanted to make sure his dedication and willingness to help the team did not go unnoticed. So on Valentine’s Day, when he dressed as Kowalski’s EBUG, team president and general manager Craig Brush let him keep his jersey from that game. He had proposed to his fiancée exactly a year earlier, but he has no desire to get thrown into a game just to give her another memory — their July 7th wedding should be enough (7/7/07).
“I’m happy with the memories that I have, I don’t want to get lit up for 15 goals in one period because that might happen,” McCormick says. “But she’s happy that I’m out there with all smiles. I have a lot of fun doing it and she knows it and she’s happy for me that I get the chance to do it. She gets to relax because she knows I’m not going to play so it’s less stressful for her and for me.”
Such is the life of an EBUG.