Manitoba Bisons goalie coach serves as backup for Washington Capitals against Winnipeg Jets

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The Capitals signed McHale to an amateur tryout contract, after he sped to the arena, gear in tow – Nov 15, 2018

Gavin McHale was finishing up at the Manitoba Bisons women’s hockey team’s practice Wednesday when he noticed he had a slew of missed calls on his phone.

McHale, 31, is the current goaltending coach for the national champion Bisons. But he was about to become an NHL goaltender, at least for a night.

Those missed calls were from Craig Heisinger, assistant GM with the Winnipeg Jets.

The visiting Washington Capitals needed an emergency backup goalie after Braden Holtby was a last-minute scratch with an upper body injury.

“I got here as fast as I could, told everyone I knew. It was about 5:15 p.m. and I was coming from the south end,” McHale said. “Had to fight a bit of traffic. I was weaving my way in and out. I didn’t have dinner.”

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The Capitals signed McHale to an amateur tryout contract, after he sped to the arena, gear in tow.

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McHale played two seasons for the Herd’s men’s team from 2008-2010. He also suited up for three seasons in the Western Hockey League for the Seattle Thunderbirds and the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

“I think every single person in this room introduced themselves to me, so it just made me feel a lot more calm,” McHale said. “They just kind of let me do my thing. It just made me feel really welcomed.”

According to his bio on, McHale’s last taste of competitive action came in 2015 when he played for the Warren Mercs of the Southern Eastern Manitoba Hockey League.

So imagine taking the ice for warmups and taking shots from the defending Stanley Cup Champions, including a rocket from sniper Alex Ovechkin.

“I was hoping no one saw that. Pretty starstruck. And then starstruck for the next three or four after that until I kind of settled in. It’s definitely not something that I thought would happen. It was a pretty exciting experience.”

McHale has also played for the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Portage Terriers and the AAA Midget Winnipeg Thrashers.

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The NHL introduced a new rule last season requiring all home teams to have an emergency goalie in the building in case an injury strikes. McHale was also called into backup action for Colorado in February, but only for the final period.

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He didn’t get to keep his jersey from that night, but hopes this time will be different.

“If I get to keep it, it’s getting framed really fast,” McHale said. “There’s a couple puck marks on it too, actually.”

McHale understands that his role as an emergency backup usually means sitting in the press box just in case, getting a meal, and heading home without any excitement.

It also means facing his hometown team. So is he a Jets fan?

“I’m not at liberty to say that right now,” McHale said with a smile.