A science student at the University of Alberta who also serves as the university hockey team’s goaltender says he was supposed to be studying when he ended up moonlighting as Edmonton Oiler over the weekend — but the surreal experience also had an educational component.
“I learned a lot about what it takes to be up there (in the NHL)… especially on game-day,” Matt Berlin told Global News on Monday. “The preparation and focus that goes into every game.”
Although Jack Campbell got the start in net for the Oilers when they hosted the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday night, the NHL team still needed an emergency backup netminder after Stuart Skinner fell ill and was unable to dress for the game.
The 25-year-old got the call and said the team made the memorable experience one that was also easy to navigate.
“It felt like I was on the team when I walked in there,” he said. “Campbell came up and gave me a big hug.”
Berlin said Oilers captain Connor McDavid was the second player to say hello, noting the superstar centre was “super friendly.”
“All the staff, right from the top down, was unbelievable to me,” he said.
“(They) had gear for me ready, jersey ready… It was unreal.”
While the use of emergency backup goaltenders is fairly rare in the NHL, Berlin was called on to do something that occurs even less frequently: actually play in the game.
With a significant lead over the Blackhawks, Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft put Berlin in the game with 2:26 left in the third period.
The goaltender, who is used to stopping puck for the Golden Bears, made a save on the only shot from Chicago that he faced and the Oilers won 7-3.
“It was pretty special,” Berlin said. “At first, it was pretty nerve-wracking on the bench when they told me (I would play) because I had about five minutes just to sit there.
“Once I got on the ice it was pure bliss.”
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Berlin said once he got onto the ice, he realized he was “just playing the game I love — just on a bit of a bigger stage.”
“I was just so excited,” he recalled. “The nerves were completely gone.”
Woodcroft said the team wanted to give Berlin the chance to live out an experience he would never forget.
“For that to come from our players — I think it’s special and I think it brings the team together,” he said.
“Nobody was happier for that young man than the players in that dressing room.”
Berlin said he hung out with Oilers players after the game and while he was supposed to be at home studying that night, “it was definitely worth it.”
He added he hopes the attention he has received for his time on the ice at Rogers Place will generate some publicity for the U of A hockey program.
“Canadian university hockey sometimes gets a bad rap for not being that good, but we’ve got a good program over here and the league has gotten way better,” he said.
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When asked how he’ll regale friends and family with his Oilers story years down the road, Berlin joked he will have to be careful about not exaggerating how his moments in an NHL net unfolded.
“There’s a lot of video evidence of what happened, so I’ll try to keep it (the story accurate),” he joked.
— With files from Reid Wilkins, 630 CHED