The life of an emergency back-up goalie is not easy. One moment, you’re living your everyday life, the next you get a phone call and have to switch to athlete mode and play in a professional setting. While sometimes the goalies are playing in college when they get called, sometimes that emergency back-up is a Zamboni driver that you have to pick up due to a rapid call-up from the NHL squad.
For Tate Maris, the job of the emergency back-up is a way of life. It’s a way for him to keep his hockey dream alive. In his four appearances for the Colorado Eagles in the last two seasons as an emergency back-up, Maris is 2-2-0 with a 3.15 GAA and a .860 save percentage. This year alone, Maris has been signed in the emergency role three times: once in late October, once in late November, and now at the start of December. With a schedule so unknown, Maris does his work as he usually would if he was an everyday player.
“Luckily I’ve been called up early enough from the end of my try-out with the Reading Royals that I didn’t get too rusty,” Maris said in a phone interview this week. “But it gets to be tough to maintain the game speed. I’m in graduate school right now and it’s hard to get ice time outside of studying, but the practice I have been able to get with the Eagles when I get the call has kept me in top shape so far.”
That try-out with Reading almost proved to be Maris’ big break as he was named to their season-opening roster, but due to Martin Ouellette being sent down the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the Royals decided to cut Maris hours after the rosters were released. That hasn’t deterred Maris, however, as he said it was a good way to get his name out on the east coast.
“It wasn’t too disheartening for me,” recalls Maris. “Reading’s coach Larry Courville told me what the deal was and that they had the possibility of getting AHL goalies who were sent down to play, so I knew the circumstances. It was a good time to display my talent and just get my name out there to people in the east coast and maybe have someone from the ECHL or SPHL notice me and catch on with a team that way.”
With the chance not coming to fruition, Maris was back in school and waiting for the possible phone call. When it does come, everyday life has to be put on hold. Not only does Maris deal with his school endeavors, but also his personal endeavors, as well.
“I was out in California visiting my girlfriend when I saw Jake (DeSerres) get hurt,” Maris recalls, “And I got a text between periods from (assistant coach) Aaron Schneekloth saying I should probably get ready for a call. The team was going to Alaska, so I had to quickly look up flights to get there and it worked out in the end. It’s rough sometimes because we don’t see each other often due to it being a long distance relationships, but she understands the nature of the beast and we make it work out.”
Maris continues, “While this trip was to Alaska, otherwise I’m a short drive away, so I can get there in time for the weekend games when needed. They’re very understanding when it comes to having to travel and other stuff in my life. It’s what I want to do though, so I have learned to put things on hold for the time being to get that opportunity.”
One of the rough parts for an emergency goalie is going into a new locker room with unfamiliar faces. However, Maris had a lot of connections to the Eagles these past two years from his college days. Schneekloth is a former University of North Dakota defensemen, while last season he had former UND goaltending partner Clarke Saunders on the roster and this season he has former UND teammate Derek Rodwell on the roster.
“Hockey is a small world,” state Maris. “If you don’t know someone on the team, you will know someone who knows someone on that team. That really helps, especially coming out of a place like UND where there are plenty of guys around. It helped that I was there last season and the team had very little turnover, so I was much more comfortable coming in than I would have been if it was my first time.”
Coming out of the UND, Maris played only four minutes in his NCAA career in the last game of the WCHA playoffs against Michigan Tech in which he made his first and only save. In his four years at UND, Maris was being such goalies as Saunders, San Jose Barracuda goalie Aaron Dell, Providence Bruins goalie Zane McIntyre, and retired keeper, Bradley Eidness.
“The four years at UND helped,” said Maris. “It helped me just be ready for whatever is thrown at me and allowed me to gain confidence for whenever I’m called upon to do something. I learned how to develop my skills and be able to maintain what I’ve learned and how to prepare.”
Despite not having a lot of game experience on the resume, what Maris has given to his trade is nothing short of exceptional. To be able to deal with the unknown of where his next job will come, whether it be with Colorado or elsewhere, is something that many players may not be able to deal with. When others could have given up, Maris stays persistent and knows what he wants to shoot for while he still has the chance.
“Hockey is at the forefront for me,” Maris says. “I’m only 27-years-old, which is pretty young for hockey I think. I know that right now that’s what I want to do. I have the rest of my life to do other things with my degree or with my music, but my sights are set in hockey. I’ll do whatever I can in order to get to that goal I have to play on a regular basis. Everything else can wait.”