CALGARY – Two hours notice was all Dan Vladar needed to prepare for what would be his best game as a Calgary Flame.
Dusty Nickel was given the exact same time frame to prepare for his NHL dream to come true.
As a Flames backup the last three years, Vladar joked, “If you play two years for Darryl (Sutter) you’ve just got to be ready for every single game.”
As the owner of a construction company, who hasn’t played a competitive game since 2012, Nickel’s prep involved scarfing down a banana and racing to the Saddledome after a post-nap text informed him he’d be Vladar’s backup.
Two radically different paths to a shared spotlight, if only for a night.
All of it was made possible by a Jacob Markstrom illness that saw the veteran starter leave the rink after the NHL’s 5 p.m. deadline to summon, say, Dustin Wolf from the minors.
Instead, the Flames’ emergency back-up goaltender (EBUG) got the tap.
“I thought it was a joke until the national anthem,” laughed Vladar, who had an 80-minute bag skate Monday morning before making 27 stops in a monumental 2-1 overtime win over the defending champs from Vegas.
“It obviously wasn’t the plan, so I was just trying to give our team a chance to win and it obviously turned out to be my best game of the season.”
As part of the early drama, there was Vladar, lying motionless in his crease three minutes into the game after being barrelled into his net by William Carrier.
As the trainer ran out, all eyes turned to Nickel, who’d signed an amateur tryout contract an hour earlier.
“Tanny told me right away, ‘you’ve gotta play – we’ve got an EBUG on the bench,” laughed Vladar of his on-ice advice from Chris Tanev.
Nickel wasn’t laughing.
“There was so much going through my head at that point,” said the former Calgary Canuck, whose regular duties as the Flames’ third goalie for practices saw him tear his groin last year.
“I was hoping he would get up… especially when you look up and there’s 55 minutes left in the game.”
He did, and from there he carried the Flames to victory – a win with 4.8 seconds left that saw MacKenzie Weegar go end to end to score his first overtime winner of his career.
A win that came despite the team’s ongoing power play woes (now 1 for 33 their last 11 games) and despite a mitt full of breakaways, two-on-ones and five bell chances by the visitors that forced Vladar to make spectacular saves throughout.
He did so despite being blasted into his net twice (the second time by Weegar) and another time when a mad scramble saw him lose his helmet.
“I felt like a football player out there,” laughed Vladar, who was only too happy to see Weegar end the game after bailing the defenceman out with a breakaway save caused by a Weegar turnover.
“He’s getting chirped all the time that he’s got a muffin, but I think he’s got a great shot.
“He just proved it there.”
Unexpected laughs all around in a room of lads who may finally start getting some credit for a turnaround that has seen the club go 7-3-2 after a six-game losing skid that threatened everything.
Trailing most of the night, it was a snipe from fourth-line waiver pickup, A.J. Greer, who tied things early in the third, setting up the team’s fourth third period comeback win of the season.
Last year they had just two.
“Danny Boy stepped up big and really bailed us out a few times there,” said Weegar.
“We’ve got all the faith in Danny.
“The morale goes up when you see Dusty come in, the smiles get picked up and you’re making it a special night for him.
“It was a close call there (when Vladar was run early) – I looked over at (Nickel) and I saw a little glimmer of hope he was going to get a shot there and come in.
“But this night belongs to Danny.”
With all the Grade A chances the Golden Knights had, this was a steal for the Flames, authored largely by the well-respected backup, armed with enough class to understand he was sharing the evening.
“It’s great for Dusty – he’s an awesome guy and I’m pretty sure he enjoyed every second out there,” said Vladar.
“He deserves it for sure.”
As one of three Calgary netminders in the game, he got a chuckle out of the double-takes his pre-game stretching got as Vegas stopper Logan Thompson looked at him with puzzlement.
“He was not quite sure who I was,” he chuckled.
Soaking up the sights and sounds of a NHL pre-game skate he knows he’ll never again experience, his dream-like spin was interrupted by an accidental collision with Mikael Backlund.
“My goal was to go out there and stay out of everybody’s way, and I didn’t succeed,” laughed Nickel, who had just enough time to text his dad with news, “it looks like I’m dressing tonight.”
“It all happened so fast, but the guys were awesome, so welcoming.
“They were a lot of fun.”
A goalie coach who is well aware of the legend of the six previous EBUGs who saw NHL time, he was all smiles afterwards, soaking up everything including the post-game interviews.
“It’s such a cool opportunity to be here,” said the Calgarian.
“I know every kid’s dream is to play in the NHL and if this is the opportunity to do that and skate with these guys, it’s just pretty special.”
A special night in so many ways.