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Eric Semborski lives out dream as Hawks emergency backup

Tyler Motte (64) collides with the Flyers' Michael Raffl during the first period Saturday in Philadelphia. | Matt Slocum/AP

By Mark Lazerus

Staff reporter

PHILADELPHIA — The Blackhawks broke Eric Semborski’s heart in 2010, when they knocked off his beloved Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final.

“That was one of the hardest things I ever watched,” he said.

Well, there’ll surely be a Hawks jersey on Semborski’s wall for the rest of his life.

Semborski, a 23-year-old youth hockey coach and former club player at Temple University, was plucked out of obscurity to be the Hawks’ backup goaltender Saturday at Wells Fargo Center.

Corey Crawford’s appendectomy left the Hawks scrambling for an emergency backup. The obvious choice, former No. 1 draft pick and current goalie coach Jimmy Waite, 47, would have counted against the salary cap because he’s a former professional. So the Hawks had to get creative, and the Flyers put them in touch with Semborski, whom they signed on an amateur tryout and didn’t have to pay a dime. All it cost them was a couple of pucks, a hat, and a No. 50 jersey that had Crawford’s nameplate removed and “Semborski” put in its place.

“I should be paying them,” Semborski said. “That was awesome.”

Semborski — who works with the Flyers’ Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation and hadn’t played competitive hockey in more than a year — got the call after 11 a.m., less than two hours before puck drop. He was on the ice in nearby Voorhees, New Jersey, hopped in his car to his home in Manayunk, and got to the arena shortly before warmups.

The Hawks players immediately pounced on him for being late.

“He had no suit on, either,” Niklas Hjalmarsson noted.

Scott Darling said Semborski’s arrival buoyed the spirits of the Hawks, who were worried about Crawford.

“They put my number on the board and said I was throwing in 200 bucks for the holiday party,” Semborski said. “That was pretty good. I told them, ‘You’d better take credit, because that’s all I’ve got.’”

Wearing a pair of well-worn skates and his old pads — conveniently red and white — Semborski took the ice for warmups. Alternating turns in the net with Darling, the Hawks fired shot after shot past him. He barely got a piece of any of them, but called it “the best 20 minutes of my life.”

“Playing against the best guys in the world, man, I knew I wasn’t going to stop most of them,” he said. “I was lucky if it hit me.”

One of the last shots he faced was a Patrick Kane wrister, and he turned it aside.

“That was pretty cool,” Semborski said. “I’ll remember that one.”

He’ll remember all of it — his dad (who turned 58 on Saturday) not believing him when he called to tell him; getting stuck in traffic on I-76; walking into an NHL dressing room for the first time; finding out he would have gotten in the game had the Flyers managed an empty-netter in the final minute; and wearing the jersey of a team he hated, and now can’t help but love.

“Today, that’s all forgotten,” he said with a smile. “I’m a Hawks fan today.”


Twitter: @marklazerus