Alaska Aces fans rally behind goaltender
Jeff Barney is becoming a legend in Alaska Aces history thanks to his very first pro start on April 9, 2016. Barney, age 45, has been what those in the hockey world refer to as an EBUG, or emergency back up goaltender. At first, it sounds like some sort of morning after sickness, but in the goaltending ranks, it may just be the perfect job.
Goalies in the game of hockey are something of their own breed. If a goalie is in the net when their team wins, they don’t always get credit for that victory. On the other hand, when a goalie is in the net and his team loses that game, it is always his fault. How does this effect Jeff Barney though? Well it doesn’t, because Barney is an EBUG — a goaltender that never carries any responsibility and still gets to be a part of the team and collect a paycheck. It might seem strange, but Barney has become a career EBUG goaltender for 25 years, on over 13 different teams. Barney is already the legend of EBUG goalies, but on Saturday, he gave them all hope.
The Alaska Aces signed Barney to a one-day pro contract to give the goalie his very first pro career start. His first pro career game came for the Anchorage Aces in the 1991-92 season of a pro league that no longer even exists. Alongside his backdoor pro career, Barney is also the director of operations for Fur Rendezvous and a head coach of Alaska All Stars 16AAA boys hockey. He has coached over 250 kids in the Anchorage area.
His very first pro career start was supposed to happen earlier this year during preseason, according to Alaska Aces head coach Rob Murray. Plans changed when Murray was faced with deciding his season long starter between two competitive goaltenders in two games. It was something the Alaska Aces team hadn’t thought about all season until their season began to fall apart earlier this year. Aces fans are forced to accept the fact for the last two seasons, their home town team hasn’t qualified for the playoffs. In the wake of that upset, Barney and his pro start began to be something that the organization began contemplating again.
With the Aces officially eliminated from playoff contention, the last game of the season had become a virtual throw away for the team. Although it will be meaningful for the visiting Colorado Eagles and their playoff seeding situation, they weren’t willing to argue with the decision Alaska made in starting its real life dinosaur — Barney.
No one including Barney could know what to expect going into the game of his life he has waited a very long time for.
“Its either the start of my career or the end of my career at this point,” Barney said before the game.
The only traceable impressive stats on the hockey career of Barney are his numbers in 1989-90 season in the United States Hockey League (USHL). According to hockeydb.com, Barney played in 8 games and had a heavy 8.18 goals against average (GAA). He also boasted a staggering .818 save percentage that is measured by the amount of goals you give up versus how many shots you face. These unsettling statistics are all Aces fans had to rely on for measurable talent.
Regardless, the town came ablaze when legendary radio host and Aces broadcaster Bob Lester began to push for Barney to get his chance. It started out as a joke, but very quickly became a reality when the Aces declared April 9, 2016 as Jeff Barney Day and promised the town his chance of a lifetime. Anchorage rallied behind their beloved Aces EBUG in support of his big day. Aces games have lacked attendance all season due to the lack of success, but on Saturday, a full and sold out crowd of 6,251 fans showed up to see if the feel good story would end in greatness or a big laugh.
A typical Aces welcome and starting line up introduction involves some raucous cheering and cowbell ringing. The first five starters were announced before Barney, when Bob Lester said Barney’s name, the crowd at the Sullivan Arena went ballistic. Not a single fan in attendance was sitting down as Barney made his way to the ice, saluting the fans in support of his proudest moment.
“It was like watching my own son,” Lester said.
Barney didn’t face his first shot on goal until about 3 minutes into the game from an off angle shot out of the corner of the ice. Barney made the save and again, the crowd erupted in support and cheers for the 45-year-old goaltender. After about another 3 minutes, Barney faced some adversity on a flurry of shots in close from the visiting Colorado Eagles and again, he pulled through. Barney continued success rattling off saves that even some of the starters of the Aces this year hadn’t managed to make this season.
“Getting the first one was huge,” Barney said.
The Aces struck first scoring a goal at 12:59. Justin Brenton scored to make it 1-0 Aces and gave Barney his first ever lead.
The Aces took a penalty late in the first period that threatened Barney’s success, but the team pulled together and didn’t allow a single shot to get through. The Aces took another questionable penalty for a helmet violation. On the penalty kill, Barney was tested as Colorado peppered him with shots. Barney made it through his first full period of pro hockey without giving up a goal on 14 shots.
At the start of the second period, the Aces, still leading 1-0, took their third consecutive penalty, putting Barney in another challenging position. Fortunately, the Aces would allow only one shot. Colorado tallied its first goal on Barney early in the second period eliminating the chances for a Barney shutout and tying the game at one goal apiece.
At 4:58, Barney gave up yet another goal on his short side to number 19, Kyle Ostrow of the Colorado Eagles. Barney was saved by a commercial timeout in the second period that allowed him to gather his composure and shake off the two quick goals he had allowed to give up the lead.
The Aces would follow up with a game tying goal off the tape of Peter Sivak’s stick at 7:19 in the second period, giving Barney some much needed confidence. The crowd fell silent when former UAF hockey star Alec Hajdukovich rang a breakaway shot of the post that echoed through the arena. Almost like clockwork, Colorado was forced to take a penalty to halt the Aces onslaught of 6 consecutive shots on net while holding the Eagles to none, giving them their first power play on the night. Barney would then mistakenly take a penalty for illegally touching the puck outside the trapezoid.
Persistent exasperation from the referees found Alaska again shorthanded with a little over 5 minutes to play in the second period. Barney made a kick save during the penalty kill that resulted in the first “Barney” chant echoing through the crowd. Regardless of the cheers, Barney gave up a soft shot from the blue line that slipped between his legs to give Colorado the goal and lead 3-2 late in the second period.
Deja vu settled its way into the crowd as the Aces take another penalty with 1:25 left in second period leaving them once again shorthanded. This time, Colorado would hit the net from the point giving them a two goal lead with 3 seconds left heading into the third period, the score now 4-2.
Six minutes into the third period, Colorado Eagle’s player, Teigan Zahn, took a hooking penalty that gave Alaska a small sliver of hope. It wouldn’t take long as the Aces found mesh behind Eagles goaltender Kris Lazaruk for a third time at the 6:14 mark of the third period by Marc-Andre Levesque to bring Alaska within one goal of tying the game. The Aces would continue power play like dominance over the Eagles at even strength for several more minutes to keep their hopes alive.
Like a gift from the hockey gods, the Aces were awarded another power play late in the third period giving them a chance to tie their final game of the season. Colorado however managed to kill the penalty off, allowing only one shot on net from the Aces. Tyler Fiddler of Colorado would take another penalty for tripping with less than three minutes remaining in the game to give Alaska one more power play opportunity.
Colorado took another penalty at 18:39 of the third period. Murray pulled Barney to go 6-3 advantage with a little over one-minute remaining in a last ditch effort to tie the game. An icing call with 13.1 seconds left only built on the suspense as the crowd hovered against the glass, in hopes of a win in the final Aces game of the season. Unfortunately, Colorado would put a final dagger into the hearts of Aces fans on Jeff Barney night after Jesse Mychan walked in an empty net goal to seal the game at Colorado 5, Alaska 3.
“Regardless of the outcome, that man put on a show tonight,” Murray said.
The fans excitement would not be extinguished as one more Barney chant rang out across the stadium for the last time. On a night when an outcome could not be foreseen, an unlikely hero in EBUG, played an unbelievable game and kept the Aces alive in the game as long as he could, while receiving first star of the game accolades and five-star character along his incredible journey. After the game, the Aces held their annual warm-up jersey auction where Barney’s game worn jersey sold for $2,400.