It was a usual Saturday morning for Eric Semborski on Dec. 3. The Bloomsburg, Pa., native and former Temple University ice hockey goalie was coaching at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, where he is the hockey programs coordinator. Out of nowhere, people in the rink told him to call his boss, Jay Friedman, who had been trying to get in touch with him.
“I was walking to find him (Friedman) when Barry Hanrahan (the Philadelphia Flyers assistant general manager) stopped me and asked me where I played hockey,” the 23-year-old Semborski said. “He typed all of this into his phone and then said, ‘oh, Chicago (Blackhawks) needs a backup (goalie) for today.’ I couldn’t believe it when he said it.”
Hanrahan continued to tell Semborski he might have to go home and grab his gear, and if they decided to use him, he would get a call from the Chicago Blackhawks organization in about 10 minutes or so.
“I left right away, and sure enough, 20 minutes later, my phone rang and it said Chicago on it,” he recalled.
The Philadelphia Flyers had a home game that Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. versus the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks’ starting goalie Corey Crawford underwent an emergency appendectomy that morning, which meant the backup goalie, Scott Darling, would be the starter. NHL teams are required to have a backup goalie suited at all times, and because they weren’t playing in Chicago, they weren’t able to recall a player from the minor leagues. The Blackhawks started to scramble and reached out to the Flyers organization, which eventually led to Semborski. He signed an amateur tryout contract and just like that, he was an NHL player for the day.
“It was a little nerve-wracking trying to get back to my apartment (in Manayunk) to get my gear and get down to the (Wells Fargo) Center,” he said. “I left Voorhees at about 11 a.m., and I ended up making it just in time to get dressed and take warm-ups.”
Semborski has been on the ice at the Wells Fargo Center quite a few times in the past, but never in a situation remotely like this.
“Coming out and seeing a bunch of fans in the crowd, not just empty seats, was great,” he recalled. “You look up and see Patrick Kane and Brent Seabrook skating around, and I looked down and I was wearing the same jersey as them; it was crazy. I was just trying to soak it all in and keep up with them, which was the hardest part.”
With the Flyers up 3–1 toward the end of the third period, Semborski almost had his NHL debut.
“Once we pulled Darling for the extra attacker, I kind of figured if the Flyers get a goal here I might go in,” he said. “I had that in the back of my mind. That would have been just unbelievable, but it didn’t happen and it’s quite all right. I wouldn’t change anything from what happened.”
After the game, Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville told Semborski he was close to logging some time in the NHL. Even though he never recorded any game time on the ice, Topps just came out with his own hockey trading card.
He said he never forgot about the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Flyers lost to, you guessed it — the Chicago Blackhawks. That memory is behind him now.
“That was tough for me and tough for Philadelphia as a city, but I was a Blackhawks fan on Saturday for sure,” Semborski said. “I’ll be a Flyers fan my whole life, but I’ll never look at the Blackhawks the same. They will always have a special place in my heart for the rest of my life. I will cheer a little harder for them from here on out.”
Almost a week has passed since the unforgettable day. During that time, he did countless local and national interviews on television and radio and has somewhat gotten used to his normal life out of the spotlight, but he is forever grateful.
“I definitely came down a little bit from it,” he said. “It took a awhile to try to get over the shock of it all, but now it’s more like I’m just thankful and lucky enough for the opportunity that happened to me. I could have asked for anything more than what happened.”