At about 1:30 yesterday afternoon, a young man named Jeff Crawford got a phone call from Houston Aeros assistant GM/assistant coach Troy Ward. And it was one of those phone calls that every sports fan dreams about.
The phone call asking him to suit up with the team for last night's game.
Most Aeros fans don't know who Jeff Crawford is -- the scouts sitting in the press box surely didn't. But when the Aeros came out for warm-ups right before the second period, the man in goal for the Aeros was Crawford, a guy who helps the team out with errands and occasionally stands in at goal in practice when Anton Khudobin and Wade Dubielewicz are sick or not available. And last night, with the Aeros nursing a 1-0 lead over the Peoria Rivermen, Khudobin and Dubielewicz were definitely not available as they were in Minnesota with the Wild.
The reason that Crawford was out on the ice was because Barry Brust, last year's co-number one goalie and just freshly returned from the Florida Everblades, had suffered a nasty cut from an opposing player's skate and was in the locker room receiving 25-30 stitches, the chance of his return to the game unknown.
So out skated Crawford.
"It was an opportunity," Crawford said. "It was a once in a lifetime opportunity."
But it was an opportunity that was not to be. The doctors made the stitches, the ref and the Peoria coach gave the Aeros a couple of extra minutes, and like Willis Reed for the 1970 New York Knicks, Brust came out on the ice and took his spot in the net to the rousing applause of the Toyota Center crowd.
"Barry, they had taken his gear off and everything like that," Crawford said. "I didn't worry about it. If he came out that's great, if he didn't, that's okay, too. I wasn't too nervous about it."
But there was no way they were keeping Brust from returning to the game. Not after the difficulties Brust has been having with getting to the Aeros. And if Brust could play, there was no way that Aeros coach Kevin Constantine, one of Brust's biggest supporters, was going to put him on the bench. Especially in a game this close, and especially in a game in which the Aeros desperately needed a win.
"Yeah, it was just stitches," Brust said of the injury. "As long as I felt comfortable going into the butterfly, and I had to get down without thinking about it. I was going to try it anyway."
And try it he did, and to much success. Brust stopped 25 of 26 Peoria shots, and he even managed to pick up an assist on the team's third goal as the Aeros got a much needed 4-1 win over the division rival Rivermen.
"You kind of always ask your goalies to really steal one here and there," Constantine said. "I thought it was the...biggest game this year when the goalie kind of won the game for his team....I thought Brusty kind of stole the game for us. Because I thought we were kind of average for two periods."
The Aeros had goals from Justin Falk (his second of the year on a nice play), Ryan Gunderson (his fourth), Petr Kalus (his eighth), and Danny Irmen (his 10th). But the story, as a beat-up team heads to Milwaukee for Friday night game -- Constantine doesn't yet know who is going to be healthy enough to make the trip -- will be Barry Brust doing his best Curt Schilling impersonation and Jeff Crawford nearly getting to live the dream.
"It's one of those things you dream about," Crawford said. "It's kind of one, of those, you kind of sit around, and...this could happen, this could happen. It was neat. It was a neat experience."
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And under different circumstances, Kevin Constantine just might have let it happen.
"It would have been an unbelievable moment if he could have actually gotten a shift in the second," Constantine said. "And then the story would have totally changed that he told his friends and grandkids someday as to how that whole game went. A great guy...it would have been kind of fun to get him in the game."
It would have been fun. But the 4-1 win was more important.
MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Max Noreau was injured blocking a shot in the second period. He will be having x-rays on his left forearm today. If broken, he will be out four to six weeks. If not, he will join the team in Milwaukee....And Colton Gillies is probably facing a four-game suspension after pushing a Peoria player head first into the boards....The team's second-leading scorer, Jon DiSalvatore, missed the game because of illness, and he hopes to return on Friday.