'You can smell the burning rubber': Beer-league goalie suits up, faces shots at Jets practice
Glen Lafrenais strapped on his first set of goalie pads just a few years after he learned to walk, and this week — some 25 years later — he got his first taste of a big-league shot.
Well, it was more of a scent, really.
"You can smell the rubber — if [the puck] hits you, you can smell the burning rubber, it's crazy," said the 30-year-old, who had a rare opportunity to try to stop some shots from the Winnipeg Jets this week.
Lafrenais isn't a pro, though — he started playing hockey at age four or five and played through high school before advancing to the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League.
He now plays recreational "beer league" hockey with friends.
Although Lafrenais doesn't play hockey for a living, he is around the sport a lot as manager of security for True North Sports & Entertainment, the organization that owns the Winnipeg Jets and their home arena, Bell MTS Place.
During the past four years, he has met many of the players and staff and the topic of his experience has surfaced in conversation. On Monday, it went beyond that.
"You hear the stories of the call-up goalies that almost play games, and think that would be so cool," Lafrenais said.
"When I started working here I thought that would be awesome if I ever had the chance to do that, but when I actually got the text from [Jets goaltending coach] Wade Flaherty — he said he heard I played goal and asked if I wanted to strap up — I kind of had to pinch myself."
Jets starting goalie Connor Hellebuyck was just coming back from the NHL all-star game in Florida and the team wanted him to rest before Thursday's game against the Vegas Golden Knights.
And Manitoba Moose goalie Michael Hutchinson, who was recently called up, was still away for the AHL all-star game.
The team had to practice and they needed a puck stopper. Or at least someone who could try to stop something.
"I was all for it," Lafrenais said, adding he often told his buddies it would be interesting to face an NHL shot "because you know those guys could score at will on you."
"I said if I ever had the chance to do that, I'd like to see how that experience would be. It was everything and more — it was an amazing experience," he said.
"The fact that I touched a couple of those pucks before they went in, or I stopped a few of them, it was a good feeling."
Asked if the players took it easy on him, Lafrenais said it was hard to tell.
"I think a couple of boys were trying to give me a little chin music to keep me honest, but a couple of times I think they could tell I was sucking wind a bit so they might have taken it a little easy."
Lafrenais managed to track a pass to Patrik Laine during a power-play drill and got across the crease in time to kick out a pad on a one-timer from the sophomore sensation.
"At least I can say I did that in my life," he said.
"[Jets Captain Blake] Wheeler was picking me apart pretty good, though. I know he wasn't letting off."
Lafrenais admits he and his pals, like most fans, can be armchair coaches when watching a game, convinced they know when the players should shoot and when to pass.
"But when you get thrust into the fire it becomes pretty real, and you realize how good they actually really are," he said, in awe of the speed of the game.
"It was insane. It's amazing how much better they are than normal people."
At one point, Wheeler inadvertently broke Lafrenais' stick with a shot.
Coach Paul Maurice later apologized and said he would set Lafrenais up with a couple of replacements.
"I told him I would give him my next three paycheques to do it all again, if I had to," Lafrenais laughed.
"If they ever need me again, hopefully I'll get the invite back."
In the meantime, he'll continue to hone his skills with his rec team, the James Gang Beauties.
"We lost our game just before I practised [with the Jets] so now they're kind of giving me the gears a bit," he said.
"Maybe they expect a little more from me now that I have some NHL practice under my belt."