In the midst of all the emotion, the excitement, the fast developing-by-the-minute story all unfolding at First Niagara Center, in a game that the Buffalo Sabres defeated the San Jose Sharks 4-2, was the story of Ryan Vinz.
Vinz made his NHL debut tonight as the Sabres’ backup net minder to starter Jhonas Enroth, pressed into service about 6pm when the blockbuster trade sending Ryan Miller to the St. Louis Blues was made official.
The diminutive Vinz, who is listed at 5′ 8″, played as a goaltender for Clarkson University and now works for the Buffalo Sabres as a scout, and also serves on the HarborCenter staff as Director of Hockey Technology. He was leaving the office after a day’s work, and was planning to join his brother before the game and then catch the action in the stands, a routine he had followed on many a game night. Little did he know that his life was about to change in a big way.
Vinz gave a glimpse of how this all came together just an hour before puck drop. “Luckily I was still in the office and I had my equipment with me, so it worked out pretty well.” Indeed, with the game about to start, the Rochester farmhands hundreds of miles away playing in Chicago, and the Sabres desperate for a back up emergency goaltender, Vinz was handed the opportunity that many can only dream of. A chance to suit up and play a real game in the NHL.
He was asked tonight that had the Sabres been nursing a 6-1 lead and it was late in the game, would he have gone in? Vinz laughed and replied, “Naw. This was about as good as it gets as far as an experience for me.”
He admitted that he didn’t play too much hockey during his days at Clarkson. “Pretty much held the door for the others. And had an awesome view,” Vinz replied. “But getting to do this at the NHL level? Yeah. Psyched.” Vinz admitted that this was one of his proudest hockey moments ever. “I was very surprised about everything. And really nervous. But it was very exciting.”
Vinz’ brother ended up getting to watch the game in the stands, and it had to be almost surreal watching brother Ryan on the bench in a Buffalo Sabres uniform, when the plan just hours earlier was for the two brothers to share a couple beers and watch their team play. “I don’t know if he got anybody to use my ticket,” said Vinz. “He probably sold it online,” said Vinz with a laugh.
With Jaroslav Halak, the goaltender acquired in the trade with St. Louis, planning to join the Sabres in time for their next game at Dallas, Vinz will go back to his regular job in the Sabres organization. But for just one night, Ryan Vinz was an NHL goaltender. It will be a memory he will cherish for the rest of his life.