PORTLAND – Call it a mistake, a mishap or misfortune for 20-year-old goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who played last season for the Lewiston Maineiacs.

Halak, who has been assigned for most of the year to the Long Beach Ice Dogs of the East Coast Hockey League, got a call following a game Wednesday in California saying that he would be in the lineup for Hamilton on Friday night in Portland when the Bulldogs took on the Pirates in an American Hockey League matchup.

On his way across the country, however, the Montreal Canadiens – one of Hamilton’s parent clubs – told their affiliate they would no longer need to call up Yann Danis, the team’s No. 1 goalie.

With Halak already on the way and Olivier Michaud still with the team, the Bulldogs all of a sudden had three netminders in Portland.

Halak was the odd man out, and he had to sit in the stands and watch as his teammates fell to the Pirates, 6-3.

Plenty of practice

Halak was the last person off the ice Friday after his team’s game-day skate at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

He carried the pucks off the ice and eagerly agreed to an interview, but with one request.

“I need to sit down,” said the Slovakian goalie. “I’m tired.”

Never mind that Halak was worked into the ice during practice by his temporary AHL teammates.

Just one day earlier he had flown from California to Arizona and then to Boston, where he then had to wait for his Hamilton teammates to arrive from Canada for two hours by himself in the terminal.

“It was a long day,” said Halak.

On the ice, Halak went through a series of drills. He looked good, and then he’d let in a soft one or two, bang his stick on the ice, regroup and start again.

Over and over, as meticulous as he ever was in Lewiston.

Finally, ice time

Halak started his first game of the season in October – and never finished it, leaving with a leg injury.

Two weeks later, he tried it again, only to reinjure himself.

“I wanted to be on the ice playing so bad,” said Halak. “I think I tried to come back too fast from the injury and hurt it again.”

Seven arduous weeks later, in December, Halak finally started another game. This time, he finished it, too. Now there was another problem, though. Halak had to share time with Olivier Michaud and Greg Hewitt.

“Three goalies, you don’t get enough time in the games,” said Halak. “It was tough having to sit two games all the time.”

Edmonton, which shares the Hamilton franchise with Montreal, recently sent goaltender Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers down to their ECHL affiliate and Hamilton then called Michaud up to back up Danis.

“That was great,” said Halak. “We were going to have only two. Now that I am here, there is now just one there, Hewitt.”

In Halak’s absence, Hewitt made 36 saves and the Ice Dogs won 5-3.

Homecoming party

Because Halak got to sit in the stands in Portland on Friday, former teammates, including fellow Slovakian Michal Korenko, and his friends and former billet family got a chance to see him after the game

“It is nice to come back and I get to see them,” said Halak. “I got to be here for a few days at Christmas, but any time I get to see them it is good.”

Ironic, too, is the fact that Hamilton had not played in Portland in over three years.

“It was a nice trip to see everyone,” said Halak, “but I want to go back and play more games. This is why I am here.”


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