April 8 started as a normal Saturday for Varsity Blues goalie Jett Alexander, but by the end of the night, it became one he’ll never forget — the second-year goaltender played in the NHL!
The Blues netminder had signed an amateur tryout contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs ahead of their game against the Montreal Canadiens. With 70 seconds left in the game, Alexander got the call of a lifetime; Leafs Head Coach Sheldon Keefe came down the bench and said to Alexander, “[Jett,] you’re going.” He was in the Leafs crease 30 seconds later and the puck was dropped. A few minutes later, the Leafs beat the Canadiens 7–1.
“It was all pretty last minute,” said Alexander, who found out late afternoon of that day that he’d be the Leafs’ backup goalie. “[I] didn’t have a whole lot of time to think and get wound up or anxious about it, which is definitely for the better.”
Getting the call last minute meant that it wasn’t the typical game-day routine for Alexander, who had planned on watching the game on his couch with his friends. “I tried to make it as normal as I could for what I do pregame, but also didn’t want to get in the way of anyone doing their pregame routine. It’s a completely different environment and I’m just along for the ride,” said Alexander in an interview with The Varsity.
This game was Alexander’s first time playing in an NHL game, but it wasn’t his first time as an NHL backup. Last season, he was the Colorado Avalanche’s backup in a game against the Leafs, but he didn’t step foot on the ice after pregame warmups.
His experience with the Avalanche helped him navigate through his day as a Leaf. “That Colorado experience helped because getting out there for the Leafs — it’s surreal and the team I cheer for. Being in that group and getting out on the ice is so special… I knew what to do in warmups this time.”
Alexander grew up in Bloomfield, Ontario, watching the likes of Vesa Toskala and James Reimer play goalie for the Leafs. “I remember that game seven against Boston when they blew it.”
While Alexander is a Leafs fan, his dad is a Habs fan. The fandom wasn’t passed down, but Alexander grew up loving Carey Price. “I think every goalie growing up loved Carey Price just because it’s Carey Price — and how can you not love Carey Price?” It was surreal for Alexander to not only play for the Leafs, but also face the team that his dad cheers for and his favourite goalie played for.
Alexander has received lots of support from his peers; his hockey teammates and friends all went over to his place to congratulate him after the game. On top of that, the Leafs organization embraced Alexander on Saturday. Starting goalie Ilya Samsonov particularly stood out when he told Alexander to go have fun and enjoy the moment as the two crossed paths during the goaltending change.
But one person took exception to the Leafs putting him in; the Habs’ defensive player Chris Wideman reacted to Alexander’s introduction to the game and said, “they’ll get what they deserve in a few weeks,” regarding the Leafs’ upcoming first-round playoff series.
Alexander is embracing the support he’s gotten rather than dwelling on the negativity and said Wideman’s comment was just in the heat of the moment: “99 per cent of people are supportive and happy for you. I can’t control what other people think [or do]. I’ve been trying to soak it all in and enjoy it as much as I can.”
Alexander’s motto is “run to the roar,” which he explained is about facing your fears and facing things head on. “It’s something I’ve tried to live my life by,” he said. He has a tribute to that motto painted on the back of his mask, which he wore for the Blues and the Leafs this season.
Alexander is grateful for the opportunity he earned and has many takeaways from the experience.
“I’m really grateful for our coaching staff at U of T,” Alexander said, explaining that they send their players to Leafs practice when they need a placeholder for the day. He said he’s also grateful that the Leafs put him in the game. “Good people do good things.”
“Being in that room, listening to them talk and joke — being in a dressing room for the last 20 years of my life and spending the majority of my time there, you get used to that camaraderie and the goofiness of a room… You’re sitting in there, and those guys are doing it too. Like they’re the exact same; they’re normal guys that just like to have fun. But then they’re also so focused and so good at what they do. So I think that that part was kind of humbling, realizing [that] they’re literally just like us [but] just, really, really good at hockey.”
Alexander spent the rest of the night celebrating with his friends. “I had a pretty fun night! To hangout and talk with them. It was like another night, but obviously pretty special. I’m lucky to have teammates and friends that would show up to celebrate with me. I’m grateful for that.”
Alexander kept his Leafs jersey, and while his focus shifts to his exams, he is studying knowing he reached every hockey player’s dream of playing in the NHL.