Former NHL goalie Damian Rhodes admits he was far from a good puck handler in his playing days. Scoring a goal was the furthest thing from his mind.
“I didn’t want one at all, I just wanted to win,” Rhodes said Friday. “I’d rather have a shutout than a goal, I can tell you that.”
On Jan. 2, 1999, Rhodes got both as he scored for the Ottawa Senators in a 6-0 win against the New Jersey Devils. He joined a short list of netminders who have scored NHL goals, a group that now includes Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators.
Rinne lofted a shot into an empty net with 21.4 seconds left in a 5-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night.
Of the 12 different netminders who have scored NHL goals, Rinne is the seventh goalie to actually shoot the puck into the opposing net. Philadelphia Flyers great Ron Hextall is the only one to do it twice.
Six other netminders, including Rhodes, were given credit for goals by being the last to touch the puck.
The 50-year-old native of St. Paul, Minn., did make history, however, by becoming the first netminder to score and earn a shutout in the same game. Ottawa had a 1-0 lead when Rhodes scored midway through the first period.
“In fact if I would have let a goal in, I would have had the game-winner,” he said with a laugh.
Rhodes, who retired in 2001-02 after 309 career regular-season games, broke into the league as a backup in Toronto. He worked with Maple Leafs teammate and goalie coach Rick Wamsley to improve his puck-playing skills since he played left-handed despite having a natural right-handed shot.
“I had no confidence at all that I could lift it through the middle and over guys,” he said.
That’s exactly what Rinne did against the Blackhawks on Thursday night. He stopped the puck behind the net, deftly kicked it forward, took a look at the opposing goal and launched it down the ice and into the net.
Rinne became the first goalie to score since Mike Smith, then with the Phoenix Coyotes, scored against Detroit on Oct. 19, 2013.
“To be honest I’m not that surprised, I think he’s probably been overdue,” said Smith, a native of Verona, Ont., who now plays for the Edmonton Oilers. “Just the way he handles the puck. He’s aggressive out of his net and he’s probably one of the better puck handlers in the league now.
“Obviously it doesn’t happen very often so when it does you’re surprised. But I’m not surprised that it was a guy like Peks.”
Billy Smith, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, was the first NHL netminder to get credit for a goal. The native of Perth, Ont., scored for the New York Islanders against the Colorado Rockies on Nov. 28, 1979.
An eight-year goalie scoring drought followed before Hextall tallied on Dec. 8, 1987 against the Boston Bruins. Hextall, from Brandon, Man., scored again on April 11, 1989 during a playoff game against the Washington Capitals.
Hall of Famer and former Canadian Olympic star Martin Brodeur is the all-time leader on the netminder scoring list with three goals.
The New Jersey Devils great shot the puck in the net against his hometown team, the Montreal Canadiens, on April 17, 1997 and was given credit for goals against Philadelphia on Feb. 15, 2000 and against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 21, 2013.
Mike Smith’s goal, meanwhile, crossed the line with just one-10th of a second left in the game.
“I can remember it clear as day to be honest,” Smith said from Calgary, where the Oilers face the Flames on Saturday. “I think it’s something you don’t forget about. I think the more you play, it always sticks in the back of your mind.”
Brodeur was the opposing netminder when Rhodes scored his goal, having gone to the bench for an extra attacker during a delayed penalty call.
Rhodes directed the puck into the corner and Devils defenceman Lyle Odelein fired it back to the point, but the puck went between the players at the blue line and all the way into the net.
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“Donnie Van Massenhoven was the ref and he starts yelling, ‘Rhodesy — that’s your goal! That’s your goal!’” Rhodes recalled. “So right away I knew and then all the players came around and hugged me.”
Exactly two years later, José Théodore joined Rhodes as the only netminder to score and earn a shutout in the same game. Théodore, from Laval, Que., backstopped the Canadiens to a 3-0 win against the Islanders.
The only other NHL netminders to score are Evgeni Nabokov (2002), Chris Osgood (1996), Chris Mason (2006), Cam Ward (2011) and Mika Noronen (2004).
“It’s a fun little thing,” Rhodes said. “It’s very odd. I thought it would never happen.”