Jorge Alves was back in net Monday when the Carolina Hurricanes held their first practice of 2017.
When it ended, the goalie was the one surrounded by media in the Canes’ locker room at PNC Arena, with some playful chirping from teammates in the background.
Alves has been the talk of the NHL for the past few days after the Canes’ equipment manager served as the backup goalie Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, playing the final 7.6 seconds of regulation. At 37, he became a goaltender of record in the National Hockey League.
Canes goalie Cam Ward said Alves had the players chanting “Rudy, Rudy” at the game in Tampa, Fla,, saying the 5-foot-9 Alves reminds them of Rudy Ruettiger, the diminutive Notre Dame football player who realized his dream by getting in a game for the Irish years ago.
“He’s exactly that kind of character, a guy who’s on the smaller side but works his butt off and has a really big heart,” Ward said of Alves, a former Marine. “It was a neat moment. We were literally watching his dream come true before our eyes.”
When backup goalie Eddie Lack fell ill Saturday afternoon, the Canes needed a replacement. Alves, who played club hockey at N.C. State and in the minor leagues, was signed to a professional tryout contract and dressed for the game.
For Alves, wearing the Hurricanes jersey was special. Having fellow equipment manager Bob Gorman, his boss, sew “Alves” on the back of No. 40 meant a lot.
“I’m going to cherish that jersey. I’ll have it up in my house,” Alves said Monday, smiling. “I’m truly humbled.”
Alves led the team onto the ice at Amalie Arena for pregame warmups, usually the place of the starting goalie but something Ward and the team insisted on Alves doing.
“I said to him right before the game, they don’t ask how or why, but you made it to the NHL,” Ward said. “It’s a memory he’ll cherish for the rest of his life. It turned out to be a great story, too, for a great guy.”
Tripp Tracy, the Canes’ TV analyst, dressed for one NHL game with the Hurricanes, although he did not play. Tracy said hearing that Alves told his teammates “You’ve got a job to do” before Saturday’s game was fitting.
He’s an NHL’er forever.
“His focus was not on absorbing the amazing moment, rather to channel an amazing personal moment to energize his team and win a big hockey game,” Tracy said.
During the game, Alves tended to his equipment manager duties. He was sharpening skates and taped up a stick for center Victor Rask, saying Monday, “That’s my job. Why wouldn’t I do that?”
With the Canes trailing 3-1 and play stopped for an icing call, Canes coach Bill Peters said, “Jorge, get your stuff on.” Just like that, Alves was in the game.
“Surreal,” Alves said. "This is the brightest stage in our sport. To have the honor to do this, everybody dreams about it.
“I really would have liked to have shared the moment with everybody I’ve played with …”
Canes forward Jeff Skinner scooped up the puck at game’s end, making sure Alves had it as a memento.
“It’s pretty cool,” Skinner said. “For us, we see him every day, all the work he does. And then on top of all the work he does he gets in there without complaining.”
In net, that is. Alves often fills in as an extra goalie during practices, taking shots, staying late. “A pretty selfless thing for him to do,” Skinner said.
Alves said he received “a lot of love from the goalie union” and there were 100 texts on his phone after the game. On Sunday, an off day for the Canes, there were another 200 and it had to be a big day in the Alves house with his wife, Amanda, and their two kids, Madison and Jaxon.
With Lack still out Monday, Alves and Ward were the two goalies at practice. Peters was not sure if Lack would be available Tuesday for the New Jersey Devils game at PNC Arena, saying the Canes would recall a goalie from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL if Lack is unable to go. No second game for Alves.
As Alves was leaving the ice Saturday, longtime equipment manager Skip Cunningham was there to congratulate him and tell him, “Good job.”
As Cunningham said Monday, “He’s an NHL’er forever.”
Devils at Hurricanes
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh