Oilers' surprise goalie was pulled away from university studying to play in NHL

Jan 29 2023, 5:06 pm

There aren’t many full-time university students who get a shot in the NHL, but the Edmonton Oilers gave University of Alberta netminder Matt Berlin that chance on Saturday.

It wasn’t until around three hours before puck drop that Matt Berlin knew he would be backing up in the NHL — and it wasn’t until just a few minutes left in a 7-3 shellacking of the Chicago Blackhawks, that he found out he’d be going into the game.

Entering the game with 2:26 remaining in the third period, the 25-year-old made a single stop on Chicago’s Caleb Jones and ingrained himself in hockey trivia.

“I’m actually sitting there doing homework, and my heart rate spikes ‘like oh my god, what’s going on,’ so it was then a bit of a whirlwind of a day,” Berlin said post-game after being pulled away from his psychology studies. “It was unbelievable, and everyone was so welcome when I came in.”

A fourth-year goalie with the Alberta Golden Bears, he was called upon to be an emergency backup for Jack Campbell against Chicago after Stuart Skinner was deemed unable to play.

He’s practiced with the Oilers in the past and has helped the Golden Bears in primarily a backup role, playing five games this season while helping them reach the 2022 University Cup final.

With a hefty lead over Chicago, the plans of having him sit on the bench and watch Connor McDavid changed. Head coach Jay Woodcroft bought into the idea of sending him into the game, while Campbell and his Oilers’ teammates were also on board.

“It wasn’t meant for any other purpose than giving a young man life experience that he’ll never forget,” Woodcroft said. “It came from the players, we talked about it on the bench, and we wanted to make sure we did it in a respectful way… we just wanted to give somebody an opportunity that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”

Although he didn’t play with former junior teammate Kailer Yamamoto, Berlin did the iconic “Hockey Night in Canada” interview with Scott Oake and got to keep the towel. The night was a free one; however, with him on an amateur tryout contract, not able to sign a professional contract due to not playing pro hockey before.

Golden Bears and U SPORTS , not new to NHL

Berlin’s contrasting green and gold pads couldn’t have made him look like more of a sore thumb with the Oilers. Still, he wasn’t the only Golden Bears hockey connection on the ice, with Edmonton forward Derek Ryan having starred for the program from 2007-2011. In addition, former U SPORTS Player of the Year, Luke Philp, was a healthy scratch for Chicago.

The Golden Bears also played Saturday night, downing the Regina Cougars 8-4.

Berlin became the 15th Golden Bear to make it to the NHL while making himself the third U SPORTS goalie in the past two years to see NHL game time, joining Vegas NHL All-Star and Brock Badgers alumnus Logan Thompson and former Alberta golden tender Zach Sawchenko, who has seen time with the San Jose Sharks.

The top Golden Bear to ever play in the NHL was Randy Gregg, who captured five Stanley Cups with the Oilers in the 80s.

Other recent teams to draw on the U SPORTS EBUG, however, include the Toronto Maple Leafs with University of Toronto goaltender Alex Bishop, the Colorado Avalchance with Bishop’s former backup, Jett Alexander, and the Vancouver Canucks with former UBC netminder Rylan Toth.

It may be the last time that Berlin stares down an NHL shot, but unlikely the final time he plays pro hockey, with his strong goaltending at the Canadian university level putting minor league and European contracts within reach.

“You never know what his path can do,” McDavid said. “Maybe we’ll see him one day in the league. For today, he’s played in the NHL. That’s something he can hang his hat on for a while.”

Ben SteinerBen Steiner

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