CHICAGO -- There are two things Scott Foster would like to clear up. One: Despite ribbing from the Chicago Blackhawks equipment staff, he did not use a wooden stick in his 14 minutes of heroism last spring (his sticks are quite old, but they are foam core). Two: Yes, Foster is an accountant, but despite the convenient narrative that he came to save the day, stopping all seven shots he faced against the high-powered Jets, in the middle of tax season, he does not, in fact, do taxes. Foster's specialty is financial services.
Other than that, everything about this everyman's improbable tale is as wild as you remember. One year later, the 37-year-old finally feels comfortable embracing it.
Foster is the most celebrated beer league hockey player in America. After he signed an emergency amateur tryout contract (for a grand total of $0) and helped Chicago preserve a 6-2 win, he celebrated with the team. The guys asked him to make a speech. "It was probably terrible," says Foster, who, because of adrenaline, has a hard time remembering details of his big debut. "I think I just thanked them for the night. It was very short, and it probably should have been better."
Then the real pros scrambled; the Blackhawks were off to the airport for a flight to Denver. Foster, meanwhile, had to ask a staffer where he could take a shower. As he walked out of the United Center, the media requests were already flooding in. They came from as far away as Turkey, from every morning show and from every major radio station. They came from podcasts with a dozen listeners and late night shows with audiences of millions. As Foster shoved his equipment back into his SUV (squeezing it beside his daughter's car seat), he decided he wouldn't do any of it.
In a society defined by digital oversharing and shameless self-promotion, Foster's choice was refreshingly modest -- and completely on brand with hockey culture, in which most players are averse to calling attention to themselves. But when the Blackhawks invited Foster and his family to watch his anniversary game from a suite, he agreed to let ESPN come along for one of his few interviews over the past year.
"I'm guilty of downplaying everything," Foster says. "At one point, I called it 'The Incident.' And I had to ask myself, was I stripping my own fun out of it? Just because you take advantage of an opportunity doesn't mean you have to feel guilty for enjoying it."
And so, sitting at his dining room table in the Chicago suburbs, alongside his wife, Erin, their two daughters, Morgan, 6, and Wynnifred, 3, his parents and his in-laws, Foster agreed to share a glimpse into his life since that experience.
"A lot of people have probably put themselves in my shoes," he says. "It probably reinvigorated the kid in them. Those are the cool stories I've had with people -- that they can instantly see themselves in your place and know, sitting in the stands, it's still OK to dream."
Erin and Scott Foster met the second week of their freshman year at Western Michigan. She was an Indiana native who ran track. He was a Canadian on the hockey team. It was love ever since he helped her with jammed quarters in the laundry room.
After settling in Chicago, Foster joined a men's league at Johnny's IceHouse. When the Blackhawks needed a new group of emergency goaltenders, they called Johnny's and asked for names. Foster was hesitant when he got the email. Erin convinced him.
"I travel for work, and he picks up a lot of slack around the house, especially with the girls," Erin says. "I said, 'You don't really do that much for yourself. You love hockey. It was basically your life before you met me. Go do it.'"
Erin used to often say, "What are the odds?" She never uses that phrase anymore.
After a full day of work, Foster was driving to the United Center on March 29, 2018, when he got a call around 6:45 p.m. The Blackhawks' starting goaltender that night, Anton Forsberg, was injured in his pregame stretch, and the minor league call-up, Collin Delia, would start. That meant Foster -- who typically watched the games from the stands -- would need to dress.
From there, it was a whirlwind. He was greeted in the players' lot. The equipment managers scrambled to make a No. 90 jersey. The media relations staff texted one another and Kyle Davidson, the assistant to the general manager, to check that they had the correct Foster from his Elite Prospects page (which would go from 696 views to nearly 30,000 overnight).
When the game started, Foster had on his full gear and his jersey, and he took a seat on a leather couch in the players' lounge, sandwiched between Corey Crawford and Jonathan Toews, both injured. They watched the game on TV. "There was some small talk that went on," Foster says. "Basically like, 'Who are you?'"
Foster was told there was a spread of food available, but dressed in his full pads, he didn't feel like walking across the tile floor. There was no protocol for where he should go and what he should do, so during the first and second intermissions, he decided he would sit in the vacant goalie stall in the locker room. "I mean, if you get the chance to sit in an NHL locker room and listen to [Joel] Quenneville talk, I'm going to listen to that," he says. (Most Blackhawks players later said they never even noticed Foster sitting there.)
Then, in the third period, Delia began cramping up. Jimmy Heintzelman, an equipment assistant, was radioed to alert Foster in the locker room. "I had to actually tell him twice," Heintzelman recalled last year. "He was kind of in shock. He didn't really say anything, just sat there. So I say it again, slowly: "He's ... coming ... off. ... You're ... going ... in."
Says Foster: "That's when a lot goes blank, like, instantly dark. There's a lot of people running around and, like, commotion happening, but it's one of the classic cases of it just being quiet. You can only hear the one person that's speaking to you, and maybe you don't want to hear them."
On Monday night, Foster is back at the United Center -- the Blackhawks are again facing the Jets -- and things are slowly coming back to him. There's a TV timeout, and the ice crew comes to shovel. "I remember when that happened in my game. I didn't know where to go," he says. "I was kind of just standing there, skating around in circles. The last thing I wanted was to get run over by the ice crew."
Foster also recalls his warm-up. Jordan Oesterle and Vinnie Hinostroza alternated shots; Foster didn't know where they were coming from. They took about 12. He thinks he let six in. "Do you want us to keep going?" Oesterle asked. "The whole thing was so awkward," Foster recalls. "I was like, 'No, let's just get this thing going.'"
Foster is easily recognized (he even sees someone wearing his No. 90 jersey as he walks into the arena). As the Jets take a 3-1 lead, a man from the adjacent suite shouts over, "Hey, Scott, can you suit up?"
Foster deadpanned: "I prefer leads."
Foster then flashes back to last year, when he returned home after the game and just stared at Erin, silently. He drank one craft beer and got in bed. He lay awake all night (often checking his relentlessly buzzing phone) and did not sleep. He went downstairs before the rest of the family woke up and turned on the game, which Erin had recorded. He kept laughing when the announcer called him a kid. "The second I stepped onto the ice, I was the oldest one on it," he says.
Then he went to work, mainly because he didn't know what else to do. Foster was famished -- having not eaten dinner -- and he picked up a barbecue breakfast once he got into the city. "I just sat down at my desk and thought, 'This is going to be awesome,'" Foster says of his breakfast. "'I just want to eat this so bad.' But it was just a flood of people. Like 50 people at my desk, 'So what were you up to last night?'"
One coworker had printed photos of him and pasted them all over the office. Foster patiently fielded everyone's questions, and by the time he could finally eat, his food was cold.
By then, things had spiraled. Two news crews had shown up at the Fosters' house (lesson to anyone who might have a bout of fame: Buying a house means your property records are public, and the media will find you). Erin was receiving phone calls and emails. So were Foster's parents in Canada. The president of Foster's company sent a staff-wide email with a list of links to online stories about Foster -- everything from People magazine to CNBC.
"Finally, I was taken aside," Foster says. "They said, 'I know you came in to do some stuff, but whenever you're ready, you can go home.'" (On Fridays, the office provides lunch; Foster waited for that, then left.)
As he sat on the Green Line, he was exhausted and then a bit paranoid. "That's when I became hyper self-aware," he says. "Anybody with a cellphone on the train, I felt like they were taking a picture of me. None of that was probably happening, but after that, things just felt different." At his beer league game the next week, he noticed a referee taking a picture of him ... while the game was going on. Soon, someone at work had printed T-shirts: "Keep Calm and Let Our Goalie Handle It."
Foster's life, quite simply, would never be the same.
The Blackhawks instantly welcomed Foster as family. Quenneville texted Foster while on the team plane to Denver. So did a few players. Within two weeks, he was invited to a Blackhawks alumni meeting.
Chicago's media relations staff offered to assist Foster with whatever he needed to return to a normal lifestyle. By the Monday after his debut, he took them up on the offer.
In October, the Blackhawks called upon Foster again. Quenneville wanted to know if he'd help with some optional morning skates, to help relieve the other goalies. Foster and the team worked out a schedule, and he tended the net for one morning skate, ahead of a game against the New York Rangers. However, shortly after, Quenneville was fired, and the new coach, Jeremy Colliton, wanted to do things differently, so Foster's services were no longer needed. The goalie has no hard feelings. "Doing things once is kind of my thing," he says.
Foster decided this season that he wasn't going to be an emergency goaltender again. Part of the decision, he admits, was "being protective of the story."
"You can probably only make it worse," he says.
The other aspect was the time commitment. He did show up once this season; the Blackhawks were in a bind for a game right before Christmas, so Foster was the emergency backup to the emergency backup.
Of course, he loves taking his daughters to games. But there's something about being an emergency goalie that fulfilled him as a hockey player, something he acknowledges he misses a little bit.
"Parking in the loading dock, riding up the elevator, you watch the game from a perch. Being in the weeds, anonymously, watching NHL games, there's nothing like it," he says. "It's just like being the ultimate hockey geek. You don't need any attention to you. You just sit there, watch the hockey game and go home. I don't know if that will ever be the same."