Brett Willows of Rivers enjoys a night with Leafs as an emergency backup


By: Lanny Stewart

It'll be a night Brett Willows won't soon forget. 

The 23-year-old goaltender from Rivers got an unexpected phone call while dining at Noodle Bowl, a restaurant in downtown Toronto on Thursday night. A current member of the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, Willows was enjoying some chow mein with some of his teammates when he received a phone call from his head coach telling him James Reimer, netminder for the Toronto Maple Leafs, was injured early in the game against the Carolina Hurricanes and that the NHL team needed an emergency backup goaltender.

Willows, who had two mid-term exams earlier in the day, had just wrapped up practice and was enjoying the rest and relaxation, however when an opportunity such as this arises, he knew he had to jump at the opportunity. 

"I don't usually go out to eat the day before a game because we play Western today [Friday]," said Willows on Leafs Lunch on TSN 1050 radio. "I took about three bites and I got a call from coach [Darren] Lowe that one of the Leafs goalies went down and that they needed somebody. I threw a 20 on the table, told them to keep the change and then sprinted out of Noodle Bowl and to the arena."

Willows was greeted by members of the Leafs training staff when he arrived at Air Canada Centre and was told to sit tight for a while because at that time, Reimer was still being evaluated by doctors. 

"When it turned out he wasn't going to be able to go back out and sit on the bench, that's when they told me to come and put my stuff on," he said.

Willows says a No. 82 Leafs jersey with his name stitched on the back was there ready for him as he put on his gear. Willows wound up hanging out in the Leafs training room throughout the contest. 

He says an incident similar to what transpired on Thursday happened a couple years ago when Jonas Gustavsson, a Leafs goaltender at the time, got hurt and the Blues had received a call from Leafs brass. However Gustavsson was able to recover in time to stay on the bench as a back up, so nothing came of it.

"I knew the possibility was there, but you never really think that anything is going to happen," said Willows.

Willows was then asked by Jamie McLennan, a former NHL netminder and co-host of the radio show, why he never got to sit on the players bench? 

"Maybe in my next contract," Willows said with a laugh. 

Willows says he didn't receive any sort of payment for being an emergency backup, but did receive some Leafs gear such as a hat and some shirts.

"Being an amateur athlete in the CIS, it would ruin my eligibility, so you're not allowed to take gifts or payment," he said. "They told me they were going to send the jersey in the mail to me. So, I'll be looking forward to getting that."

He says while in the training room watching the game, Willows was greeted by members of the Leafs who were not in the lineup.

"David Clarkson came and sat and watched the third period with me. I said this earlier on another interview, if that's the way he treats the younger players on the Leafs, then the Leafs are in good hands," he said. "I was really impressed. The hospitality he showed, making a nobody like me feel welcome and important went a long way."

Willows is a former member of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League's Dauphin Kings. He joined the University of Toronto Blues in 2011. 


Photo of Willows courtesy of University of Toronto athletics