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Panthers' emergency goaltender chaos could be perfect opportunity for one goalie

03/18/2015 10:34 EDT | Updated 05/18/2015 05:59 EDT
SUNRISE, Fla. - Injuries to goalies Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya in the same game was one of the oddest things to happen during this NHL season. It could be one of the best things to happen to Bill Ruggiero.

Ruggiero, a former major-junior goaltender with the OHL's London Knights and Plymouth Whalers and QMJHL's Moncton Wildcats, was one of two winners of the Florida Panthers' emergency goaltender for a day competition. He and Dustin Smith, who tied in a shootout Tuesday night, will be the Panthers' practice goalies Wednesday and come to home games the rest of the season just in case.

"If you would've asked me a week and a half ago if I'd be in this scenario, definitely not," Ruggiero said. "But I'll take it. Love hockey, love the position."

Ruggiero loved strapping on the pads again so much he hopes going through the Panthers' goalie tryout could re-open a door for him to resume his goaltending career.

"You never know what could come out of it," said the 34-year-old who is the brother of U.S. women's Olympic hockey star Angela Ruggiero. "It's hard to ever say that I've stopped playing. ... You never know. If something comes out of it, I'll see how it goes."

Ruggiero played 11 games with the Knights and 10 with the Whalers over two seasons before starting for Moncton in 2000-01. The Michigan native played 15 more games for the Wildcats in 2001-02 and got a sniff of the NHL with an invite to Nashville Predators camp.

The definition of a journeyman minor-leaguer, Ruggiero played in the North American Hockey League, ECHL, Central Hockey League, United Hockey League, International Hockey League and All American Hockey League. His last professional game came in the 2009-10 season.

"I think I had a pretty decent career over the years," he said. "Bouncing around as a goalie gets tough after a while, so I kind of wanted to start my own thing in life."

The Panthers found themselves in an unusual position earlier this month when Luongo and Montoya were both hurt during a game against Toronto. The team considered putting goaltender coach Robb Tallas into the game. Forward Derek MacKenzie was also an option, as was playing without a goalie. Fortunately for the Panthers, Luongo was eventually able to finish the game.

Ruggiero and Smith, a 27-year-old who served as a Predators practice goaltender in 2013, emerged from Monday's tryout that included 65 goalies (five of whom were Canadian) vying to skate with the Panthers.

"It was very eventful and very positive for our organization, so it was a good thing," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said.

After facing off in an intermission shootout against former Panthers forwards Radek Dvorak and Marco Sturm, Ruggiero and Smith tied. They'll get 15 minutes of fame, and Ruggiero gets to be on the ice with Brian Campbell — again.

"I used to play against Campbell when I played for London, he played for Oshawa," he said. "I want to see if he remembers me."

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