By MICHAEL RUSSO
Paul Deutsch played hooky from beer-league game at Bloomington Ice Gardens on Wednesday night.
The 51-year-old, who began tending goal at the tender age of 37, instead wore a Wild jersey during warmups Wednesday night prior to the Wild’s game against the Nashville Predators.
After the Wild got word that Niklas Backstrom, slated to be the starter, would have to miss the game for a non-serious personal matter, it recalled third goalie Matt Hackett from the Houston Aeros. But Hackett’s plane didn’t arrive until just prior to gametime, so the Wild signed Deutsch, who owns a screen printing and embroidery story in Richfield, to an amateur contract Wednesday afternoon to fill in during warmups and potentially back up Josh Harding if Hackett’s plane was late.
It wasn’t. Backstrom should be back with the team in a few days, Hackett back in Houston.
But Deutsch still got to wear No. 33 during warmups with his daughter’s Eastview Under-14 youth team cheering on from a suite.
“I actually was shaking while I was signing [the contract],” said Deutsch, who filled in “Minnesota Roosevelt Junior Varsity defenseman -- 1978,” as his previous team on the contract.
Deutsch, a former Roosevelt High School teammate of former Wild assistant Mike Ramsey, used to fill in for injured Wild goalies during practices on an emergency basis.
“Every 10 minutes, we used to watch the shade of his face change,” former Wild center Wes Walz said. “It would go from white to pink to bright red. When it got dark red, you knew you were close to the end of practice.
“The forwards that hadn’t scored in quite some time, they all had to go down to Paul’s end to get their confidence up.”
Goalie coach Bob Mason called Deutsch at work at 3 p.m. The contract needed to be into the NHL offices by 4 p.m. He faxed it over, rushed to the arena and signed three more hard copies. He took over Backstrom’s locker-room stall and got to sit through coach Mike Yeo’s pregame meetings.
“It’s pretty intense,” he said.
Deutsch didn’t take a physical and jokingly hoped that a poppy seed muffin he ate would pass the league’s drug tests. He said the size of his pads were legal because they previously belonged for former Wild goalie Manny Fernandez.
His agent? Tom Westcott, a salesman at Maplewood Toyota, Deutsch joked.
His style? Joked friend and former Roosevelt teammate Mark Hultgren: “Three options – the puck misses the net, it hits him or it goes in.”
All jokes aside, a nervous Deutsch said a half-hour before warmups, “Practice is one thing. I have to tell ya, the game faces are on, and I don’t see those very often. Usually it’s a practice, and we’re calm and we’re laughing and we’re ha-ha-ha.
“But gameday is a lot different, so I’m trying to stay out of the way and not get in any trouble.”
He fared well in warmups, “let the guys fire away” on him and hoped Harding would come out of it healthy.
If not, he’d “say a quick prayer that he’ll be OK.”
Deutsch said he began goaltending at age 37.
“When you play senior men’s hockey and you show up to the rink and there is no goalie, there is no game,” Deutsch said. “So that’s how I started playing. I was tired of coming, walking into the room and, ‘Oh rats.’”
Wild players got a kick out of it. Two hours before the game, Dany Heatley was asked if he met the Wild’s new goalie.
“Haven’t met him yet. I heard he’s old, man -- like 60,” Heatley said.