There was no time for excitement or social media posts.
There was only time for one thing – panic.
Ryan Vinz, the director of hockey technology for HarborCenter, was working late when Joe Battista walked into his office.
Battista, the vice president of hockey-related businesses for the Buffalo Sabres, asked Vinz if he had his goalie gear with him.
And the rest is written in emergency back-up goaltender folklore.
“I was in full-on panic mode to be honest,” Vinz said. “I was not expecting it or ready for it. I’m just glad I was able to be part of it. I was working on a presentation I have to give on Monday for HarborCenter and I was really focused on that. I skipped dinner with a co-worker, too. It probably was a good thing I stayed in the office.”
That’s how Lancaster native Vinz ended up being the Sabres backup goaltender Friday night.
It was about an hour before the game with the San Jose Sharks at First Niagara Center when the Sabres finalized a trade sending Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to St. Louis. The Rochester Americans were in Chicago and the Sabres, as per NHL rules, needed a second goaltender for the game.
Enter Vinz, a 2003 graduate of Lancaster High School where he played goal for his school varsity team. He went to Clarkson and tried to make the Golden Knights as a walk-on, but ended up spending four years as the program’s video coordinator – a position he turned into a successful career in hockey.
After graduating from Clarkson in 2007 he went to work for the Sabres as a video scout. In 2011 he left to work for Sportstec, a technology company that supplies the software for hockey video analysis. He started at HarborCenter a few months ago to establish the hockey technology component of the organization.
He still plays recreationally, hence his equipment was in his office. But Friday, gave him a completely different view and appreciation of the NHL game.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what I was thinking. I was just running around,” Vinz said. “I just have a lot of respect for those guys. It’s a totally different experience watching them on video or in the press box and being down there, being part of it and listening to the coaches. It was an amazing experience.”
Vinz relied on help from equipment manager Dave Williams to negotiate his way through the game.
“I had worked with the hockey department in the past so a lot of those guys helped keep me calm,” Vinz said. “I told Dave Williams to tell me what I needed to do, where to go, where I needed to be. He said, ‘Just work the door. That’s all you need to do.’ I was trying to focus on that as best I could.”
Would it have been cool to get in the game? Of course. But Vinz was pretty happy just working the door to the bench and watching Jhonas Enroth give a solid performance in a 4-2 Sabres victory.
“It would have been amazing but Jhonas had an amazing game,” Vinz said. “It was especially great to watch a fellow goaltender. That was the most exciting part, to be able to watch how well he played. After the game, the first thing I said when I went up to him was ‘Thank you for not getting injured and you had an amazing game.’ ”
For the record, Vinz signed a one-day amateur try-out contract, which means there was no big payout for his one game as a Sabre. But the experience was enough, especially for a native Western New Yorker.
“My parents had season tickets back at the Aud and they would bring home pucks and pennants from each game,” Vinz said, “I started skating when I was young and I just grew up a hockey fan. I was a goalie because they got to paint their masks. Putting on that jersey of your hometown team, that’s was just a life-changing experience.”