From pushing pills to stopping pucks as a 46-year-old AHL backup

Brian Costello
Parks head shot

The prospect world of professional hockey had never been further apart than last Saturday in Syracuse when one backup goalie looked across at the other backup goalie.

Riding the pine on the Norfolk Admirals bench that night was 20-year-old John Gibson, considered the best goaltending prospect in the game and the future starter for the Anaheim Ducks.

Backup stopper for the Syracuse Crunch was 46-year-old John Parks, a pharmaceutical sales rep and assistant coach for a local high school. On the spectrum of hockey prospects, 180 degrees isn’t enough to describe how far apart the two were.

“I looked over and knew that was Gibson,” Parks said after the game of his lifetime. “Imagine that. Me and him being backup goalies.”

In addition to his other two jobs, Parks is also an occasional practice goalie for the American League’s Crunch, stepping in when Syracuse’s other two goalies are ill or need a break.

Then the unlikely happened. Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback, goalies for NHL-parent Tampa Bay Lightning, both got injured Jan. 30. Cedric Desjardins and Kristers Gudlevskis were both recalled from Syracuse on the 31st. That required the Crunch to sign free agent Allen York for a Saturday afternoon game. Syracuse also tried to bring in Grant Rollheiser from Brampton in the Central League, but flight problems prevented his arrival for the 3 pm start.

So Crunch COO Jim Sarosy called Parks and asked him if he’d like a paycheque from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Parks was planning on attending his 10-year-old daughter’s swim meet that day, but changed his schedule, got home, picked up his gear and went to the Onondaga County War Memorial Arena.

Parks contract

During the drive over, he called family and friends and told them they might want to go watch the Crunch play that afternoon and to check out the handsome backup goalie on the bench. They got his jist.

Parks’ parents drove in from Watertown, N.Y., about an hour’s drive away, and his son was removed from a hockey tournament in New Hartford, N.Y. and whisked to the AHL game.

Parks had at least 70 family members and friends in the stands cheering his name when he skated onto the ice for the warmup.

“I was focusing so much on trying to do my job and stop shots, that I wasn’t really able to take anything in,” Parks said.

Parks warmup

But sitting in the corridor nearing the Crunch bench during the game, it finally hit home. He was wearing an AHL jersey, No. 40, and earning $300 as a backup goalie.

“I signed dozens of autographs, posed for photos, saw my wife and kids and friends in the stands,” Parks said. “I’m just an old man and a dad, why do people want photos of me standing next to their kids.

“Then the security guard said something to me that made it sink in. ‘You’re a member of the Crunch, You’re wearing the jersey. Just enjoy it.’ ”

Allen York, the starter, played well in a 3-2 shootout loss so Parks didn’t get a chance to play. He was told later by a member of the organization that had the Crunch been able to secure a four-goal lead, coach Rob Zettler would have put him in.

“The Admirals had quite a few NHL-calibre players in their lineup,” Parks said. “Guys like Emerson Etem and Steve Eminger.” They also had Garnet Exelby, Sami Vatanen, Devante Smith-Pelley, Zach Stortini, Jesse Blacker and Nolan Yonkman, among others.

“York took a hard shot off the collarbone, but it wasn’t bad enough to leave the game,” Parks said. “But I must say I was hoping for that blowout.”

 

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blogFor more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazineFollow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN