Randy Exelby

Backup goaltenders make a lot of relief appearances, but none quite like Randy Exelby.

Exelby was a 5'9" 170lb goaltender from Toronto. A late bloomer, Exelby starred at Lake Superior State. Never drafted, the Montreal Canadiens acquired him in the now-defunct supplemental draft in 1986.

Assigned to the Canadiens AHL team in Sherbrooke in 1987, Exelby soon took the league by storm. By his second year as a pro he was named the AHL's top goaltender, winning the "Baz" Bastien Memorial Award, thanks for 31 wins and 2.98 GAA. He also shared the Hap Holmes trophy for fewest goals against, along with teammate Francois Gravel.

But the highlight of Exelby's dream 1988-89 season was his first call up to the National Hockey League. That being said, Exelby never would have guessed how he would see his first NHL game action.

Exelby was called up for a few games as Patrick Roy was out with tonsillitis. Exelby backed up Brian Hayward until Hayward came down with his own flu. Roy came back to action early, allowing Exelby to back up Roy for a game in Buffalo. Exelby sat on the bench for the game, except for 3 minutes in the second period.

Roy was medicated and frequently hydrating, so much so that he needed to go to the bathroom. Exelby had to go into the game.

"He told the referee, who relayed the message to the coach (Pat Burns)," Exelby explained to Dick Chubey of The Hockey News at the time. "Burns started laughing and told me to get in there."

Exelby's stint lasted all of three minutes.

He even faced one shot.

"One from Rick Vaive that hit me on the pad, and a defenseman (Rick Green) took it up the ice."

As for being nervous, Exelby said "I didn't have time to be."

Despite his excellent season in the AHL, the Canadiens traded Exelby to Edmonton prior to the 1989-90 season. Talk about bad luck. Exelby was going from a team with Patrick Roy to a team with two excellent goalies in Grant Fuhr and Bill Ranford.

When Exelby was demoted to the Oiler's AHL affiliate in Cape Breton, Exelby actually chose to retire. He had a change of heart and was dispatched to Phoenix of the IHL for the season. It was a wise decision, as his patience allowed him to get his first NHL start.

With Fuhr injured and Ranford in need of a rest, the Oilers started Exelby in Pittsburgh on February 2nd. Unfortunately for Exelby, Mario Lemieux was red hot, despite his ailing back.

Lemieux scored three goals and four points, extending his point-scoring streak to 41 games. The Pens beat the Oilers 6-3.

Despite the loss, Exelby enjoyed his opportunity.

"It was okay, certainly a thrill to get in there and play against the caliber of guys like Lemieux and Paul Coffey," he said.

On Lemieux's two second-period power play goals, Exelby said "he's got a quick release, but I did come close to both of them. He doesn't hesitate. The puck can be four feet of either side of him and he snaps it right away with great accuracy.

Exelby returned to the minor leagues, bouncing around in 1990-91. That would prove to be his final season in professional hockey.

Beginning in 1994 Exelby opened his own chain of hockey equipment stores in Phoenix, Arizona.


Smoke 10:53 AM  

I know Randy. He's a great guy and was a hell of a goalie for us in Phoenix. We're glad he unretired and chose to play for the Roadrunners. He still lives in the valley and his Behind The Mask stores are the premier source for hockey equipment in the Phoenix area. He grew a hell of a 'stache, too.

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