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Only in the NHL: Florida Panthers Get Help in Net from FAU Goalie Coach Erik Bentley ... Working with Cats is 'Dream Come True.'

FauhockeyThere are few opportunities in professional sports in which a person is basically pulled off the street and asked to help out.

The Heat don’t exactly hit up local gyms to find someone to help guard LeBron James in practice, nor do the Dolphins call up former high school football players and offer them the chance to come to Davie and work with the offensive line.

Hockey, as is the case quite often, is a little different than other sports.

The Panthers, for instance, sometimes need a goalie to help out in practice when one of their regulars are hurt or given the day off. Since having someone man the nets is a pretty important – and potentially dangerous -- aspect of the game, it’s imperative to have someone who knows what they are doing. A warm body just won’t cut it.

When the Panthers are home and need someone quick, they have a guy.

“It’s a very rare opportunity and I’m just happy to do it,’’ said Erik Bentley, a 26-year-old from Margate who is the Panthers unofficial third goalie. “I grew up here so to be out here working with the team is very rare. I didn’t grow up in a hockey town up north. I just really worked hard, know people and took advantage of that.’’

Bentley, who owns two automotive shops in Pompano Beach, knows a little bit about goaltending. Bentley took up the game as a youngster and played hockey as a teenager while at Coral Springs High and North Broward Prep before moving on to prep school in New England. 

Along the way, Bentley met current Panthers goalie coach Robb Tallas and the two hit it off. So, it’s only natural that Tallas leans on Bentley whenever the Panthers need an emergency fill-in.

BentleycincyLast year, when the Panthers minor league team in Cincinnati needed a goalie, Tallas suggested the Cyclones sign Bentley.

“In the minors, you use firefighters who play in their local leagues,’’ Tallas said. “You have to have a goalie out here. For him, it’s a dream come true. He’s playing against the best players in the world. And the guys treat him well because he comes out here and does a professional job. But it’s a unique situation, for sure.’’

When the Panthers were in New York last season, Scott Clemmensen decided at the last minute that he couldn’t take part in the morning skate at Madison Square Garden because of a knee injury. The Panthers thought they would have to go through the skate with one open net, but then Marty Reasoner heard about the problem.

He also had a guy.

Adam Reasoner, a bond trader working on Wall Street, told his boss he was needed up at the Garden to help out his older brother’s team. Adam Reasoner, who played goalie at Boston College, grabbed his gear, jumped in a cab and made it in time for practice. He was back at work before the end of the lunch hour.


“This is definitely something unique to hockey,’’ Clemmensen said. “If you are missing a forward or defenseman, you can play short. But you need two goalies. And it’s tough finding them in South Florida. It’s good to have Erik come out and help us. You always wonder what it’s like for them to face NHL players. I see it day in and day out. But I remember the days when you wondered ‘how would I stack up against those guys.’ It’s a neat story.’’

So, aside from working with professional hockey players, does Bentley get out of helping the Panthers. Not much. The team would give him tickets – if he asked for them. One perk is the equipment. The Panthers gave Bentley a set of Tomas Vokoun’s old pads. He uses one of Clemmensen’s old sticks.

Bentley, who played club hockey at FAU and still helps coach the team, says working out with the pros is its own reward. But he knows being there for the Panthers in practice could help him realize his dream of dressing in a real NHL game.

It has happened before. Last year, the Minnesota Wild used 51-year-old men’s league goalie Paul Deutsch for warmups before its game against Nashville. Deutsch would have backed up Josh Harding during the game – NHL rules say two goalies must be dressed for each game – but Matt Hackett’s plane made it in time for the game. 

In 2008, the Capitals needed the services of Brett Leonhardt for a game against Ottawa. Leonhardt worked for the team’s website and had been their emergency practice goalie before being thrown into backup duty – coincidentally because current Panthers goalie Jose Theodore got hurt.

“If something were to happen and they couldn’t get anyone here in time for a game, well, they know I’ll do it,’’ Bentley said with a laugh outside BankAtlantic Center on Monday. “Just to dress for an NHL game, wow. Of course, I don’t want anyone to get hurt. But, things happen. And I’ll be here in 20 minutes. Maybe 15.’’

Bentley is also a good luck charm for the Panthers.

“Every time I’ve come out here they've won.’’ he said before Florida topped Vancouver 2-1.

-- Jacob Markstrom, whom Bentley replaced at Florida’s morning skate on Monday, tweeted that all “went well” during his knee surgery on Wednesday. Markstrom is expected to miss the next three to four weeks.

“I can’t wait to get back in the net,’’ Markstrom wrote.