An NHL Equipment Manager's Lifelong Dream, Fulfilled In 7.6 Seconds

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On Dec. 31, 2016, Carolina Hurricanes equipment manager Jorge Alves signed a one-day, $500 contract that brought his dream to life. (Mike Carlson/AP)
On Dec. 31, 2016, Carolina Hurricanes equipment manager Jorge Alves signed a one-day, $500 contract that brought his dream to life. (Mike Carlson/AP)

This is a story about a guy you've probably never heard of. His name's Jorge Alves.

"Trust me, I'm not used to getting requests for interviews and stuff," Jorge says.

Jorge is an equipment manager for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. It's a job you might call thankless — at the very least, it doesn’t get him in front of many microphones.

Jorge is responsible for things like keeping players' skates sharp and their sticks taped. The Hurricanes players seem to really love Jorge — he's been working with the team for 13 years. And Jorge loves his job.

"You know, I like to serve people," Jorge says. "Like, I enjoy being able to help the guys get ready for a game -- whatever they might need."

And this past New Year's Eve, the Hurricanes players needed Jorge to do something that’s way outside his job description.

He called his wife right away.

"Even just thinking about it right now makes me a little emotional, 'cause when my wife answered the phone, I said, 'Honey, it's gonna happen tonight.' And I remember, she said, she goes, 'Are you kidding? Is this a joke?' And I said, 'No, honey. It's not a joke. This is happening,'" Jorge says.

What happened that night landed Jorge on ESPN, CBS and in the pages of Sports Illustrated.

A Lifelong Love For Hockey

Jorge is 37 years old. He grew up playing street hockey — his family didn't really have money for him to join organized teams.

He played goalie for his middle school and high school, then enlisted in the Marines — which lacked a hockey team.

During his four years of service, Jorge met a woman from North Carolina. They got married. Then Jorge enrolled at NC State and played for the club team.

He spent the next few years after graduating suiting up for local minor league clubs like the Asheville Aces, the South Carolina Stingrays and, my personal favorite, the late Greenville Grrrowl.

It wasn't an easy time for Jorge and his new wife. He wasn't making much money. And his chances of reaching the NHL were basically zero.

"I wasn't a goalie that was sought after. I had no resume," Jorge says.

Then, nine years ago, Jorge and his wife had their first child. A minor league hockey salary was no longer an option.

"I just looked at it as in, I need to do something to support a family," he says. "And that was going to be hard to do bouncing around in the minors and trying to continue to chase the dream."

So Jorge embraced a new dream: Instead of minding the net, he would mind the locker room — and the laundry, and the gear.

He got a job as an equipment manager with a minor league team — and worked his way up to his current gig with the Hurricanes.

Turned out that job came with a pretty cool perk.

"You know, whenever they needed a goalie in practice, I'd fill in and give the guys a chance, or someone else to shoot on," Jorge says.

So even though Jorge stopped playing competitively almost a decade ago, he still tries to stay in shape — and the team asked him to keep his gear with him on the road.

The Phone Call

On New Year's Eve, that turned out to be a really good thing. Because a few hours before the team’s game that night in Florida, Jorge got a call from one of Carolina's assistant general managers. The backup goalie was sick.

Now, Carolina's starting goalie was perfectly healthy — and you only need one goalie to play a hockey game — but the NHL has a rule that teams must always dress a backup.

There wasn't time for the Hurricanes to call up one of their prospects from a minor league affiliate. So Jorge Alves — equipment manager — was going to dress for an NHL game.

Maybe now you can understand why Jorge is so emotional when he thinks back on that phone call telling his wife about the opportunity.

"I'm just thinking about how much I appreciate her. You know, just all the sacrifices she went through as far as me chasing a dream and trying to even play in the minor leagues," he says. "To have that feeling of telling her, after all these years of you putting up with me and kinda not telling me, 'Hey, this is never gonna happen for you, babe. Let's move on with your life.' She never did that. And so it was really great to be able to call her and say, 'Hey, it's happened and thank you' and she was obviously going to be the first person that I called."

Then he called his brothers, other family members and friends — and got ready.

He was given a jersey with his name on it. He signed a contract for $500, using his finger on an iPhone.

But while Jorge was getting ready to fill in as backup goalie, there was no backup equipment manager. So Jorge stuck to his regular duties.

During the game, he perched on the bench near the tunnel to the locker room. And while his teammates were on the ice, Jorge, in his full goalie pads, sharpened skates and fetched sticks.

Dream Becomes Reality

But toward the end of the game, with the Hurricanes trailing the Lightning three goals to one, Jorge turned his full attention to the ice.

"And it's funny, because I kept on looking up at the clock and thinking to myself, 'This whole thing is almost over. This was such a great opportunity. It's almost over,'" he says. "As the seconds were ticking away at the end of the game there, I started heading down the tunnel, and that's when I heard my name. And I was like, 'Oh, someone needs something.' And I see Coach kinda pop his head over, and he's like, 'Get your gear on.' And then, it was weird because I thought the game was over. I didn't hear the buzzer, but I thought it was over."

Jorge had already started packing up his stuff. But play had stopped for icing, and there were still 7.6 seconds left.

"And I remember thinking at that moment, too, all these people are wondering, who is Jorge Alves? Like, what just happened? Who is this guy?"

Jorge Alves

The Hurricanes starting goalie told Jorge to hurry up and get out on the ice. (After all, they do pay people to handle the equipment.)

One of Jorge’s co-workers fetched his mask from where he’d left it, down the hallway.

"You know, he handed me my mask and said to me, 'You know, you've waited for this your whole life, enjoy it,'" Jorge says. "So then I put my mask on, and one of the referees, he came over, and he gave me a tap on the back, and I think what he said to me in my ear was, 'Hurry up and get in there.' And I was like, 'Yeah, yeah, this is taking way too long.'"

Jorge skated over to the net.

"And I remember thinking to myself, 'Don't stretch when you get to the net. It's only seven seconds. Don't stretch. You're gonna look stupid,'" Jorge says. "And thinking, in my head, I'm like, 'I can't believe it. I'm actually in an NHL game.'"

Then he heard the announcer call his name.

"And I remember thinking at that moment, too, all these people are wondering, who is Jorge Alves? Like, what just happened? Who is this guy?" Jorge says.

The ref dropped the puck. It stayed at the other end of the ice — about as far from Jorge as possible.

Jorge Alves, equipment manager, finished his NHL debut with zero saves and zero goals allowed in 7.6 seconds of play.

Despite their team's loss, Hurricanes players stayed on the ice after the buzzer to celebrate with Jorge. They made sure he got the game puck.

When Jorge got to his phone, he had more than 100 messages. He called his wife.

"She was so excited, so happy. She told me about them watching it on TV," Jorge says. "With there being seven seconds left, a lot of people probably would've changed the channel by that point, and I kinda expected her to do the same — not in a bad way, but I was like, 'OK, she probably didn't even see it. It happened so quickly.' But no. She was telling me that she saw that I was going to grab a stick and, even though that was my job, she realized it was my stick, and she was like, 'Oh, my god, that's his stick. He's grabbing his stick! He’s going in! He's going in!' So I wish I had video of that." 

Back To Reality 

The Hurricanes regular backup goalie is now healthy. Jorge’s 15 minutes of fame lasted 7.6 seconds.

And Jorge Alves is perfectly happy with that.

"I'm not a National Hockey League goalie," he says. "But I am, in fact, an equipment manager. And I love coming to work every day, and that's what I do, that's what I love to do and that's what I'm gonna continue to do."

This segment aired on January 21, 2017.


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Martin Kessler Producer, Only A Game
Martin Kessler is a producer at Only A Game.



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