Podcast by Peter Koutroumpis, Managing Editor
RALEIGH, N.C. – Though he didn’t really start playing hockey until he was a young teen, Jorge Alves got to live the dream of suiting up and stepping onto the ice in the National Hockey League (NHL) on Saturday night when the Carolina Hurricanes traveled to face the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Due to an unforeseen illness suffered by backup goaltender Eddie Lack earlier in the day, the Hurricanes acted quickly to sign their 37-year old equipment manager to a Professional Tryout Opportunity (PTO) contract in order to have another keeper on the bench.
The native of Stoughton, Mass., born of Portuguese decent, was caught off guard by the situation but was appreciative of the opportunity, getting emotional on TV when discussing it with Carolina analyst Tripp Tracy.
As a part of the organization for 13 years beginning in 2003-2004, part-time off and on, and full-time since 2012, he’s been the Hurricanes’ go-to replacement keeper for training camp and regular season practices when needed.
It’s a convenience that not all NHL clubs have, and a particularly advantageous one with someone who knows all the finite details of each player’s equipment needs, let alone what their shooting tendencies are as well.
Though growing up in a hockey hotbed in the Northeast, Alves’ family couldn’t really afford for him or his twin brother to play the sport during their youth.
“Growing up I actually didn’t really play a whole lot of hockey,” Alves said during an interview back in September 2012.
“It wasn’t until I reached the age of 14 or 15 yearsold when I really started playing in middle school. Growing up in Massachusetts, it’s kind of awkward because there’s a lot of hockey. I didn’t really have a chance to play a lot of even youth hockey. Our family couldn’t really afford it. I had a twin brother and both of us played hockey, and we couldn’t really play youth hockey, so we played a lot of street hockey and stuff like that. When middle school came around, it was free to play – you just had to have good grades.”
Alves continued to play scholastically at Stoughton High School and that is when his thoughts of potentially following a junior hockey career took shape.
He didn’t follow that path directly, and instead enlisted in the Marines where he served four years before moving to the Triangle following his time at Camp Lejeune.
“It was literally two weeks straight out of high school, and didn’t know if I was going to play hockey or anything,” he said.
Though not continuing to play hockey while training with an infantry unit, Alves filled his athletic void with soccer, another sport he grew up playing, until ending active duty placement in 2001, two months before the tragedy of 9/11 occurred.
“I was still in active-ready reserves, so I was on standby, basically trying to figure out if they were going to recall me or not. During that time, I had a second language, being from a Portuguese family, so I would be on base on-call for maybe getting shipped to Africa or somewhere Portuguese-speaking.”
Though not deployed during his reserve time, Alves eventually met his wife Amanda, a Raleigh resident, on the site of the Hurricanes practice facility, Raleigh Center Ice (RCI), and moved to the area in 2000.
“It used to be a night club,” Alves pointed out about RCI’s history.
“I used to come here and I met her here. I really liked the area. We kind of dated and then decided to move here after I got out.”
Even after all that time not playing much hockey, Alves figured he would eventually move back to Massachusetts and play there.
He actually had offers to play at the junior and college levels, but he found out about those after the fact early on during his military service.
“My parents really didn’t want to send me the letters of invitation or anything while I was in boot camp and thinking that I would regret what I was doing,” Alves said.
“But I found after boot camp, and that essentially that if I can get invited to training camps or possibly get a scholarship, then I’ll be able to do it when I get out of the service. I kept that as motivation.”
He didn’t know how much hockey there was to play in the Triangle back then, even before he found out about N.C. State’s club team.
“There was really a lot more hockey in the South than I was aware of – meaning minor league and stuff like that,” he admitted.
Getting in contact with the Wolfpack’s student-led team, and following with his plan to attend college, he decided to begin studies at State.
Playing with the club team which played out of RCI back then, he eventually got the opportunity to be around the Hurricanes, and that eventually led to earning a part-time position as part of the equipment staff led by former manager Wally Tatomir.
“I was playing at State, and in the summer they (Hurricanes) needed a goalie, and I ended up jumping in net. They needed an extra guy, and I had a friend who knew Wally, and the next thing you know I was skating every day with them, filling in.”
For Alves, the 2004-2005 NHL lockout provided the opportunity to continue playing and forge a career in pro hockey, off the ice, and on it, from time to time.
“They needed me,” Alves continued.
“I think (Martin) Gerber wasn’t coming until they knew for sure if there was gonna be a lockout, so they needed me. Then I got to know Wally and I got busy doing stuff. Being a goalie, I was messin’ with gear anyways. I had worked at a pro shop before, so I had experience sharpening skates and things.”
Alves found the career path he would follow, one that would eventually allow him to work his way up to become Carolina’s current equipment manager, succeeding Tatomir upon his retirement.
Back then, in his mind, even if he wouldn’t continue playing, he could still be a part of and around the game that he loved.
“I didn’t exactly know what equipment managing was until it clicked in my head that if it doesn’t work out playing-wise, then this is really what I want to do.
“I had no idea what an equipment guy did (in pro hockey). I knew how to sharpen skates, but I didn’t know to what extent. I hadn’t played NCAA college hockey for that matter where they had a manager. I didn’t play junior hockey at the level where they had equipment managers, so I really didn’t understand that.”
His apprenticeship on such a career path, and Alves’ passion to keep playing the game, eventually would earn him the opportunity many only dream of.
Suiting up and playing continued to be a passion and practice he maintained while working for the Hurricanes, and eventually led to his historic and memorable moment when head coach Bill Peters directed him to take to the ice for the final 7.6 seconds against the Lightning.
Prior to that, aside from facing shots from NHLers in Carolina, Alves answered the call of various East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) and Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) teams like the Fayetteville FireAntz to fill in whenever possible.
“Skating with these guys (Hurricanes), I was always prepared in some cases more so than some other guys who were goin’ to minor league teams because I was skatin’ with NHL guys, whereas some of those guys weren’t.”
While Alves’ primary responsibility has been and is to lead the equipment managing staff of four which he does with pride, he still gets that sparkle in his eye and a smile on his face when he gets to answer the call to help his team out by stopping pucks for them.
Who knew that after years of facing shots in practice for the Hurricanes, Alves would get the news that he did to make the end of 2016 a New Year’s Eve to remember for him, his family, friends, and Hurricanes players and fans alike.
“It’s a special night – a night he’ll never forget,” Peters said after the Hurricanes fell 3-1 to the Lightning.
“It’s the perfect storm of opportunity for him, and it couldn’t happen to a better guy…If he would have had to, he would have made a save. The opportunity arose to get him in, and I think it was the right thing to do.”