Sam Brittain’s first real taste of NHL life came in January when the Panthers called up the rookie goalie when the team was in Vancouver.
Backup Al Montoya left the team in Washington to be with his wife as she gave birth to their second child.
Florida needed someone to play opposite Roberto Luongo in practice and Brittain, knowing he would never even see the bench during a game, was more than happy to leave his ECHL team in Cincinnati for the opportunity.
“I don’t care how it happens. I’m just happy to be here to learn what it takes to be an NHL goalie,’’ Brittain said after that January practice in Vancouver. “To get a taste of this for a few days is invaluable.’’
On Tuesday, the Panthers found themselves with a big problem after both Luongo and Montoya were hurt in a loss to Toronto.
With both players out, veteran Dan Ellis was brought in from Florida’s AHL team in San Antonio, but so was Brittain.
Thursday, Brittain found himself taking part in his first NHL morning skate at BB&T Center and on the bench for his first game later that night.
How long Brittain sticks around, or whether he gets a chance to play in an NHL game isn’t known.
Luongo is out until at least Thursday with a shoulder injury, and Montoya could be done for the remainder of the regular season with a groin pull.
Brittain, 22, is just enjoying each day in the NHL as it comes. It’s possible he gets sent back to the minors after Saturday’s game because the Panthers don’t play again until Thursday.
“I was going to go wherever they wanted me to, work hard and do my best,’’ Brittain said in his first day as an NHL backup goalie on Wednesday.
“It’s just awesome I’m here in Florida with the big club. I’m looking forward to enjoying every moment and helping where I can. You have to prepare to play every day. You never know what can happen. I have to be ready and take care of business.’’
Ellis made his first start with the Panthers since last April, stopping 29 shots in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Stars — the team he played for before being traded to Florida last year.
Of the three goals he gave up in regulation, two were deflected (one directly off the stick of teammate Brian Campbell), and the other could be attributed to a defensive breakdown.
“I thought he was good, real sharp,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said.
Ellis is expected to start Saturday against the Islanders and, if Luongo is healthy, take the bench Thursday against Winnipeg.
“I thought there would be some nerves, but I think playing against my old team, seeing some friends helped,’’ said Ellis, who is winless in six starts with the Panthers.
“I felt good in there, would have liked to get the second point, but getting one was a positive.’’
Tuesday’s controversial goalie situation, in which goalie coach Robb Tallas suited up as Florida’s backup goalie in the third period, has spawned the team’s public search for an emergency goalie.
The Panthers officially unveiled their plan, called a “Goal of a Lifetime,’’ in which local amateur goalies (18 and over) will compete for the chance to work with the Panthers in practice for a day.
The team would also likely keep track of the participants in case they needed an emergency goalie for a practice, or again, even in the middle of a game.
Interested applicants need to apply through the team website and a competition will be held March 16 at the BB&T Center. Two finalists will compete for the job during an intermission of Florida’s game against Montreal on March 17.
A number of national hockey outlets picked up on the promotion with ESPN’s Linda Cohn tweeting a picture of herself in goalie gear to the Panthers with the message: “I’m available for backup duty.”
The Panthers responded, “We’d love to see you in net at the BB&T Center.’’
“We think we’re going to have a great response for this,’’ executive chairman Peter Luukko said. “[Assistant coach] John Madden told us they used to do this up in Minnesota so we figured, ‘Why don’t we do it as well.’ It should be a lot of fun.’’
▪ Florida went scoreless in a shootout for the second consecutive time as it has dropped to 6-10 in those games this season. The Panthers have lost six of their past seven shootouts.
“I’m putting the guys out there I think can win it for us,’’ Gallant said. “The goalies have been pretty good.’’
▪ Defenseman Shane O’Brien, recalled on an emergency basis Thursday when Erik Gudbranson fell ill, was returned to AHL San Antonio on Friday.
Saturday: Panthers vs. Islanders
Saturday: Panthers vs. Islanders
When, where: 7 p.m., BB&T Center, Sunrise.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560.
Series: Panthers lead 42-36-8.
Noteworthy: The two teams have split the first two games with the Islanders winning in a shootout at Sunrise and Florida winning 4-2 last month in its final trip to Nassau Coliseum. The Isles ended a two-game slide with Thursday’s win in Nashville.