A slew of injuries among Los Angeles Kings’ goaltenders led to a history-making netminding tandem for the club’s minor-league team Saturday – and provided an unforgettable moment for the Semiahmoo Peninsula’s father-son duo of Dusty and Jonah Imoo.
On Saturday, the Ontario Reign – a California-based American Hockey League squad – were set to square off at home against the San Jose Barracuda, but quickly found themselves in a pickle when starting goalie Jack Campbell was summoned to L.A. to serve as a backup goalie when one of the parent teams’ keepers, Jeff Zatkoff, was hurt in a morning practice.
The last-minute shuffle meant 22-year-old Jonah – with the Reign on a professional tryout contract – would made his AHL debut that night versus San Jose.
And with no backup goaltender in sight, the Reign tabbed 46-year-old Dusty – a goaltending consultant with the organization – to fill in on an emergency basis. It was the first father-son goaltending duo in league history.
Dusty was in L.A. working with the Kings at the time, and quickly made the hour-and-half drive through traffic to Ontario.
“As I was driving, I was thinking in my head that maybe I should push for them to try to find somebody else,” Dusty told Peace Arch News Monday.
“I didn’t want it to take away from Jonah, or distract him before his first start in the American Hockey League. But I spoke to my wife on the drive, and she said Jonah had already called her and was excited about it. It worked out, and it was pretty special.”
The commute allowed the proud father to soak up a lifetime’s worth of memories of watching his son play – from minor hockey all the way through the junior and minor-pro ranks.
Then, when he got to the rink, he saw two ‘Imoo’ jerseys – Jonah’s No. 35 and his No. 70 – hung up next to each other.
“Our stalls in the dressing room were right next to each other, so I was able to talk with him, help him get (prepared),” he said. “I’ve coached him my whole life, so I usually know what to say.”
Since Saturday, the father-son story has gained much attention, with the story popping up on so many Canadian and U.S. media channels that the Reign’s communications department told Peace Arch News that the pair were still “both slammed” with interview requests two days later.
Jonah made 26 stops in his first game with the Reign, though the team lost 5-4 in overtime.
“I think I was more nervous that he was,” Dusty said. “But I thought he played well. He made some big saves and he got us a point (in the standings).”
And though it had been a long time since Dusty suited up in a competitive game, donning the goalie pads was nothing new for the longtime Peninsula resident.
After a junior hockey career in the late 1980s that took him to Kelowna, New Westminster, Lethbridge and Regina, he bounced around the lower professional ranks in the U.S. before moving to Japan, where he played from 1994-2006, and suited up for Japan in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.
Since retiring, he has served as a goaltending coach for a number of organizations, including the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets, Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League, his hometown Surrey Eagles and most recently, with the Kings.
For the younger Imoo, the day would have been exciting enough considering he was about to get his first start, and was only made more memorable when he found out who would be backing him up.
“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for awhile, so it was a lot of fun,” he said in a post-game media scrum that was streamed live on the Reign’s Facebook page. “As far as my dad being on the bench, it’s hard to describe. It was actually relaxing, because he’s my dad – he knows exactly what to say to me. He’s been my goalie coach and my mentor my whole life.”
Upon hearing that he’d be starting – and then, that his dad would also be lacing up his skates – Jonah told the media post-game that he only told two people, his best friend and his mom.
“I didn’t want people to barrage me with texts. I didn’t really think about how crazy the situation was though, with my dad – it kind of blew up, and my phone hasn’t stopped vibrating since,” he said. “(My family) was really excited – just excited that I was even playing. But when they heard about my dad backing up, they couldn’t believe it.”
His mom, he explained, “just started laughing.”
“It’s just so bizarre, having both our last names side-by-side in the dressing room,” he continued.
“It’s really weird, but a really cool experience.”
The elder Imoo didn’t expect the father-son tandem to last long. Even during Saturday’s game, team management was scrambling for a more permanent solution to the team’s crease conundrum, he said.
“I don’t think they want a 46-year-old backup for too long,” he told reporters after Saturday’s game.