Robert MacDonald was a member of the local Bellingham and Whatcom County hockey community for several years after first coming to the “City of Subdued Excitement” from Colorado to play junior hockey with the Bellingham Blazers for their inaugural season. MacDonald helped anchor the Blazers in goal during their run to league championships in the 2012–2013 and 2013–2014 seasons.

After his junior hockey career in Bellingham and a stint playing NCAA Division III hockey in Minnesota at St. Olaf College, MacDonald returned to finish his college hockey career at Western Washington University (WWU) in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA).

“When I first came to WWU, the team didn’t have a coach or a goalie, so they were eager to get me to play,” MacDonald says. “So, I convinced my dad to coach the team, which set the stage for what was an awesome end to my playing career.”

WWU won their league during MacDonald’s junior season and appeared in the national tournament in New York.

After his college hockey career, the Bellingham goaltender got a big opportunity with the new National Hockey League (NHL) team in Seattle. In 2021, MacDonald received an invitation to try out for the Kraken’s “Emergency Backup Goaltender,” or EBUG, position.

MacDonald playing in net with a WWU jersey. Photo courtesy Robert MacDonald

Seattle’s goalie coach evaluated nine goalies in a 90-minute tryout. MacDonald and three others were picked from the group to serve as the initial EBUGs. MacDonald has been an EBUG ever since.

Every NHL team is required to have an emergency backup goaltender at their arena for every game. In the infrequent occurrence where both rostered goalies cannot play — usually due to injury/illness — the EBUG suits up and can go into the game.

“I think the most interesting part [of being an EBUG] is that you can go in for either team,” MacDonald says. “So I’m not just there for Seattle specifically, but could go in for their opponents too.”

All the home games are divided up among Seattle’s EBUGs. Outside of attending games, the backups are invited to help fill in at various practices throughout the season and training camp.

MacDonald plays goal against NHL prospects at the Kraken Iceplex. Photo courtesy Robert MacDonald

On game days, when MacDonald is the EBUG on duty, he arrives an hour before puck drop with his gear in his trunk and parks in special underground team parking. Dressed in a suit, MacDonald makes his way up to the press and media level, where he watches the game and stays ready to go in at a moment’s notice. Seated among media members, he must stay impartial and contain his emotions, even when the Kraken score.

Last season, MacDonald nearly got his shot at potentially playing in an NHL game — or at least being on the bench. Seattle’s starter, Martin Jones, left the game unexpectedly after the second period and didn’t return.

When they announced the goalie change at the start of the third period, he got a text from the team’s assistant general manager, saying Jones had a minor issue but was staying dressed. If the backup goalie had gotten hurt in relief, and Jones couldn’t re-enter, MacDonald could have gone in. As of this publishing of this article, a few of Seattle’s EBUGs have been called on to get ready on the bench, but none have gotten into the game.

During a lifetime of hockey, MacDonald has remained close to the game, and this opportunity with the NHL’s Seattle Kraken allows him to do just that at the world’s highest level as an Emergency Backup Goaltender.

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