Garret Bodington has never been accused of skating by on the job.
Away from it is a different story.
That’s because the esteemed course superintendent serves as the New York Islanders primary emergency goalie, a role he’s occupied since 2006. The non-paying position also coincides with his superintendent role at the inclusive Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y.
Neither are bad gigs.
On one hand, Bodington helped massage the Tom Doak and Jack Nicklaus design along the environmentally-sound Great Peconic Bay into tip-top shape for its 2006 opening. It’s not a coincidence that Sebonack, with its pristine 300-acre terrain, has remarkably joined the pantheon of best U.S. courses in such a short time.
The Southampton area could feasibly be characterized as a golf course murderer’s row. Shinnecock Hills Golf Club (4), National Golf Links of America (8) and Sebonack (41) all sit close together and are ranked among Golf Digest’s top 50 courses in the U.S.
Despite a sterling resume that also includes stops at Augusta National and Bethpage Black, Bodington never extinguished the hockey passion that raged inside like a bonfire. In college, he played for the University of Rhode Island while wisely pursuing a degree in turf management.
“I wasn’t close to being drafted by the NHL,” said Bodington, who has been Sebonack’s only superintendent since 2004.
Still, he continues to live a dream of sorts by helping out the Isles wherever he can – knowing he could be called on to appear in an NHL game at a moment’s notice.
The Islanders connection came to fruition in the early 2000s. Bodington had been overseeing Bethpage Black during the 2002 U.S. Open, cultivating friendships through hockey and golf.
“For many years I’d get to practice with the [Islanders] occasionally,” said Bodington. “If four to five players were [injured] and not making road trips and they wanted a goalie to shoot on, I’d show. So a lot of times these guys would thank me for coming out and I’d always get a kick out of that.”
Former Bethpage superintendent Craig Currier, who made Bodington his first hire in 1997 and lived with him, thought Bodington needed his head examined.
“He used to come home from the Islanders practices and it looked like he got punched like a thousand times and I’d tell him he was crazy,” laughed Currier. “To go in and have NHL players drilling you as hard as they can, no thanks.”
After leaving for Sebonack, Bodington was approached by then Islanders general manager Garth Snow. Several Islanders players had sung Bodington’s praises.
Snow, who was fired as general manager on Tuesday, had a serviceable 12-year NHL goaltending career and understood the importance of having an extra netminder around. One who could take the burden off his rostered goalies.
“Garret has always been a great asset for the organization because if we needed him to come in for a practice on short notice when one of our contracted goalies were hurt, he’d always be there and did a good job,” Snow said.
So in 2006 Bodington signed a release absolving the Islanders of liability if he ever got hurt in practice. He’s suffered bumps and bruises, but no major injuries.
Bodington used to watch the Isles games on TV to get a feel for whether he’d be needed at the following day’s practice, about an hour’s drive from his home.
Prior to the 2016-17 season, the NHL instituted a rule that required each home team to supply an emergency amateur netminder for either team. If not, the home team could be heavily fined. That escalated Bodington’s importance. Now he attends most games, but remains productive on the drives with Sebonack-related business calls.
“When it became a requirement by the league,” said Snow, “it was an easy decision to have Garret serve that role.”
With the new rule in place, Bodington helps out in an official capacity. He’ll work a penalty box or handle other duties, waiting around just in case.
‘Just in case’ occurred earlier this season when the Las Vegas Golden Knights were down to just third-stringer Maxime Legace. Bodington dressed and sat on the bench. It was the second time in five years that he pulled on the No. 35 jersey that has his nameplate on the back. He’ll have to wait to have another shot, unfortunately, until next season since the Islanders missed the playoffs.
Nerves are natural, he said, but he’s played the ‘what if?’ scenario in his head hundreds of times.
“I don’t think I’d be that nervous on the ice,” he said. “I might be a little nervous, but once the puck touches you, I think I’d be fine.”
It’s not unfathomable he could make an NHL appearance. In March, 36-year-old Scott Foster, an accountant by day, was thrust into action for the Chicago Blackhawks after both their goalies went down. Foster stopped all seven shots he faced in 14 minutes of play. Bodington marveled over Foster’s accomplishment.
Garret Bodington, in goal, gets the better of occasional golf partner John Tavares during a 2018 season practice. (Photo: Courtesy of Garret Bodington)
At one time a single digit handicap, Bodington still plays golf with current and former Islanders. The competitive juices flow on the course, too, as he relishes beating them - like friend and NHL superstar John Tavares.
To which Snow, tongue in cheek, fired back: “He and Tavares enjoy the one-on-one competition, but as much as Garret says he wins most of the games against John, I’ve seen a lot of pucks whiz by him and into the net.”
At 46, it’s not lost on Bodington that he’s long in tooth for almost any professional sport. The Islanders will keep him around as long as he’s healthy and can stop pucks, according to Snow.
Bodington juxtaposes his superintendent obligations with stopping pucks. If there are no complaints about a well-manicured Sebonack course, it’s similar to recording a shutout in net. Translation: the spotlight normally finds you in both instances when you’ve screwed up.
At the final Islanders regular season game, Bodington ran into franchise legend Bobby Nystrom. They talked about Bodington’s high-level playing days being closer to the end than the beginning. It’s a talk they’ve also had on the golf course.
“Bobby said, ‘Garret, don’t let it go. Play as long as you can,’” said Bodington. “So obviously at my age it’s coming to an end, and when it happens it happens. When it does end, I can’t say I didn’t have a great run as an amateur.”
Whether that days comes sooner or later, Bodington needn’t worry. He’ll always have his day job to fall back on.
Location: Southampton, N.Y.
Ken Klavon served as the U.S. Golf Association’s online editor for 12 years and previously covered golf for Sports Illustrated.