Just before the NHL lockout, the big teams sent their best goaltending prospects to the minors, essentially flooding the market. That pushed quality netminders down the minor league chain until it almost pushed Festa out the door into a civilian life in real estate. After putting up a 6-4-2 regular-season record and backing up Boucher in last spring's Central Hockey League title run, Festa didn't have any opportunities to extend his career.
Then Nick Boucher needed hip surgeries and Charlie Effinger and Kenny Reiter got American Hockey League training camp opportunities. Festa showed up in Fort Wayne to work out in informal skates to get ready for a training camp where he had everything but an invitation. His play, and the circumstances, earned him what might be the last Fort Wayne training camp spot.
Just how badly does he want to play?
``You have to take into consideration your age and what you have looking forward because the options just aren't as much out there,'' Festa said. ``I made the decision to come back. I felt like I had a good year last year, even though I missed a little bit of time at the start which probably hurt the amount of games that I played. I really want to play at least one more year and see what happens. Things will usually work out the way they are supposed to.''
That's kind of the attitude goaltenders learn to develop. What's the toughest position to make on any team? There are usually at least 11 forwards and seven defensemen, but only two goaltenders. There are always more goaltenders than there are jobs, especially in the minors when leagues are shrinking and teams are folding.
``If this was my first year going into pro, then I'd be worried and I would be like, `It's not worth it so why play?' '' Festa said. ``After being around, I've seen how it works, especially with goaltenders. One quick change with the lockout could open up tons of spots. Or an injury, and all of a sudden there's a spot. You just have to take advantage of the opportunity when it comes.''
Because he's a goaltender, that's always the case. There always pressure on netminders during the games, but just getting a chance to be in the game means they've already survived pressure to get the chance. They always have to be ready and opportunistic as well as good.
``You want to be the guy and prove yourself,'' Festa said. ``Even where you find yourself in a situation like the playoffs last year, when Bouch gets going and was winning.. you're still waiting on your chance as much as you want to win.''
There's never been a goaltender who considers himself the back-up. They all feel in their guts that they are good enough to carry a team if they can just get the opportunity. They have to think that or it's time to take the pads off for good.
So Festa still has a opportunity in this training camp. It's probably not a great one, but he knows there are plenty of people pulling for him. Maybe all he needs is one chance.