OTTAWA – The road to the NHL doesn’t typically run from Paris to Ottawa, but for Stephane Da Costa the first game of what he hopes will be a long career is in the books.
Da Costa grew up in France but moved to the United States as a teenager to pursue his dream of playing in the NHL.
That dream was made possible on Thursday when the 21-year-old former sophomore at Merrimack College signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Senators.
His timing was just right: Da Costa got to make his professional debut in the heated Maple Leafs-Senators rivalry on Saturday.
Da Costa saw 11:22 of ice time, including 2:52 on the power play and finished the evening with one shot and was a minus-1 while playing with an assortment of linemates.
“They all talked to me about it before the game,” said Da Costa about the significance of the Ontario rivalry. “It was big, definitely.”
Head coach Corey Clouston got Da Costa into the game early. His first shift came 53 seconds into the game and lasted just 18 seconds.
He had his chances as well as the game wore on. In the third period he missed tapping the puck into an open corner by about one stride, and a few minutes later rang the puck off the post with a shot from the top of the circle.
Da Costa will probably never been considered as a physical player, but he can make up for it in other ways.
“He’s got those intangibles you can’t teach,” said new teammate Jason Spezza. “He’s got good hands and good vision and I’m sure the rest of his game will come.
“It looks like he has those natural offensive talents that you can’t teach.”
According to Wade Arnott of Newport Sports, Da Costa’s agent, 16 NHL teams expressed legitimate interest in the free agent after Merrimack’s run in the NCAA’s Frozen Four championship ended.
This isn’t the first time the Senators have added to their roster with college talent. Forwards Jesse Winchester (2008) and Bobby Butler (2010) also signed as free agents out of the NCAA.