COLUMBUS, Ohio – During a memorable debut week in the NHL, Columbus goaltender Dan LaCosta’s mind strayed back to his hockey beginnings in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Like countless kids from the Rock, he started playing hockey on the street.
“Whenever we got the chance, we would go out and have a game of breakout,” said the 22-year-old native of Labrador City. “It’s still like that when I go home. We grew up doing that.
“It’s where I got a passion for the game.”
LaCosta, called up on an emergency basis to replace rookie of the year candidate Steve Mason, helped the Blue Jackets end a three-game losing skid with a critical 3-2 overtime win over the conference-leading San Jose Sharks last Saturday.
The win was no fluke. Three days later, LaCosta recorded his first NHL shutout, stopping 31 shots in a 3-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.
“I honestly can’t really put it into words,” LaCosta said of his first week as an NHL regular. “I’m just having a great time up here. Learning every day, it’s been a great experience.
“It was almost like a blur, the couple days. It was cool.”
It’s time for LaCosta to click his heels and return to Syracuse of the American Hockey League. Mason has recovered from about of mononucleosis and is scheduled to start against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday.
“He deserves a lot of credit,” said Mason. “He played two good teams and had great performances in both.”
With Mason and Pascal Leclaire (ankle) both out and newly acquired backup Wade Dubielewicz having seen limited action, the Jackets looked to LaCosta, who has been getting plenty of playing time in the AHL now that Mason has gone.
“When you’re an unknown and you come in and play well, I think it gives everybody confidence,” added head coach Ken Hitchcock. “The way he played and the way his disposition is, the whole team got confident.
“He’s gone through a lot in the last couple years, bouncing around the East Coast and the American League. He took advantage of an opportunity and did a great job with it.”
LaCosta will go back to the Crunch brimming with confidence and full of memories.
“In the morning when I found out, I was pretty nervous,” LaCosta said of his first career start. “But I told myself that it was a great opportunity. No one from my town has done something like that so I just wanted to go out and enjoy the experience and make the most of it.”
He wasn’t required to do much in the San Jose win thanks to a superior defensive effort by the Blue Jackets but against Colorado, the six-foot-two goalie LaCosta showed good athleticism and sound positioning in turning away everything the Avs threw at him.
LaCosta didn’t start playing goal until the age of 11 but was a natural because of his emphasis on defending. By 2002, he was playing in the OHL with Owen Sound, eventually wrapping up his junior career with the Barrie Colts. LaCosta had a stellar final year in 2005-06, going 36-17-1 with six shutouts and 2.55 goals against average.
Taken 93rd overall by Columbus in the 2004 draft, he bounced around the minors for a couple years.
But in November 2007, while playing with the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL, LaCosta’s career took a turn. The team was involved in a serious bus accident near Erie, Pa., and the goalie suffered a bad sprain and ligament damage to his right ankle.
He remains thankful it wasn’t worse.
“We could have been killed,” LaCosta said. “We were lucky to just get away with a couple minor injuries.
“We all consider ourselves very fortunate. We hit the transport truck in front of us and rolled into a completely flat field, with no trees or hills. If we were a mile up the road, not even, there were huge cliffs and trees. It could have been a huge catastrophe.”
“After that, it really put everything into perspective. I could have got hurt bad enough that I never would have played again. I just wanted to have fun playing hockey.”
The ankle still gives LaCosta some trouble but he’s utilized his skills and attitude to put up good numbers regardless. He was 15-14-2 with a 2.58 GAA in Syracuse before his NHL debut, having taken full advantage of Mason’s promotion last November.
The rewarding part for LaCosta is knowing he can compete at the highest level. He had a couple relief appearances in previous call ups but the back-to-back starts were his first true test.
And now that he’s got a taste of life in the NHL, he wants more.
“I’ve been a big believer that if you work hard, good things are going to happen,” said LaCosta. “I’ll go back there (Syracuse) with a good attitude and try help that team make the playoffs.”