Back in the 2005-06 season, I happened to be in Boston when the Bruins were playing at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Other than being pretty entertaining (the B’s won 5-2 after trailing early), the game featured two very interesting historical footnotes.
The first occurred when Boston’s Alexei Zhamnov crashed into the sideboards feet-first, breaking his leg in the process. It would prove to be the last NHL shift he would ever take. Then, in the game’s waning minutes, with the win secured and goalie Andrew Raycroft tweaking something on a save, the Bruins brought in backup goaltender Jordan Sigalet.
The rookie played one minute, facing no shots on goal, making no saves. To date, it is the only NHL action Sigalet has seen.
But he got his shot. No matter what, Jordan Sigalet can tell anyone he wants that he made it to the big-time. It’s something a lot of us take for granted, just how hard it is to reach the highest level of competition as a pro athlete, but each year scores of individuals do it.
And not all of them come in with the fanfare of a John Tavares or Sidney Crosby.
Left winger Patrick Davis, for example, logged 4:30 of ice time for the New Jersey Devils when Brian Gionta became the latest of many regulars to go down with injury last November. Davis, about to board a bus in Bridgeport after an OT loss with the American League’s Lowell Devils, was pulled aside and told he got the call up. Instead, a car drove the then 21-year-old to New Jersey for a date with the Edmonton Oilers the next evening.
“I couldn’t sleep the night before,” Davis recalled. “You grow up dreaming of it. You’re always waiting for The Call.”
Down in Atlanta, a couple players donned NHL jerseys for the first time and hopefully not the last.
Blueliner Grant Lewis, 24, saw 15:29 of action against Florida when Thrasher Nathan Oystrick was too ill to suit up, so the rookie wasn’t even sure he would get in the game until late in the day.
“I wasn’t really sure what to expect,” Lewis said. “My first shift we actually scored, so I was a plus-1 right off the bat.”
Fellow defenseman Scott Lehman had a harried NHL debut that lasted 3:03, before an injury shortened his evening.
“I kind of tweaked my abdominal muscles making a simple turn,” Lehman said. “I was out for a month. It hurt to cough or sneeze.”
Even physically getting to the NHL was a trial for the 23-year-old Lehman; coming from San Antonio, his flight was cancelled, so he ended up getting to the game just in time to dress.
“I got into Atlanta at 5:30 or 6 p.m.,” Lehman recalled. “The game was at 7 p.m.”
But as with all the call-ups, Lehman trusted a veteran teammate to help him along the way. In his case, it was defense partner Ron Hainsey.
And despite being pros in the AHL, even call-ups get a little star-struck when they hit the big time. This leads to a lot of teasing from teammates once they get back to the AHL.
“I definitely heard some heckles – ‘big guy,’ ‘showtime,’ ” Davis said. “But that’s just the guys having fun with me.”
Added Lehman: “I’ve been in the opposite situation many times before (when a call-up returns to the AHL). We think of guys like Ilya Kovalchuk as superstars. We see them on TV, then you’ll have a guy call him by his nickname; ‘yeah, I just sent Kovy a text.’ ”
At their young ages, none of the newbies here are likely done in the NHL, so maybe it’s not surprising that mementos were few. None of the players have their NHL jerseys from their game and Lewis’ sweater was actually auctioned off to a fan of his in Chicago, where he plays for the AHL’s Wolves.
A month after Davis’ first NHL game, he received a special plaque from the Devils, featuring the game puck and the lineup card from the night. Wearing No. 10, Davis found himself in some pretty special company.
“You look down the lineup card and it goes Dainius Zubrus, Zach Parise, Davis,” he noted. “It’s pretty cool.”
Of course, it’s the memories that will last a lifetime, though the goal of all three rooks is to make it back to The Show next season and beyond. And that’s an instinct that kicks in very quickly.
“More afterwards, it sunk in that you’ve just played your first game,” Davis said. “The next step is staying there.”
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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