Scott Foster’s first and last NHL game was one for the ages. Not necessarily because it was an exceptional performance, but rather because it was an exceptional circumstance.
You know the story by now. The 36-year-old accountant at Golub Capital was pressed into emergency backup duty for the Chicago Blackhawks on March 29, 2018, when Corey Crawford and Anton Forsberg were sidelined with injuries. Third-stringer Collin Delia was making his NHL debut that night against the Winnipeg Jets, but got injured himself about six minutes into the third period. So Foster, a goalie for Western Michigan University in 2002-03 and ’03-04 and an accountant and beer-league goalie since, became the unlikely Blackhawks netminder for the final 14 minutes of a 6-2 win over the Jets. Foster became the first emergency goalie in NHL history to stop a shot, making seven saves on seven shots the rest of the game. Delia got credit for the win, but Foster is one of just 18 goalies since 1982 to have an NHL career with a 1.000 save percentage.
After the game, in which he was named the first star, Foster quipped he was “just hitting my prime.” The story captured the imagination of hockey and sports fans, not to mention citizens everywhere. Foster himself had fun with his brief foray into the spotlight and was on hand at the 2018 NHL Awards to help present the Vezina Trophy to Nashville’s Pekka Rinne. Because he was an amateur and without a contract, Foster didn’t get paid for his duty, but that surely didn’t bother the accountant.
Foster tops this list of the 10 most impressive NHL debut games in 2018. His injured teammate Delia was a candidate as well, stopping 25 of 27 shots before the injury and giving way to Foster.
Here’s the rest of the top-10 first-gamers in the calendar year of 2018:
Ryan Donato, Boston. The son of ex-NHLer Ted Donato signed with his hometown Bruins after his junior season with the NCAA Harvard Crimson ended. He had a goal and two assists, with six shots, in his first NHL game, on March 19 against Columbus. Donato went on to finish the 2017-18 NHL season with nine points in 12 games.
Elias Pettersson, Vancouver. The dynamo center from Timra, Sweden, played just 9:46 in his first NHL game against Calgary on Oct. 3, but he came away with a goal and an assist. Perhaps more importantly, the Canucks realized Pettersson’s slight frame wasn’t going to hold him back against the big boys of the NHL.
Max Lajoie, Ottawa. He had just one goal in 56 games as a rookie pro defenseman with AHL Belleville last season, but that didn’t stop him from bursting out of the NHL gates with style on Oct. 4 against Chicago. Lajoie had a power-play goal, an assist, three shots and a penalty in his big-league debut.
Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay. The Lightning continue to unearth young, offense-minded forwards to fill roster openings. Last season, Cirelli had a goal and assist in his first NHL game, on March 1 against Dallas. In fact, he had five goals and 11 points in 18 games before 2017-18 ended and he’s picked up where he left off this season.
Warren Foegele, Carolina. The OHL Kingston Frontenacs alum had a bust-out rookie AHL season with 28 goals for Charlotte and was ranked the No. 95 prospect league-wide in Future Watch 2018. His first NHL game came March 26 against Ottawa and he scored a goal and added an assist to go along with two shots. He had another goal in his second game.
Justin Holl, Toronto. Holl was never known for his offense at the University of Minnesota (just eight goals in 142 games) and had 20 goals in 192 AHL games the past three years. Yet he scored in both his first two NHL games in 2017-18, the first game coming Jan. 31 against the Islanders, when he was also a plus-3.
Dylan Sikura, Chicago. A Hobey Baker candidate his final two years at Northeastern, Sikura turned pro last spring and right away displayed the offensive skills that made him a force in the NCAA. The playmaking forward recorded two assists in a March 29 game against Winnipeg, the same game Foster and Delia made their remarkable NHL debuts.
Louie Belpedio, Minnesota. The only NHL game Belpedio has played to date has him on pace to sit at the top of the chart on a point-per-game basis for defenseman. Small sample size, though. Belpedio had two assists from the blueline in an April 7 game versus San Jose. The Miami University grad has been a mainstay in AHL Iowa since.
Carter Hart, Philadelphia. As one of the most talked-about goalie prospects in recent memory, Hart made a lasting impression in his first outing for the injury-ravaged Flyers in December. With the team dealing with the recent dismissals of their coach and GM, Hart stopped 20 of 22 shots in a Dec. 18 win against Detroit.
The skaters who scored in their first NHL game in 2018, but didn’t make this top-10 list: Max Comtois, Anaheim; Michael Bunting, Arizona; Dennis Cholowski, Detroit; Jacob MacDonald, Florida; Lias Andersson, N.Y. Rangers; Drake Batherson, Ottawa; Sami Niku, Winnipeg.
The goalies who posted a perfect 1.000 save percentage in their NHL debuts, but didn’t play the full 60 minutes, include: Landon Bow, Dallas; Adam Wilcox, Buffalo; Ken Appleby, New Jersey; Alex Lyon, Philadelphia. The goalies who played well or won in their first NHL game, but didn’t make this top-10 list: Thatcher Demko, Vancouver; Alexander Georgiev, N.Y. Rangers.