They may or may not remember their first day of school or their first kiss, but every NHL player remembers his first goal in the league.
“Roman Chechmanek,” says Senators centre Jason Spezza, identifying the Philadelphia Flyers goaltender he beat for his first NHL goal nine years and three days ago, on assists from Wade Redden and Daniel Alfredsson.
“It was Reds to Alfie, backdoor, on the power play,” says Spezza, with a glint in his eye. “I like that it came on a real nice play.”
Now approaching the 200-goal plateau, Spezza says the first one is one of life’s treasured moments, “because as kids, you scored it so many times, in your mind.”
In a rebuilding mode overflowing with young guns, the Senators have spawned their own First Goal Club. On Tuesday, defenceman Jared Cowen was the latest rookie to join, beating Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins in the third period of Ottawa’s 5-3 loss.
On Sunday, winger Kaspars Daugavins recorded his first in the NHL in just his fifth career game. While Daugavins scored what proved to be the gamewinner against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he has since been sent back down to Binghamton, if only temporarily while he takes care of a problem with his wisdom teeth.
But while he’s there, he has that precious career landmark, just like his pals.
First off the mark, in the team’s second game of the season, was centre Stéphane Da Costa. He also made it count against the Leafs, on Oct. 8 at the ACC. What became of that puck?
Da Costa is still waiting for it to be mounted, labelled and delivered. He expects he’ll keep this one, after giving his first NHL game puck, from an April 2 game against Toronto, to his parents.
Three other young Senators forwards – Colin Greening, Erik Condra and Bobby Butler – were christened last spring.
That leaves defenceman David Rundblad as the only rookie left still seeking his first goal, while rookie centre Mika Zibanejad will be back next fall taking aim after returning to Sweden without a goal in a nine-game NHL stint.
No wonder veteran winger Chris Neil pounced on the puck after a Cowen wrist shot deflected off Bruins defenceman Dennis Seidenberg and past Thomas in the Bruins’ net. Another keepsake to make into a miniature trophy and keep in the family archives.
“It’s always great to see a guy get his first NHL goal, and Jared has played well for us so it’s nice to see him get rewarded,” says Neil, and yes, he remembers when -
“(Against Atlanta), a rebound and I was able to put it up over the goalie,” Neil says, of a goal he scored almost exactly 10 years ago, on Oct. 30, 2001. “Not too bad. It wasn’t, like, off my bum or anything.”
For a 20-year-old, Cowen rather thoughtfully expressed how the moment sparks a reflection on a player’s entire career to that point, and what it took to get there.
“It’s one thing to make it to the NHL, it’s another thing to get your first goal,” Cowen says. “You’re always thinking about that growing up, you’re wondering what it feels like to score in front of thousands of people.
“When it happens, you’re trying to savour it. Take it all in.”
That first goal sparks a wave of congratulations from teammates and coaches, and then come the text messages and phone calls from family and friends.
Cowen shared the moment with his parents, a few close friends and his former junior hockey billet in Spokane.
Forwards are known to grip the stick ever tighter until that first one comes. For defencemen, the pressure is not as great, not if the rest of his game is sound. In his first 13 games, Cowen has been solid, but he is more than a little relieved to replace those zeros under the goals and points categories.
“For me, it’s just nice to get a point out there and relax a bit more, maybe play a bit more confident,” Cowen says.
Winger Milan Michalek didn’t take long to get in the books. In his NHL debut with the San Jose Sharks on Oct. 9, 2003, Michalek deflected a Joe Thornton shot to record his first goal while his legs were still shaking from nerves.
Even former players who now spend most of their days in dark rooms looking at game video remember certain details of their first NHL goal.
“It went in,” says Senators head coach Paul MacLean, of his first career goal in the fall of 1981.
“Actually my first goal in the NHL was against Grant Fuhr and the Edmonton Oilers. In the seven years I spent in Winnipeg, I think I scored three more against him. So, it was very memorable because I didn’t get many more on him.”
A top shelf beauty? “Today it is,” MacLean says. “But it was actually just off my foot and I jammed it in at the post. But when I tell my sons it’s ‘shelf.’ ”
MacLean is enjoying all these Senators “firsts” (now if they could just improve their penalty killing).
“It’s really exciting to see the look on their faces,” MacLean says. “It’s a great feeling to be able to say you scored in the National Hockey League.”
Contact Wayne Scanlan at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter @HockeyScanner.
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FIRST GOALS FOR SENS, FROM SERGEI TO JARED
A list of the Senators players’ first career NHL goals, from Sergei Gonchar’s first in 1995 to the most recent, by Jared Cowen on Tuesday night:
Sergei Gonchar: April 21, 1995 vs. Hartford
Daniel Alfredsson: Oct. 13, 1995 vs. Florida
Chris Phillips: Oct. 30, 1997 vs. Florida
Filip Kuba: Oct. 27, 1999 vs.
Chris Neil: Oct. 30, 2001 vs. Atlanta
Jason Spezza: Oct. 29, 2002 vs. Philadelphia
Milan Michalek: Oct. 9, 2003 vs. Edmonton (NHL debut)
Zenon Konopka: Nov. 6, 2005 vs. Minnesota
Nick Foligno: Oct. 18, 2007 vs. Montreal
Jesse Winchester: Nov. 6, 2008 vs. Philadelphia
Nikita Filatov: Oct. 17, 2008 vs. Nashville
Brian Lee: Dec. 30, 2008 vs. Edmonton (GWG) *
Peter Regin: Jan. 21, 2009 vs. St. Louis (GWG) *
Matt Carkner: Oct. 8, 2009 vs. New York Islanders
Erik Karlsson: Dec. 19, 2009 vs. Minnesota
Zack Smith: Jan. 16, 2010 vs. Montreal (SH) **
Bobby Butler: Feb. 12, 2011 vs. Edmonton
Erik Condra: Feb. 26, 2011 (2 goals) vs. Philadelphia
Colin Greening: March 3, 2011 vs. Atlanta
Stéphane Da Costa: Oct. 8, 2011 vs. Toronto
Kaspars Daugavins: Oct. 30, 2011 vs. Toronto
Jared Cowen: Nov. 1, 2011 vs. Boston
(* GWG: Game-winning goal; ** SH: Shorthanded)
- Compiled by Wayne Scanlan, Ottawa Citizen