October 19, 2010
There's a certain understanding in hockey - after you score a goal, you have about a one-minute window to celebrate before you step into "that'll do, donkey" territory. Anything beyond that is akin to two-arm celly'ing a goal in practice.
So when you score you first goal at any level, you really want to let all that excitement out. The problem is, you're a rookie, so it helps to act like you've scored a goal before (or that you believe you could possibly score another one someday). You never get to properly celebrate that tally that gives you a glow for at least the next 48 hours.
First goals are monumental -- symbolism and landmarks aside -- because it's usually early in the year and the roster is still fluid. A coach's depth chart changes over a season like the human skeletal structure does over a lifetime - it starts as flexible and forgiving hardens into solid bone as time drags on.
After the game, you keep the "mute" button on, but a tiny smile is constantly on the verge of curling up the sides of your mouth. And while you change, the trainer presents your puck -- it's wrapped with a strip of ripped white tape and fresh black marker: FIRST GOAL, with the name, date and opponent. The tape is still bright white, the memory fresh, and you sit with the hope that you just put your first dollar in a savings account that would someday reach the millions. It's a sensational feeling.
For those who haven't scored their first goal yet and are supposed to be offensive contributors, the monkey-on-the-back weight gets exponentially heavier from here. We're mere days away from "forcing it" territory.
So far this season, we've seen first-timers from Jordan Caron(notes) and Tyler Seguin(notes) of the Boston Bruins, leading to sleepless nights for Caron; and goals from the Edmonton Oilers duo of Jordan Eberle(notes) and Magnus Paajarvi(notes) (thought the Taylor Hall(notes) watch continues). Cam Fowler(notes) recently got his first for the Anaheim Ducks, before getting his first NHL broken nose.
As a college freshman, I was given an absolute gift. In my very first game, I fired an inadequate, poorly placed shot that hit something in front. With the ‘tender down, the puck went straight up into the air, damn near to the rafters. There couldn't have been a person in the building who had a clue where the thing went. Nobody knew what direction to skate. Did it go out of play?
It fell from the heavens onto the goaltender's back, and rolled into the net. Hey-ohhhh.
I've got that six ounces of vulcanized rubber beside me now, complete with that awful University of Alaska-Fairbanks logo on it, yet somehow, I don't hate the thing.
My Dad's first goal puck hung proudly on his office wall (attached to a picture of some unfortunately crocheted New York Islander, for some reason). As the years have passed and Dad keeps less of his on-ice accomplishments on display, that first-goal puck is always a part of the show.
Many young NHL players have experienced that first-goal jubilation in the past couple of weeks -- the one-minute outpouring of excitement before the hours of muting it, the locker glow with the white tape, and the congratulations from friends and family. Some have already checked that box on their success list, and some are eagerly awaiting it.
When that second goal goes in, the first one will be pushed aside in their memory banks, on to the next one, and on with the season. But someday, they'll treasure that puck that jump-started their career.
I'm proud to have these, and if they weren't so unsightly -- yellowing, frayed tape with sharpie that bled into fat, bold font, with the scuffed markings of minor-league logos -- I'd happily put them on display.
But for now, there's something real about being able to hold a memory in your hand and flashback to a moment in time.
You never forget your first.