Written by George Johnson (Via Flames.com)
There’s a first time for everything.
First set of skates. First set of wheels. First steady gal.
One-of-a-kind, never-to-be-forgotten, touchstone moments.
“Naw, I knew right away I didn’t get the goal,” conceded Rasmus Andersson of his first-ever NHL point, “I saw Chucky tip it.
“I’m just glad it went in and we got the game at least to OT.”
Give him this much – for 21 years old, Andersson’s certainly been imbued with a flair for the dramatic.
Goaltender Mike Smith perched on the bench in favour of an extra attacker, a minute and a half to go and the Flames trailing the reigning Stanley Cup titans by one. Andersson, out there at the right point, readying to fire.
The shot is nicked en route to Caps’ grass-green goalie Phoenix Copley by the sandpapery Matthew Tkachuk, downward and into the Washington net, forcing overtime.
Career NHL Game 18 for Andersson. And Point No. 1.
The first, is the hope, of many.
“A long time ago now, I guess. But for me, for everyone, a pretty cool moment.”
Noah Hanifin – like Andersson, only 21 – his first NHL point dates back to 2015.
“Our first game in Carolina my first year, against Detroit,” he recalls. “An assist.
“Weird play. A real weird play.
“Got a drop pass, shot it, went over the net, hit the glass, bounced back over the net and we get a tap-in goal.
“A pretty unique first point in the NHL. But definitely a moment I’ll never forget. As I’m sure last night will be for Rasmus. Great play. Great shot. Important time of the game.”
Clearly the comfort level for the Flames’ second-round pick, 53rd overall, from the 2015 draft is burgeoning. Monday at Scotiabank Arena will be his ninth consecutive start.
“He’s been real good,” adjudged the person whose vote counts double, boss Bill Peters. “Both those young guys have been real good. They’ve been steady. Andy last night I thought moved the puck real well. Him and Vali (Juuso Valimaki) were able to play together, two young guys together.
“We’ve done it a couple times and it’s been a little bit hit and miss, which is understandable. But it’s also about the forwards doing a good job of not turning pucks over and protecting those guys when they’re on the ice.
“So now we go out on the road and teams might try and exploit that match-up. We’ll see. We’ll try leave ’em together; if they’re playing well and we are playing well as a team, we’ll leave ’em together.
“And if it’s not going our way we’ll have to make some adjustments.”
The most recent two starts have certainly served as a trial-under-fire audition for a freshman D-man.
After all, a quick scan of those oppositon names literally jumps off the page at you: Crosby. Malkin. Kessel. Letang. Ovechkin. Backstrom. Kuznetsov.
“You’ve just got to play hard and be aware of those players you mentioned,” reckons Andersson. “You can’t be scared. If you’re scared, you can bet they’re going to take advantage of you.
“You have respect for them, sure, but you still have to play them. You can’t get caught saying: ‘Oh, s-, that’s Ovechkin!’ Or he’s gonna just sail right past you. If you get the chance to take a shot at a guy like that, you take it. Doesn’t matter if it’s against Crosby or another young guy like me.
“You just got to say: ‘OK, there’s a reason we’re on the same ice together.’
“But there’s a reason why those two teams won the last three Stanley Cups, right?”
Monday, the Flames face a team that hasn’t lifted the Stanley Cup since 1967. But this young, emerging Leafs team is certainly overflowing with firepower, even should Auston Matthews, as expected, miss out.
Matthews left Saturday’s tilt against the Winnipeg Jets favouring his left shoulder follow a collision with defenceman Jacob Trouba.
Whoever. Doesn’t matter a whit to Andersson.
Continuing ice time, he understands, is strictly on the merit system.
“If you’re taking a young guy out, what do you do?” asks Peters. “Do you send him to Stockton?
“It’s no good being a young guy sitting and watching hockey. That much we know.”
Translation: Here or Stockton. You make the choice by level of performance.
“Just gotta stick with what I’m doing,” says Andersson, now on the hunt for his first NHL goal. “Move the puck, show some poise with it, join the rush and play hard in the D zone.
“If you want to play here every night you’ve got to prove yourself every night.
“That’s just how it works.
“Pretty simple, really.”