All Edmonton Oilers
forward Jordan Eberle
did in his first NHL game was start the race for Goal of the Season with his masterful toe-drag and backhand under the crossbar for a shorthanded goal against the Calgary Flames
"It was one of the nicer goals I've scored for sure," said Eberle, a 2008 first-round pick of the Oilers. "As of right now, it's one of the more special ones I've had."
He must be speaking about his professional resume, because while Thursday's goal may have been one of the most memorable first-goals in NHL history, Eberle is no stranger to dramatic moments.
At the 2009 and '10 World Junior Championships, Eberle scored three of the most heart-stopping, breathtaking goals in Canadian junior hockey history.
During the semifinals of the 2009 event, at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, Canada was attempting to win a fifth straight gold medal but trailed 5-4 in the waning seconds of regulation. But Ryan Ellis
held a puck in at the point and John Tavares
pulled it out of a scrum along the boards. He floated a backhand on net that hit Russia defenseman Dmitry Kulikov
in the chest and dropped to the ice. Eberle pounced, moved the puck from his forehand to his backhand in front of the net and slid it under Russia goalie Vadim Zhelobnyuk with just 5.4 seconds left.
A sold-out crowd exploded and an entire nation jumped for joy.
"I saw him go to grab the puck and I saw it pop out a little bit and I just grabbed it and beat the goalie," Eberle said that night. "I had no idea how much time was left on the clock. We were lucky enough to put it in."
"I was the first guy who went to him," said teammate P.K. Subban
. "The look on his face was priceless. That's something that will be installed in my brain for the rest of my life. Looking at his face when he scored was unbelievable."
To complete his magical evening, Eberle scored the winning goal in the shootout as Canada beat Russia, 6-5. And two days later, in the gold-medal game, he had a goal and 2 assists as Canada routed Sweden, 5-1.
A year and two days later, the magician again nearly pulled a golden rabbit out of his hat.
With Canada trailing the U.S. 5-3 in the final three minutes of the gold-medal game at Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon, Eberle went to work. First, he pulled Canada to within a goal when he one-timed a wrist shot from the left faceoff circle to beat U.S. netminder Jack Campbell
for a power-play goal with 2:49 left to make it 5-4.
Just 74 seconds later, Eberle struck again. Campbell stopped Ryan Ellis
' shot, but the rebound went right to Eberle in the same circle, and the play ended with the same result -- a one-timer into the back of the net, and a tie game with 1:35 left.
"Big players come up at big times," said Canada teammate Alex Pietrangelo
, who assisted on the first goal. "He's a leader on this hockey team. He's going to be a phenomenal professional. Tonight and this tournament is a prime example of that."
"There's no surprise he's going to come up big under pressure," added linemate Taylor Hall
. "That's something he's done all tournament long."
That the U.S. won the game in overtime never will diminish what Eberle accomplished in the burning spotlight of two World Junior Championships played on Canadian soil. The importance Canadian hockey fans place on the WJC is akin to college basketball fans and the NCAA Men's Tournament, but rather than fans rooting for 65 different teams, it's one nation fervently following every action of one team of 20 and under players.
To come through in that crucible steels a player for anything else he might encounter in any of his playing days.
"It makes you speechless," Pietrangelo said in describing Eberle's two WJC performances. "I don't think anyone has scored as many big goals as he has. I said to him after the game that it's right you scored those two goals tonight. He deserved it. He puts it on the line every night and he always seems to come up with it. He's an awesome kid and deserves everything he gets."
Fans should be dazzled by what Eberle did in his first NHL game, but, fact is, he is accustomed to scoring the big goals.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com