NEW YORK -- Now in his fourth season with the Anaheim Ducks, forward Kyle Palmieri fulfilled his lifelong dream of being an NHL player after starring with the U.S. National Development Team Program and for one season at the University of Notre Dame. But he admitted that playing on the West Coast could be problematic when it came to fulfilling another dream: playing in front of his friends and family back East.
That problem was solved for one night. Palmieri had a magical homecoming Monday night in front of friends and family at Madison Square Garden, scoring the game-winning goal in Anaheim's 2-1 victory against the New York Rangers.
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"I was looking for an opportunity to play here and close to home. It was awesome having friends and family in the stands," Palmieri said. "The only time I really get that is when they come out and visit California. It was nice."
Palmieri was born on Long Island and grew up primarily on the family farm in Montvale, New Jersey. But despite living in the thick of New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils country, he was always a Rangers fan. As a child, he grew up watching the likes of Mark Messier and Adam Graves at Madison Square Garden and instantly fell in love with the Blueshirts.
"I grew up a Rangers fan. Came to a few games at Madison Square Garden," Palmieri said. "I was born in New York and my dad was a Rangers fan. I just took to them. I loved the atmosphere here after seeing my first game. I was a Rangers fan ever since."
So Palmieri experienced a truly surreal moment Monday when he laced up for the first time against the team he grew up idolizing in the building he visited as a child. And he wasn't there alone. Roughly 30-35 friends and family members descended on MSG for a very special homecoming.
"There were a lot of people. Coaches, guys I played with, buddies from back home, immediate family, extended family," Palmieri said. "There were a lot of people here."
A memorable night became downright magical when Palmieri scored Anaheim's second goal off a perfect wrist shot 9:09 into the opening period. The goal would hold up to be the game-winner and Palmieri was named the game's third star. It was quite a triumphant return for the local kid, whose Ducks team won't return to Madison Square Garden until next season.
However, Palmieri and the Ducks will return to the area next month. Anaheim faces the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on Dec. 20 and the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum the following night.
As the win wrapped up an impressive 5-2-1 road trip that spanned 15 days, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau couldn't have summed up the night any better, for both his team and Palmieri.
"It is a perfect ending," Boudreau said.