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Greer Makes NHL Debut In Loss

The young forward was a bright spot for the Avs

by Ryan Boulding @rboulding / ColoradoAvalanche.com

For 19-year-old Colorado Avalanche forward AJ Greer, Sunday evening was the culmination of a childhood spent working hard on the ice.

Recalled from the San Antonio Rampage just the day previous, Greer suited up and played in his first NHL game when the Avs fell 2-0 to the Boston Bruins at Pepsi Center.

"It was a great experience. Being in this building with this atmosphere, it was unbelievable," Greer said after the game. "It's a dream come true, obviously. You work your whole life toward this goal, and the work just started. I'm proud to have lived this experience, and hopefully it's not my last."

It was certainly a whirlwind 24 hours for the youngster, who was selected by the Avs in the second round (39th overall) at the 2015 draft in Sunrise, Florida. One moment he was in California preparing for a contest in the AHL, the next he was on his way to Denver with the bright lights of the National Hockey League in the forefront of his mind.

Video: AJ Greer on his NHL debut

"We had a team meeting up in Stockton, California. We had a game that night, and in the team meeting coach announced that there was going to be a guy missing from the lineup," Greer recounted. "He pulled me in his office after that and kind of announced the news and told me I earned every single bit of it, and whether it's for one or 10 games, just give it your all and do what you do best."

So that's what the Joliette, Quebec, native did; he gave it his best.

Greer kicked off his first game playing second-line minutes alongside Carl Soderberg and Rene Bourque. When the final horn sounded, he had two shots and one takeaway in 16:34 of playing time.

Upon being asked to evaluate his play, the noticeably sullen forward admitted that it wasn't easy to guage.

"It's tough to say just because of how the game went. I think our line of me, Bourque and Soderberg did a really good job offensively and defensively as well," he said. "We only gave up that one goal, which was a mental error from myself. Besides that, I thought I did pretty well and tried to do my physical power-forward role as best as I could."

Video: Condensed Game: Bruins @ Avalanche

As with most players making their debut at the highest level of the sport, Greer admitted he was nervous before the game started. Once he settled in and got a feel for things, he was one of the bright spots for Colorado.

"[I was] really nervous. I got probably two hours of sleep last night," he said. "You have the butterflies and you kind of realize that this is something that you've worked for your whole life. Obviously, my first couple of shifts, a bit of jitters here and there. I bobbled the puck and kind of made some mental mistakes, but I thought I picked it up pretty well after that. You can only learn from here."

Head coach Jared Bednar said he liked what he saw from the rookie, who was rewarded for his quality play with a full two-minute shift during the Avalanche's lone real power-play opportunity.


"Because he's had a good start down in San Antonio," Bednar said of the man-advantage decision. "He's a guy that's got some skill. He's got some grit. He wants to go to the front of the net. He's willing to take pucks there.

"When the puck gets turned over and gets put into their zone, he's on it right away. He's skating. He's getting aggressive. He's got good legs and he wants to get there and he's getting there. That's the report from San Antonio, so why no put him on there."

With Matt Duchene, Colorado's leading goalscorer, out of the lineup with concussion-like symptoms, Bednar said it made sense to use Greer to fill the vacancy on the power play.

"Dutchy is the guy that was playing in that spot, and he's out," said Bednar. "From what we've seen, [Greer is] a good option for us down there. You saw on the one power play, he moved it to the low play, jams it at the net. He's poking away. He's doing what he can, especially in his first game. I thought he was good."

If the freshman forward, who played in the Memorial Cup championship game last spring, appeared to fit right in with his new linemates, it's because the Avalanche and Rampage play the same system. That allows players to shift between leagues without needing to get familiar with a new game plan.

"It helped a lot," Greer said. "It's the same systems this year, and you kind of learn from the old guys here as well--little tweaks here and there. But it's pretty much the same thing. It's an advantage because you come ready and you don't have to think too much and you get right into it and do your thing."

Greer's jubilation and excitement, although tempered by the loss, was shared by his parents, both of whom were in attendance to witness their son's major-league moment.

"It's unbelievable," Greer said of having his mother and father at the game. "My parents have done everything for me, and this is kind of a reward toward them. I owe a lot of credit to them [for] my career, and hopefully this won't be the last time they'll come to Colorado. I think it's a great opportunity to have them down here, and to see my first NHL game, it's very special."

After the game, Bednar said that Duchene would return to practice with the team on Monday. That could mean that Greer's first stint with the Avs will be brief, but his effort in Sunday's loss certainly wasn't overlooked by the coach.

"Greer I thought did a good job getting on pucks, using his legs, playing with a little speed, taking the puck to the net on a couple of occasions," Bednar said. "Look, we need it throughout our lineup. We need guys to get to the net and get pucks to the net, and right now we're not doing it enough."


IGGY PASSES GRETZKY

When the puck dropped at Pepsi Center on Sunday, Avalanche forward Jarome Iginla continued to move up in the NHL record book.

The veteran forward dressed in his 1,488th NHL contest, moving him ahead of Wayne Gretzky for sole possession of 18th place in games played. In just 12 more games, Iginla will become the 16th player in NHL history to skate in 1,500 contests. 

The Edmonton, Alberta, native, who grew up watching Gretzky and the rest of the Oilers dynasty play in the 1980's, is also just three penalty minutes away from becoming the ninth player to reach 600 goals and 1,000 penalty minutes, an accomplishment Gretzky never reached.

Iginla has 1,275 career points and is just six away from tying Alex Delvecchio for 34th place on the all-time scoring list.


NOTES

Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo, who is from Colorado Springs, Colorado, made his Pepsi Center debut on Sunday. Carlo was selected 37th overall at the 2015 Draft, just two spots ahead of Greer.

Paired with Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, Carlo finished second on the team in ice time with 20:37 of game action. His parents were also in attendance.


HE SAID IT

"Too many one-and-done's by our group right now. [If] it's in the offensive zone, it's got to be a fancy play. Boston wasn't doing anything fancy. They get in their zone. They rim it around. They win a battle. They get in the neutral zone, it's D-to-D. They rip it, tip it and they come after you and then they win some battles. For us, it's too East-West and just looking for the perfect play. That doesn't get it done. This is a hard game. At some point, you have to simplify and get pucks to the net and get some bodies there and win some battles and score goals." - Bednar on the team's offensive struggles

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