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Henley Scores In NHL Debut

by Ryan Boulding @rboulding / ColoradoAvalanche.com

The story just about writes itself.

Hardworking kid goes undrafted, signs a professional contract after captaining his hometown Val-d'Or Foreurs to a QMJHL championship and heads to the American Hockey League.

He's not flashy. He isn't the prolific goalscorer that has a clear path to the National Hockey League. He's the gritty guy. The one that skates just as hard on defense as he does when his team has the puck. He's responsible. He blocks shots, goes to the net and to the dirty areas of the ice.

He wants to play in the NHL--who doesn't--but never expects a chance to be handed to him. And then he gets the call up.

That's the tale of Samuel Henley, a 23-year-old forward from Quebec who made his debut in the Colorado Avalanche's 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.

"It was a tough point starting in juniors where I wasn't drafted. I had to work hard just to prove myself," the 6-foot-4, 210-pound forward said. "I don't have an offensive game. I was just working on my details. I had a lot of good coaches and good teammates that really helped me and just made me work hard everyday."

Video: Samuel Henley on his first NHL game and goal

When the Avs were trailing 2-1 in the second period and needed a hero, someone to follow Blake Comeau's lead and score another big goal, it was Henley. The new guy came through.

It was a play born of effort and relentlessness; Henley swooped in on a loose puck, turned and immediately fired a shot on goal. Perhaps it was the speed of the release or the timing of the play, but either way the puck beat Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky so quickly that it was back out of the net before anyone reacted.

"I got a goal but we still lost the game, so it's not the same feeling. I mean I'm glad the first game is over with, but I'm disappointed we didn't win that game," Henley said. "I was really nervous, really excited as well. I think I was thinking a lot, and I know with the next games, I am going to be better every game. I have a lot to learn from the guys here. I was just nervous and excited."

Logging just 5:18 of ice time, Henley made an impact in the game. While it wasn't enough for Colorado to get the win, his efforts were noticed by the coaching staff.

Video: Coach Jared Bednar on the 3-2 loss to the Jackets

"He did what we thought he would do. He went out there and ran into some people, played with energy," head coach Jared Bednar said of the rookie. "Good for the kid to come up in his first game, and he just keeps it simple, funnels pucks to the net and gets himself his first NHL goal. So good showing for him I think. He's one of the guys that gets on the board and finds a way to get it done."

With his marker, Henley became the first Avalanche player to score in his debut since former defenseman Stefan Elliott did it on Nov. 26, 2011. No matter what happens, Henley will always have that. He finished the night with one shot and two hits to go along with his goal.

"The teams that are successful in this league, you got to have depth in scoring. So it was nice to have Henner come up and contribute like that," Comeau said. "He's a hard-working guy, so it was nice to seem him get rewarded. We got to find a way to get contributions from every line on the same night."

Video: Postgame interview with Blake Comeau

Unfortunately for Colorado, that was the only feel-good story of the evening.

The team trailed early and throughout the game, and despite tying it up it couldn't find a way to get a point. Semyon Varlamov made 34 stops, but Colorado couldn't get another marker.

"It's nice that we battled back, but with that being said we gave up like [37] shots," Comeau said. "We can't count on Varly to stand on his head every night, or Pickard, whoever is in net for us. It's just poor puck management, turnovers through the neutral zone, sloppy defensively. With that being said, we made it 2-2, and we got to find a way to come away with the win."

"I'm going to say this: tonight, I thought that our supporting cast did real good job up front. I didn't love some of our top guys tonight. It's not that they didn't work hard, but I didn't love their game as a whole," Bednar added. "I thought tonight we were sloppy. I didn't think our 'D' moved the puck very well tonight as a group. We took that early penalty, and it kind of put us on our heels. We kill it off, but they score on the extension. I kind of got the feeling a little bit like we got a little down after that, and then we spent too much time in our zone."

The entire performance didn't receive a totally negative review from Colorado's bench manager, however. Bednar said he was looking for a response following Tuesday's 5-3 loss to the Nashville Predators, and while the team didn't win, there was a change that he noticed.

"The result is what it is. We got to keep working and find a way through it," Bednar said. "What I liked a little bit within our room and on our bench is the response we're getting from some of our guys and what they're saying. I feel like the urgency is there. We competed hard without the puck. I didn't love our game with the puck. Tonight, we were just too sloppy with the puck, and I think that started with our D-core. I don't think they moved it well tonight. I don't think they delivered it to our forwards on time. We looked disjointed at times because of that."

 
MILESTONE MOMENTS

While Samuel Henley was making his NHL debut, Avs forwards John Mitchell and Jarome Iginla were reaching career milestones of their own.

When Mitchell's skates touched the frozen ice at Pepsi Center, the 31-year-old center officially appeared in his 500th game.

"I guess that's a pretty big game when you get to 500," he said before the contest. "You grow up being a young kid watching guys play in the NHL, and that's your dream, obviously to someday hopefully play in the National League and get an opportunity to play. I'm very blessed that I've been able to get… to that number."

Somewhere much further up the games-played list sits the veteran Jarome Iginla, who skated in his 1,496th career contest. Iginla passed Phil Housley for sole possession of 17th place all-time in the league's annals.

The 39-year-old Iginla is on track to become the first player in Avalanche history to hit 1,500 games in a Colorado sweater.

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