On Nov. 20 in Montreal, Washington Capitals rookie center Brooks Laich
joined Alex Ovechkin
, Petr Sykora, Steve Eminger and Jakub Klepis as the fifth Capital to score his first NHL goal this season. Rookie winger Tomas Fleischmann can become the sixth any time he steps on the ice and a few more youngsters might net their first in the league for Washington between now and the end of the season.
Few memories are as lasting as a player’s first NHL goal. With that in mind, we’re asking current Caps and former NHL players associated with the Caps and the game to recall their first NHL goal and the circumstances surrounding it. We’ll be sharing a few of those recollections with you as the season wears on. Andrew Cassels’
first goal came on Nov. 20, 1989 when he was a member of the Montreal Canadiens. The goal came in his first NHL game, one of just six games he played with the Habs that season. Cassels spent most of the year with the Canadiens’ Sherbrooke farm club of the AHL, where one of his teammates was former University of Denver standout Ed Cristofoli. Both players were in the midst of a brief call-up to the big club when Cassels struck.
“It was my first [NHL] game, in The [Montreal] Forum against Calgary and Mike Vernon,” remembers Cassels. “It was a 2-on-1 with Ed Cristifoli. He shot it, I got the rebound and went five-hole. Jocelyn Lemiuex had an assist on it, also. It was early on in my first game, I think it was second period. The puck is on a plaque in a box somewhere at home. I haven’t quite gotten around to putting it up but it definitely will be hung up when it’s time to hang it up.”
Footnote: The assist was the lone point of Cristofoli’s nine-game NHL career.
While Cassels wasted little time in scoring his first NHL tally, it took Capitals winger Chris Clark
a bit longer. Clark made his NHL debut on Jan. 12, 2000 against Dallas but it would be more than 13 months before he lit the lamp for the first time.
“My first NHL goal was on [Anaheim’s J-S] Giguere and it came from behind the net from Ronnie Sutter, which I think was a great assist. He was my linemate for a while the second half of that season. He passed to me from behind the net, I shot it, got the rebound and put it in. It took a little while; it was a two-season thing. A little bit of the first season and a little bit of the beginning of the next season. It was a long time coming, but it was definitely memorable. Now, I don’t know where it is. I think it’s in the back of a closet somewhere.”
Footnote: Ron Sutter’s own first NHL goal came on Dec. 9, 1982 when he was with the Philadelphia Flyers. Sutter’s goal was a game-winner and came against the Quebec Nordiques’ Dan Bouchard.
Caps general manager George McPhee’s first NHL goal came in the 1983 Stanley Cup playoffs. After spending the 1982-83 season – his first as a pro – with Tulsa of the CHL, McPhee was summoned to Manhattan to skate for the Rangers in the second game of the team’s divisional semifinal series with Philadelphia. He scored in the second period of Game 2 of that series on Apr. 7, 1983 to even the game at 1-1. The Rangers went on to win the game and the series.
“No one ever forgets it,” declares McPhee. “It’s one of the best early memories you can ever have of playing in the NHL. You remember everything about it. You remember who passed the puck, you remember how you did it, you remember being startled by how loud the crowd was when you scored. It was a neat experience. It’s all positive. You think about everybody along the way, your parents and so on.
“It was in Philadelphia in the playoffs. Eddie Johnstone had the puck and I just hollered at him because I was open for a moment. He put it out and I couldn’t really get a forehand shot away so I sort of took the puck and spun around and backhanded it, something I’ve never done. That’s the interesting thing about being in the NHL or a real high league. You’re almost forced to do things you’ve never done before and it draws neat things out of a player sometimes. But anyway, I spun around, it went through [Philadelphia’s Pelle] Lindbergh’s legs and that was it.”
What about the puck, George? Where is it?
“Don’t know. I had it in my bag all through the playoffs and I don’t know what happened to it. I just explained to my son how important it is when Smitty was taping up the puck for Laich the other night. [I said], ‘Your first goal is a big one. The trainer takes it, puts tape around it, writes down all the information and then [the team] puts it on a nice plaque for you.’ [My son] asked me where mine was and I said, ‘I don’t know.’”
Footnote: McPhee’s goal was the first of three he scored for the Rangers in the playoffs that spring; each of them was New York’s first goal of the game. McPhee’s first regular season NHL goal came on his first-ever regular season shot. The goal came on Oct. 10, 1983 vs. the Kings at Madison Square Garden, victimizing Los Angeles goaltender Mike Blake. It was the Rangers’ first goal of the game.