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. Several other rookies have taken the ice for the Caps this season and a few more youngsters might net their first in the league for Washington between now and the end of the 2005-06 campaign.
In the team’s inaugural season of 1974-75, a franchise record 14 players netted their first NHL goals. The last time the Caps had more than five players accomplish the feat in the same season was in the lockout season of 1994-95 when six Caps tallied for the first time in the NHL.
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.
This installment features the first NHL goal memories of Washington’s gritty CBS Line.
Ben Clymer’s first NHL goal came on Nov. 17, 1999 when he was a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It was against Damian Rhodes in Atlanta,” Clymer recalls. “It was my 13th game in the NHL. Power play. One-timer, high glove [side]. Damian is from Minnesota too, so I know him. It was kind of fun to score against him; I can give him a hard time about it. Pete Svoboda passed it to me. It was from the left side, just above the top of the circle. It gave us the lead, too, so I was hoping it would end up being the game-winner, too. But we ended up giving up two goals in the third period and they won, 5-4. That was the only thing I wish could have changed about that. But it was a pretty cool experience and something I will never forget.
“The puck is on the wall. As you go through [your career] you start to collect stuff. I had my first NHL jersey, the one I wore my first season. I have the puck from my first game, and then I have the puck from my first goal. I just kind of had them all put together. I have the puck from the first goal I scored [with Washington] in Toronto. I will maybe put that with the other [items] otherwise, it all gets scattered around.”
Footnote: Clymer’s goal came against the Thrashers in Atlanta’s inaugural NHL season. Atlanta’s win that night was its fourth of the season (4-10-2) and its second in a row over the Lightning.
Matt Bradley’s first goal came on Nov. 9, 2000 when he was with the San Jose Sharks. It was one of two goals in a 5-2 Sharks loss to the Blue Jackets.
“It was in Columbus, against Ron Tugnutt,” remembers Bradley. “The assists were from Vincent Damphousse and Stephane Matteau. I still have the puck at my house. They put it on a plaque for me in San Jose.”
The goal was a typical Bradley effort, the result of some hard work and grinding in the corner plus being in the right place at the right time.
“It was off a cycle in the corner,” he says. “I just went to the net and Vinnie pretty much bounced it off my stick and it went in. It was nothing spectacular but it was exciting because it was my first.”
Footnote: Bradley’s goal came just over a month after his NHL debut and was his lone NHL tally that season. He registered a career-high nine goals with the Sharks in the following campaign.
Like his linemates, Brian Sutherby scored his first NHL goal in the month of November. On Nov. 29, 2002, the Caps were hosting the Ottawa Senators at MCI Center. The Sens held a commanding 6-1 lead.
“We were playing Ottawa and it was late in the third. I came in down the right side, sort of all alone. Mike Grier chipped the puck to [Steve] Konowalchuk and Kono got it over to me. I went in all alone and chipped it over Patrick Lalime’s pad.
“It’s at my parents’ house. I have a pretty proud father; he has a little shrine in his basement so it’s hanging on their wall in a plaque. The Caps put it in a nice frame.”
Footnote: Sutherby debuted in the NHL with Washington on Oct. 6, 2001 in a 6-1 opening night win over New Jersey. After seven scoreless games, the 19-year-old pivot was returned to his junior team, the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL. His goal came more than a year after his NHL debut, in his 21st NHL game. Ottawa’s Jason Spezza netted his fourth NHL goal in the same game. Also, Ottawa’s Chris Phillips and Washington’s Jeff Halpern
squared off in a fight just minutes before Sutherby’s goal.