He went scoreless in just under 7 minutes of ice time, but Stefan Noesen's NHL debut last week against Colorado was, as he called it, "a dream come true."
That first game at the NHL level is a fantasy for every rising young hockey player, but for Noesen (whose name is pronounced STEH-fan NAY-sehn), it was the payoff of two years of incredibly arduous work. The 22-year-old Texas native had to fight back from not one, but two devastating injuries that limited him to just 25 AHL games the past two seasons.
In October of 2013, he underwent major knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL and came back to play just four playoff games at the end of the Norfolk Admirals' season. The following October, Noesen was cut with a skate in a game against Manchester and lacerated his Achilles tendon (commence cringing now), keeping him out another four months.
“My mental game has been pretty strong,” understates Noesen. “Going through this, it was a different type of development. It was more of a maturing development. It was more focused on my overall strength and trying to get my mental game strong. I feel like I’ve accomplished that.”
The connection between Noesen and Anaheim is an interesting one. The Ducks had their eye on the winger going into the 2011 NHL Draft and were all set to take him with the 22nd pick when Ottawa snatched him one pick earlier. Anaheim ultimately traded down and got center Rickard Rakell, who was actually a linemate of Noesen's with the Plymouth Whalers, who are set to become the Flint (Mich.) Firebirds.
The Ducks ultimately got their man two summers later, when Anaheim traded Bobby Ryan to the Senators for Noesen, Jakob Silfverberg and a 2014 first round pick that became Nick Ritchie.
Fast-forward two years -- and countless hours of rehab -- later, and there was Noesen making his long-awaited debut at Honda Center, just missing on a scoring chance in the second period of a 4-2 defeat to the Avs.
"I definitely had a little bit of jitters in the beginning," Noesen said afterward. "As the game went on, it’s starts to be hockey and those feelings go away. It really was a dream come true."
Here's a little more on Noesen:
Favorite NHL player growing up Mike Modano. I’m from Texas, and he did a lot for our community in Dallas. Brett Hull was also a guy everybody looked up to as well.
Favorite hockey moment of your career Probably getting drafted. It was kind of a surprise where I went, so it was fun. I had an idea that I was going to go pretty early, but I wasn’t really sure. You never really know. I got a text from my agency saying I was going to be the next pick, and I got really excited. My family started getting really pumped up too, so it was fun.
Pregame superstitions I have a lot. I like being myself before games, but there are too many too list. I always put my left stuff on before my right stuff. That’s one I can share.
Sports you’ve played besides hockey I played a little bit of football growing up. I was a quarterback, but I broke my finger one too many times.
Favorite movie Miracle. That’s everyone’s favorite. Slap Shot too.
Favorite TV shows I’m really into Sons of Anarchy right now. I’m really into Breaking Bad now. I like Friday Night Lights, being from Texas.
Favorite band I’m a big country music guy. I’m big into hip hop too.
Someone on your iPod you’re ashamed of I’ve got to admit I’ve got a little “Barbie Girl” by Aqua on there.
Favorite food Anything chicken. I’m a steak and potatoes kind of guy.
Favorite Orange County restaurants I like Saddle Ranch. Lazy Dog is good too. It’s got a modern, laid-back sort of feel.
Favorite vacation spot Last summer I went to the British Virgin Islands with my family and one of my buddies, and that was pretty cool.