It's a moment that I've thought about for a very long time. It definitely feels great to get it out of the way. I couldn't have dreamed a better situation. I'm so thankful for this. - Sam Bennett
CALGARY, AB -- Not unlike most that play the game, Sam Bennett spent plenty of time growing up envisioning how his first career NHL goal would come.
In all the scenarios he’d play out, having it come in the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- and as a game-winner, no less -- wasn’t one that crossed the mind of the 18-year-old.
But he’ll take it.
“It’s a moment that I’ve thought about for a very long time,” said the Calgary Flames forward, whose goal 2:14 into the third period of Sunday’s 4-2 win was credited as the winner. “It definitely feels great to get it out of the way. I couldn't have dreamed a better situation. I'm so thankful for this."
Denied by the blocker of Eddie Lack from the slot earlier in the shift, Bennett hung around the net long enough to tap in a loose puck off Joe Colborne’s initial shot for his first goal.
“He’s been playing well for us, obviously, moving those feet and going to those dirty areas,” said Sean Monahan, not too far removed from his own first NHL goal to appreciate the feeling. “He got rewarded and I think he’s going to have many like that.”
It came in his fourth career game, and third in the playoffs, and has Calgary with a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series that resumes Tuesday at Scotiabank Saddledome (8 p.m. MT, CBC, SN960).
At 18 years, 303 days old, Bennett became the second-youngest player in Flames history to score a playoff goal, according to Elias Sports Bureau; only Jarome Iginla was younger (18 years, 297 days).
Bennett also became the youngest player in NHL history to score a playoff game-winning goal in regulation. Three other players, Don Gallinger on March 21, 1943, Nathan MacKinnon on April 26, 2014 and Patrice Bergeron on April 9, 2004, have scored postseason overtime winners at a younger age than Bennett.
“Sammy, you should have seen the smile on this kid’s face on the bench after his first goal, but he brings so much,” coach Bob Hartley said. “He makes things happen out there. His speed, his determination…he’s a special young man. He’s just learning how to play our system and everything. I’m very impressed with Sammy.”
The goal comes as a reward for a trying season.
Bennett underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in October, cutting his original bid to make the Flames short. After five months of rehabilitation, he was optioned to the Kinston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League. Once the Frontenacs were swept out of the playoffs in the first round, Bennett returned and served as a healthy scratch for the next three games.
Since getting into the lineup in the final game of the regular season against the Winnipeg Jets, which saw him record his first NHL point -- an assist, he hasn’t left.
“It’s been a really long year,” Bennett said. “These last couple of games have been a great experience and it’s nice to get that out of the way. I’m just excited to keep playing.”
And keep collecting souvenirs, it seems.
His second? That’s going home to mom.
To be placed in the room Bennett undoubtedly spent hours dreaming about this opportunity.