– National Hockey League debuts are always special.
But it doesn’t get much better than making your debut in the world’s best hockey league in your hometown. And that hometown happens to be Montreal, one of the world’s premier hockey cities.
Danny Biega will experience that thrill when he plays in his first game with the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night at Centre Bell.
“It’s amazing. It’s awesome,” Biega said after Thursday’s morning skate. “I couldn’t think of a better way to start than coming back to my hometown and playing here.”
Head coach Bill Peters said he plans to make Biega’s name one of six Canes players to be called out over the public address system come right around 7:30 p.m.
“It’s exciting. I’m going to start him,” Peters said. “I don’t know who he partner is going to be, but I know Danny Biega’s going to be standing on the blue line listening to two hockey songs. It’s going to be fantastic.”
Biega, 23, was recalled on Wednesday evening by the Hurricanes after it was apparent that John-Michael Liles’ lower-body concern would keep him out of the lineup. After playing in San Antonio on Tuesday night, the Checkers traveled back to Charlotte on Wednesday, and Biega got official word of his call-up when the team got back to the Queen City. By 10:30 p.m. Wendesday, Biega was in Montreal, and 12 hours later, he joined the Hurricanes on the ice for their morning skate.
“He’s been good down in the minors. I talked to Jeff Daniels the other day. He’s been the guy that deserves to be called up now,” Peters said. “He’s been good and consistent all year. He’s a puck-mover, and he skates well. It will be a fun night for him. It will be really special. I’m excited for him.”
Though tonight will mark the first time Biega plays professionally on Centre Bell ice, it’s certainly not his first time in the building.
“A ton. I can’t even count. Every chance we got, we would come. It’s awesome, and it’s great to watch a game here as a spectator,” Biega said. “This is the best place to play. It’s one of them, for sure. It’s exciting. Just growing up here and coming to the games, I know what it’s like and what the fans are like. A lot of my close friends are diehard fans. It’s just going to be a great experience to finally experience it on the ice rather than in the stands.”
Biega will be the seventh Hurricanes player to make his NHL debut this season, and he will also be the second to do so in Montreal; Justin Shugg played his first NHL game in Montreal on Dec. 16.
Drafted in the third round (67th overall) by the Hurricanes in 2010, Biega played four years of collegiate hockey at Harvard. In his junior season (2011-12), Biega was named ECAC Hockey Best Defensive Defenseman, an NCAA East First-Team All-American and a Hobey Baker Award candidate.
Biega’s decision to attend school rather than play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League was about more than just the game.
“I figured that, even if you have an exceptional hockey career, you’re done at 40 years old. I just want to have options post-hockey to do a job that I otherwise might not have had the opportunity to do,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many people told me that if you go the school route, you’ll never make it. It’s a much more difficult path, for sure, but I knew that going in. It makes it twice as rewarding sitting here now saying I did it.”
A month ago, Biega’s older brother Alex, also a defenseman who played collegiate hockey at Harvard, made his NHL debut with the Vancouver Canucks and played in seven games.
“I was really happy for him,” Danny said. “He finally got his opportunity which was very well-deserved, and he made the best of it.”
Alex made his NHL debut that much more memorable when he netted what proved to be the game-winning goal against Minnesota with 8:06 left to play in the game and earned first-star honors. So, did he have any advice for Danny?
“He told me to just go out and enjoy it. He said, ‘We’ve been working our entire lives for this moment,’” Danny said. “We train together in the summers, and we’re really close. He said, ‘You finally did it. All that hard work paid off. This is what we were working for. Enjoy it and have fun.’”