Throughout the season, tampabaylightning.com will periodically talk to Lightning players or coaches to get their first-hand account of a critical moment from the season or just what's on their mind currently.
In this installment, we hear from Tampa Bay's 24-year-old rookie forward Carter Verhaeghe, who recorded his first career NHL hat trick in the Bolts' 9-2 rout of the Vancouver Canucks on January 7 at AMALIE Arena.
Verhaeghe entered that contest having scored two goals in his 28 career games in the National Hockey League but more than doubled that output in one 60-minute effort. Verhaeghe recorded the first hat trick of the season for the Lightning, and he needed just 29 games to achieve the feat, the fewest games played from the start of a career to record a hat trick of any player in Lightning franchise history, besting Cedric Paquette's previous mark of 42 games from the 2014-15 season.
As told to tampabaylightning.com beat writer Bryan Burns, Verhaeghe discusses what the moment was like for him, the goal that wasn't a goal until it became a goal and his thoughts when he heard his number called to go over the boards with the Lightning's top power-play unit on a late 5-on-3 and needing only one more goal to complete the hat trick.
The start of the day was pretty normal to be honest. Nothing special. Just an ordinary game, I guess as much as any game in your first season in the NHL came be. We play a lot of games during the season, and it's always fun coming back to play in Tampa. We had just returned from a long road trip that started in Buffalo, went to Canada and finished in Carolina. I warmed up. Had a meeting. Played soccer with the guys. Our line had been playing pretty well coming into the game. We'd scored a goal in the previous two games and were feeling pretty good. Scoring and helping the team win definitely builds your confidence. We had good chemistry me and Gourdo and Stevie. We were playing pretty well. But, yeah, nothing out of the ordinary going into the game.
I didn't even know I'd scored the first one. That happens in any other league, it's no goal because there's no review. I thought it hit the post, and I think it did hit the post actually. Then we scored later that shift. We'll take either one. I had no idea what was going on. I came back to the bench, and the guys were saying it came out weird and asking me if it went in. I didn't have an answer. They were like, 'I think it went in.' And then they reviewed it. We scored anyway. It didn't even really matter. But that one felt pretty good. The team was playing so well. And then we scored two or three right after that and really started taking control of the game. It felt good to think you'd had a positive impact on the game.
On the second goal, I think I had just changed. Gourdo and Stevie were battling along the boards there, and Stevie made a really good play, got the puck free and saw me going back post. He made a good pass, and I just tried to get it off my stick as quick as possible and it went in. Pretty happy about that one too. I'm feeling good. We're feeling good. We're beating a good team. I think that put us up 8-2. Being up that much against a good team like that means the guys are playing pretty well.
After I scored the second goal, the guys on the bench, mainly Stammer and Patty, were saying to Coop, 'He's got two. Put him out there.' I've played 5-on-3 before, but never in the NHL. Because of the game, the score, we were up six goals, it was kind of like, okay, let's try and get this guy a hat trick. We pretty much had the game under control. I feel like if it was a 3-2 game, then we're trying to shut the door and close out the game. There's no room for error in that situation. You're not really thinking about a hat trick at that point. But because it was that big a lead, all the guys were trying to get me the puck. To be out there with those special players on that power-play unit, I think I took Stammer's spot on the 5-on-3. Kuch made a sick pass to me. It happened so quick. It was just muscle memory. The third goal was a lot like the second, just trying to get it off as quick as possible. Shot it, get it on and off and happy it went in. All the guys were pretty happy for me, and it was a special moment. A hat trick in the NHL is obviously something I'll never forget, especially when I scored my first one probably 10 games earlier. I think I blacked out. I don't even remember what happened once I got to the bench.
I didn't know I took the fewest games in franchise history to score a hat trick until someone told me later. That's a pretty cool stat. Kind of crazy to think I did it faster than guys like Stammer or Marty or Vinny. That's incredible company. They gave me all three pucks after the game. I didn't know they kept all the pucks. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with them, maybe get them framed. I have my first goal puck framed. The team did it for me, which was awesome. They said they'd frame these too. I got a lot of texts from friends and family after the game. Everybody was pretty excited for me. My parents were really happy. It almost had the same feeling as after I'd scored my first NHL goal. A little different but the same kind of thing.
It was a great night.