ANAHEIM, Calif. (CP) - There have been times during his career Ric Jackman felt like a tennis ball bouncing from city to city, team to team.
By scoring a goal for the Anaheim Ducks on his first shot in his first NHL playoff game, Jackman finally got a taste of what he thought his career would be like.
"You have expectations being a high draft pick," the 28-year-old defenceman said Friday, prior to the Ducks catching a plane to Detroit to face the Red Wings in Sunday's Game 5 of the NHL Western Conference final.
"You come in with these dreams of playing and being a successful hockey player. Sometimes it takes some players longer than others. There's a growing curve there and a maturity curve there."
Jackson was pressed into the lineup Thursday night when Ducks defenceman Chris Pronger was suspended for one game for his hit on Tomas Holmstrom. He was put on the ice for a first-period power play and scored on his first shot when his blast from just inside the blue-line beat Dominik Hasek.
The Ducks went on to win the game 5-3 and tie the best-of-seven series 2-2.
"It was exciting," grinned Jackman, who pumped his fists after the goal. "I just try to look at the big picture, just to help and contribute the best I can. The main thing was us winning that game."
Jackman thought there'd be many moments like Thursday night when the Dallas Stars picked him fifth overall in the 1996 draft. In his last year of junior with Sault Ste. Marie he had 33 goals and 40 assists in 60 games.
But the Toronto native would spend seven years playing for six teams, including the Stars, Boston, Toronto, Pittsburgh and Florida before he'd get a chance to appear in a playoff game. The Ducks obtained him from Florida in January for a conditional draft pick.
He missed the final three games of the regular season and the opening two rounds of the playoffs due to back spasms.
"It was frustrating at times," Jackman said, scratching his growth of playoff beard.
He shrugged when asked why he's been with so many teams.
"I couldn't tell you, I have no idea," he said. "I've never really asked for a trade.
"I got traded at the deadline twice. I got traded in the summer once. They've all been kind of surprises."
At six foot two and 214 pounds, Jackman is big and mobile and can produce offensively. The knock against him is he's weak defensively and can be pushed off the puck.
Jackman also battled a drinking problem, which he says is in the past.
"That's long behind me, that part," he said. "I had some problems when I was younger that I dealt with.
"Things are going great for me and my family. That's all in the past."
Teammate Todd Marchant said it's role players like Jackman who help a team win a Stanley Cup.
"He comes in after being out of the lineup for a month and scores a big goal for us," said Marchant. "That's what the playoffs are about. It's a different hero every night.
"It's not your top scorers all the time. It's guys that come out of the woodwork and fill a void. There are many stories you can tell throughout the playoffs. His is certainly one of them."
Jackman played six minutes 37 seconds Thursday. He finished the night even, had two shots and blocked a shot.
With Pronger ready to play Sunday, it's possible Jackman could be out of the lineup again.
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle hasn't decided who will play in Game 5.
"Obviously Pronger will be back in the lineup," Carlyle said. "That means somebody might come out or we could go with seven D."
Jackman said he'll do what ever is best for the team.
"I'm here competing every day and waiting for a chance," he said.
Jackman hopes he's finally found a home in California. He and his wife Stephanie had their first child, a daughter, in February.
It's taken close to a decade for Jackman to play in the playoffs. Now there's a chance he could be a member of team that wins a Stanley Cup.
"It's a lifelong dream of any hockey player," he said. "It would be special for myself and my family.
"We still have a lot of work ahead of us before we can start thinking about that."