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Opening night a rich fountain of memories

by Adam Schwartz
Breath deep. Take it all in. The dream is here.

For many young players around the NHL, the nerves and jitters of training camp have given way to, well, the nerves and jitters of making an NHL debut … in the regular season … at a big arena … in a game that counts.


Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, the Rangers Lauri Korpikoski, Ottawa's Jesse Winchester and Pittsburgh's Alex Goligoski, among others, already have debuted during Bridgestone NHL Premiere 2008 in Europe.

For the rest of the NHL's rookie crop, their special moments will come starting Thursday night.

Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal never will forget the first time he pulled on his NHL jersey for his first game.

"Just having chills putting that jersey on for the first time in the NHL and knowing that you will be playing," Staal said of his memories. "Whether that be for a 1,000 or 10 games, at least I would have played one and it was pretty awesome experience."

What Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier remembers from his first game is how close he came to scoring.

"My opening game I went around a defenseman from the Panthers and made a great move and hit the crossbar," Lecavalier said. "It took me eight games to score my first goal and I thought back and said I was so close in my first game."

The No. 1 pick of the 2007 Entry Draft, Chicago's Patrick Kane won the Calder Trophy as the League's best rookie last season but it wasn't an easy ride. Kane was promised at least nine NHL games before the Blackhawks would decide to keep him or send him back to the London Knights, his Ontario Hockey League team. Kane felt he had a sub-par preseason and it was just a matter of time before he was shipped back to London.

"It's funny because Chicago promised me the nine-game tryout, and if they didn't promise it to me I don't know if I would have gotten it because I was pretty terrible in the preseason," he said. "We lost 1-0 (to Minnesota), but Savvy (Blackhawks coach Denis Savard) told me on the plane he thought I was the best player in the game. It was a good opening. It was fun to be part of the NHL and play a regular-season game. It was a good moment out there."

But Kane still kicks himself about missing a golden scoring chance.

"I think it was my first shift," Kane said. "I was flying around. If I settled down the puck would have come to me and I would have had an open net, but I was flying around and it hopped over my stick. It would have been crazy to score on my first shift of my first regular-season game. It's something you dream about. I had the chance, but I blew it."

Los Angeles center Anze Kopitar, who led the Kings with 45 assists and 77 points last season, fondly remembers his first game – in Anaheim, against the rival Ducks. Unlike Kane, Kopitar scored during his initial NHL contest. Actually, he scored twice in the Kings' 4-3 loss.

"It was really special," Kopitar said. "First game in Anaheim against the Ducks and obviously a big rivalry between the Kings and Anaheim and I had my first two goals. It's a memory I'll never forget. I had my mailbox full of messages that night from friends from Slovenia, they were happy for me. No one knew what to expect -- even I didn't know what to expect. I was really nervous before the game but the guys loosened me up before the game so that helped out a lot."

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