sat in his stall after Sunday’s game against Columbus with shaving cream (and a grin) on his face, the game pucks on a nearby ledge and the lunch box that’s awarded to the team’s hardest working player at his side.
He had every right to be smiling, as the 25-year-old goaltender made 22 saves to earn a win in his NHL debut as the Penguins topped the Blue Jackets, 4-2, at CONSOL Energy Center.
“It was everything I expected and more,” Thiessen said, who earned First Star honors in the contest. “It was a lot of fun.”
Thiessen had been waiting – and working toward – this opportunity for a long time.
“He’s been deserving of this chance for a long time,” head coach Dan Bylsma said before the game. “He hasn’t had it for a lot of different reasons, and he’s getting it.”
After three years at Northeastern University, the undrafted goaltender joined the organization during the team’s 2009 Stanley Cup run, where he was a member of the Black Aces practice squad. And with his work ethic, character and professional demeanor, Thiessen earned himself a contract with the Penguins.
He’s been in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton ever since, backstopping his way to a career year last season that was capped by winning the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s top goaltender and setting franchise records last season with 35 wins and seven shutouts.
But despite his outstanding campaign, Thiessen still had to wait for his opportunity with the parent club because of the depth Pittsburgh has at his position. And it finally came Sunday after the Penguins recalled him on Feb. 24 with backup Brent Johnson
listed as day-to-day with an injury.
With back-to-back games on the schedule, there was no better time for Thiessen to get his long-awaited, well-deserved moment.
“I’m glad it was a 1 o’clock game so I didn’t have to sit around and wait all day for that one,” joked Thiessen, who admitted he had nerves heading into the contest. “But it was a lot of fun just to be a part of it and to be able to contribute to a win. I’ve been around for a few years just practicing and black ace-ing and whatnot. Being able to be out there with the guys was a lot of fun.
“I knew it was coming at some point. I wanted to believe it was. It wasn’t easy
to stick to it sometimes, but they kept telling me it was going to come, you never know when it was going to be coming so just be ready. I think I was able to do that.”
Thiessen’s first save came in an unorthodox way, as a slapshot from Derek Mackenzie actually deflected off his helmet and out of danger.
The Blue Jackets only registered a total of five shots in the first, but Thiessen had to come up with some pretty stops on two of those. So while he didn’t get tested much, he gained some confidence.
“They had a few good chances on their first few shots,” he said. “So just being able to make those saves kind of settled me into the game, I think.”
Thiessen’s first goal against came when Columbus captain Rick Nash converted a shorthanded breakaway. Coincidentally, the first tally Marc-Andre Fleury
surrendered in his NHL debut back in 2003 was also shorthanded – and he was impressed with the way Thiessen stayed calm and composed throughout the entire 60 minutes.
“Mine was on the first shot so it was a little quicker,” Fleury smiled. “I think at the end though, he stayed with it and played very strong until the end. He made some quick saves in the first and kept us in the game. The guys played good and got some goals for him.”
Thiessen’s teammates were also impressed with their goalie’s poise, and elated that he was rewarded for his hard work with a win.
“That was really cool,” forward Pascal Dupuis
said. “He’s come up for the last two or three years as a (Black Ace) for us in the playoffs. He was practicing with us and putting the effort in at practices and stuff and coming in during the summer and working out with the guys. I don’t think he’ll forget this day at all.”
Thiessen isn’t sure what happens from here in terms of his future with Pittsburgh. While of course he’d like to stay, he’s just going to keep worrying about what he can control – which is continuing to improve his game whether he’s here or with WBS.
And if he does that, another NHL start isn’t out of the question.
“This is the National Hockey League. This is what we all work for and try to get to,” he said. “I’d love another chance at some point. Every chance I get to be here, whether it’s in practice or a game, is a chance to show them that I can play and be here. So I was trying to do that today.”