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Pens Couldn't Be Happier for Zohorna to Score in NHL Debut

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

After Radim Zohorna scored his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot in his first NHL game in the Penguins' 4-0 win over Buffalo on Thursday at PPG Paints Arena, the rookie forward said he didn't have words to describe his feelings.

Fortunately, his coach and teammates had plenty of them.

"That was huge," goaltender Casey DeSmith said. "There wasn't a better person to score that goal for us. That was the hardest I've seen the bench celebrate after a goal this season, I think. Even I was back there raising my hands up, I got so excited, too. It was really nice to see that."

Captain Sidney Crosby, who was one of the players on the bench, couldn't agree more.

"You love seeing that," he said. "You know it's his first game, and you think back to those emotions and those feelings that you have in your own first game. All the guys had memorable nights like that. So to see him score in his first game and see that emotion, that's a huge boost and gets us going, but it's also a great feeling on the bench when you see that."

Zohorna slotted into the lineup after head coach Mike Sullivan announced before the game that Kasperi Kapanen would be week-to-week with a lower-body injury after getting hurt in Wednesday's 5-2 win over the Sabres. His night started with the traditional solo rookie lap before warmups.

"Before when I was in the Czech and I played in the Czech Republic, I saw this on Instagram in the NHL," Zohorna said. "So I was really happy."

The 24-year-old forward was penciled in on a line with Mark Jankowski and Sam Lafferty, but quickly moved alongside Anthony Angello and Frederick Gaudreau, and the trio connected for his tally late in the first period.

"I knew these two guys from Wilkes-Barre and we played together, so they are my friends," Zohorna said. "So it was better for me playing in my first game because I know them."

Zohorna started the play himself from the half wall, rimming the puck behind the net for fellow big man Angello before drifting over to the front of the net.

Angello tried to make a centering pass to Gaudreau, but it got broken up. He was able to regain possession and get it over to Zohorna, who was standing there unnoticed by the Sabres, who were caught watching.

He wasted no time in firing the puck past Sabres goalie Dustin Tokarski, and from there, the celebration was epic. Zohorna jumped into Angello's arms before getting mobbed by the rest of his teammates on the ice, who were all just beaming.

As PA announcer Ryan Mill announced the goal, Zohorna's teammates on the bench all banged their sticks against the boards in recognition.

"It was so great," Sullivan said. "It was a terrific goal, first and foremost. It shows how good his hands are and his skill set. I thought he had a real good game, but to see the emotion on his face - and not just him, our whole team - it's just really a cool moment. Any time a player gets their first NHL goal, I think everybody on the bench can relate to what that moment means, and players never forget that first goal. I think it meant a lot to everybody, and you could see it, but just raw emotion on the bench as well. So everybody was so happy for him."

The silky release on Zohorna's shot is one example of what makes him, as Sullivan said, "a real interesting player for us, because we really like his skill level."

Of course, Zohorna's size is what immediately stands out, and understandably so, as he measures 6-foot-6, 220 pounds. But he also possesses good hands, good hockey sense and good vision.

"He can make plays," Sullivan said. "For a guy that's as big as he is, he's a decent playmaker with the puck."

The native of Havlickuv Brod, Czech Republic is in his first season of professional hockey in North America after spending the last six years playing in the Czech Republic's top professional league, the Czech Extraliga. 

He signed a one-year deal with Pittsburgh last April and said he worked extremely hard in the summer to be prepared for both the U.S. and the NHL, and it showed in his start. 

Zohorna began the season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League and earned the call-up after adjusting well to the smaller ice surface and style of play, tallying a team-high nine points (3G-6A) in 11 games. 

He said tonight, the pace was definitely a little faster, and that he was nervous for a few shifts.

"After I scored, I had no stress and I felt very good," Zohorna said. 

And once he processes the emotions of the evening, Zohorna can't wait to talk with his parents and his two older brothers Thomas and Hynek - who both currently play in the KHL - about what the experience was like.

"I hope all my family saw my game," he said. "I can't wait to call them the next day and tell them my feelings."

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