Paul Gaustad played his first NHL game on March 24, 2003 with the Buffalo Sabres. He had to wait over two years to appear in his second contest, but he’s racked up a few more since then.
Gaustad skated in his 700th NHL game last Saturday when the Nashville Predators hosted the Minnesota Wild, a tally that has elapsed much quicker than it may seem.
“It’s been a fun time playing, and it does go by fast,” Gaustad said after Monday’s practice at Ford Ice Center. “You just enjoy it and continue to enjoy the game. It makes it go by fast when you’re doing something you love.”
Since that first game in 2002, Gaustad has become one of the League’s top performers in the circle year after year, consistently ranking among the Top 10 in face-off percentage. The Portland, Oregon, native was seventh in the NHL last season at 56.4 percent, the sixth consecutive season he’s been ranked in the League’s Top 10 in the category.
“It’s a role that I’ve come to really like and embrace,” Gaustad said of his prowess on the draw. “It’s something where you work with great centermen throughout your career; when you’re young, you watch them, and you emulate them and just get better.”
Head Coach Peter Laviolette often relies on Gaustad for the most important faceoffs during the course of a game, but the 6-foot-5 center provides so much more than simply possession of the puck when it matters most.
“He’s a great person, a good leader in our locker room, professional, and he’s been a valuable part of our success,” Laviolette said. “He’s a big presence in our lineup. He might not always get the accolades that somebody who scores 35 goals in a season does, but if you can keep the puck out of your net, it’s equally as valuable.”
Eric Nystrom is often a linemate of Gaustad, and says the man they call “Goose” has earned every bit of respect he has among his teammates.
“On the ice, he’s the guy who’s going to sacrifice his body and block shots and play physically and do whatever it takes to win, and in the room he’s always so positive,” Nystrom said. “Through the hard times and the great times, he just has the same attitude. You want to be around him, and he’s got a good energy about him.”
Like Laviolette said, Gaustad isn’t likely to be the guy who will score the game-winning goal in overtime, but his ability in other facets of the contest makes him just as valuable. And for the record, he went 55 percent in the face-off dot in his 700th game, just another night on the ice for No. 28 in Gold.
“He’s a great teammate, and that’s part of the reason why he’s made it that far in this League,” Nystrom said. “He’s a huge part of this team.”
No Better Time Than Right Now:
The Predators have a hefty challenge tomorrow night when they host Central Division foe Chicago at Bridgestone Arena. The Blackhawks are on an 11-game winning streak, including a victory over the Preds one week ago, while Nashville is hoping to build momentum off of their 3-0 win against Minnesota on Saturday.
“It’s a division game, it’s in our building, we’ve talked about our division record, and it’s got to be better,” Laviolette said. “We’re not where we want to be, and we’re presented with a division game in front of us. It’s Chicago, they’re a good team and we have to be ready to play.”
For Nashville, it’s one more chance to play at home before heading back on the road for a four-game trip to Western Canada, an opportunity that could pay dividends moving forward.
“We’re starting to play better, but this is a great test,” Nystrom said. “They have all the confidence in the world, we’re trying to find our confidence, it’s in our building and we’re really desperate for our position in the standings. It would be great to end their streak in front of our fans.”
Lines and Notes:
Colin Wilson (Injured Reserve, lower-body) skated prior to the team’s practice on Monday at Ford Ice Center. Captain Shea Weber missed practice and was given a maintenance day.
Monday’s line rushes looked like this:
| ||Forwards || |
|Kevin Fiala ||Ryan Johansen ||James Neal |
|Filip Forsberg ||Mike Ribeiro ||Calle Jarnkrok |
|G. Bourque/E. Nystrom ||Mike Fisher ||Craig Smith |
|Miikka Salomaki ||Paul Gaustad ||C. Bass/A. Watson |
Shot of the Day: