Upon finding out he had made the opening night roster of the Nashville Predators, there wasn't any doubt as to whom Samuel Girard would place his first phone call.
The rookie defenseman, just 19 years old, was summoned into the coaches' office prior to Tuesday's practice - a few hours before Nashville's final roster had to be submitted to the NHL - and was told he'd be sticking with the big club after an impressive showing during the preseason.
So before putting on his pads, he made the call back home to Roberval, Quebec, to tell his parents the news. By the time he got off the ice from practice approximately three hours later, his phone was full of missed calls, texts and notifications of congratulations and well wishes from family and friends, an overwhelming and humbling discovery.
"I know they were all very happy for me," Girard said prior to boarding a plane to Boston for the commencement of his first NHL road trip on Wednesday. "It was my dream to be in the NHL and start the season here. It is probably the dream of [another young hockey player] too, and those people who are from [my town], I hope they will look at this and they will probably push harder to try to realize their dream."
For one thing, Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette and his staff are pleased with Girard's progress to this point, less than two years removed from being selected 49th overall in the second round of the 2016 NHL Draft. Not only does Laviolette want Girard to soak it all in, but he also believes the young blueliner should be prepared to make his debut soon enough.
"Every outing for him was an excellent outing," Laviolette said of Girard's preseason performances. "[He was] one of the top defensemen we had rated every time he took the ice.
For me, it's his skating, his puck movement, his decision making; I think we were waiting to see him in the lineups against some of the teams that were more complete with their skilled forwards and see if defensively he could handle it. I thought he did just a terrific job, so it's a good opportunity for him."
Girard says he doesn't yet know if and when he may play on the two-game trip to Boston and Pittsburgh to start the season, but there's a quiet confidence about the soft-spoken Quebecer that says he'll be ready when the time comes.
"It will be a new thing for me, but those preseason games helped me get more comfortable with everything," Girard said. "I'm very excited to start the season here and to be a part of the that group. I worked very hard to be here, so I'm very happy."
Away We Go:
After 21 days of meetings and testing, practices and preseason outings, it's finally time for the real thing.
The Predators jetted off to Massachusetts on Wednesday afternoon in advance of Thursday's regular-season opener against the Bruins with an ever-so-slight boost of morale that was palpable in the locker room after practice at Centennial Sportsplex.
This is the first time, of course, that this group will hit the ice with two points on the line, and as Laviolette prepares to step behind the bench for his fourth consecutive season opener with the Preds, the feeling never gets old.
"To start on the road is a good thing for us, I think, as a group," Laviolette said. "Get out here and play in Boston, get going that way; everybody gets sick of training camp, gets sick of the skates and the meetings… I think the guys just want to go play, and we get that opportunity tomorrow night."
As for any potential momentum from last spring's run to the Stanley Cup Final, the bench boss cautioned not to assume anything. But, there's no doubt that the pieces in place on the roster are capable of great things, and the 82-game journey is about to begin.
"This group will have to makes its own way," Laviolette said. "Our group is going to have to go out and fight for every game and every opportunity that they get to be successful. We're going to have to grow something internally like we did last year, and I think there's confidence that those guys can do it, but what happened last year, what happens the year after this one, really all that matters are what happens this year. Our guys are ready to play. Our guys will be ready."
Harry Z Back in the Fold:
The Predators brought a familiar face back into the organization on Wednesday when they signed forward Harry Zolnierczyk to a one-year, two-way contract. The scrappy 30-year-old skated in 24 regular-season games for the Predators last season before making 11 more playoff appearances during Nashville's run to the Final.
For now, Zolnierczyk has reported to Milwaukee and will begin the season with the Admirals, Nashville's AHL affiliate.
Laviolette always speaks highly of Zolnierczyk, having coached him in Philadelphia as well, and was pleased to see the Brown University graduate sign a deal once more.
"Harry, he's a great depth player for us and I think everybody is happy to see Harry sign and come back with us," Laviolette said. "It's an opportunity for him to get going inside the organization right now in Milwaukee."