Rangers rookie netminder Dan Blackburn couldn't have been pleased with the outcome, but will certainly remember the night of October 10, 2001 for the rest of his life.
Blackburn and the Rangers were defeated 5-2 by the Washington Capitals at The Garden in his NHL debut. But despite allowing three power play goals in the first, the rookie settled down and turned in an impressive performance, ending with 37 saves. He also accomplished something that only four other goaltenders in the history of the NHL have accomplished before. He started an NHL game at the ripe age of 18.
Blackburn (18 years, 143 days) ranks behind only Harry Lumley
(Detroit Red Wings - 1943 - 17 years old), former Ranger John Vanbiesbrouck
(Rangers - 1981 - 18 years, 93 days) and Martin Biron
(Buffalo Sabres - 1995 - 18 years, 133 days). Tom Barrasso
(18 years, 188 days) started in goal for the Sabres in 1981.
"I felt good in net," said Blackburn following the game. "It was a little bit discouraging getting down three goals early on. But I thought I bounced back pretty good after that and I was happy with my effort. I managed to stay focused the rest of the game and battled back in the second," referring to his 14 saves in the middle frame. "Obviously I think I would've liked a little bit of a slower start, but it got me into the game."
Head coach Ron Low was impressed with what he saw out there from the Montreal, Quebec native. "I thought he played fine. He made a lot of terrific saves. Other than (the first goal) I thought he was really solid. I don’t think you can win a hockey game when you take that many penalties, especially ones that put you down five on three. There were just too many tonight for us to even have a chance. It just took the flow right out of our hockey club in the first period.
Low, a former NHL goaltending veteran of 11 seasons, knows that despite the outcome, it was a night that Blackburn will never forget, "I think Blackburn playing in the National Hockey League as an 18-year old is a dream. I’m sure he is going to feel pretty decent about the way he played tonight."
Rangers captain Mark Messier was also impressed with the rookie goaltender's debut. "I thought he played awesome (tonight). I know he was really excited to play his first game, and he played excellently. We really put him behind the eight ball, and he gave us a good chance to get back into it. He looked really poised out there. We saw him in practice and in training camp- he’s just unbelievable. The way he handles himself on and off the ice - he’s just not fazed or overwhelmed by the situation that he’s in. It’s really a treat to see a kid come in like that - with so much talent and composure."
Blackburn, the Rangers first round draft choice, 10th overall, in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, made the club after an impressive showing in Training Camp. The goaltender posted a 2-1-1 mark, along with a 3.49 goals against average in five pre-season matches, capturing the Lars-Erik Sjoberg Trophy as the best rookie in camp. Blackburn, who backstopped the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League for the last two seasons, was named the WHL's 2001 Goaltender of the Year and a finalist for the 2001 Canadian Hockey League Goaltender of the Year.
While his NHL debut will forever be a special moment in his career, Blackburn knows that he needs to shake off the loss and continue to work hard at making the adjustment to the NHL game. "If you're going to play in this league for years to come, you have to play in games like that. So it's an early lesson."
A lesson learned by Blackburn and one that will never be forgotten.