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Not Your Ordinary 18-Year Old

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

by Rob Picarello - Feature

Most ordinary 18-year-old males spend their time thinking about girls, cars and what colleges they're going to apply to in their senior year in high school.
Not Dan Blackburn.

The New York Rangers' rookie goaltender spends most of his time these days stopping pucks fired at him at lightning-quick speeds from some of the best hockey players on the face of the earth. That other stuff will just have to wait.

Just watching Blackburn tend goal for the Rangers makes wannabe middle-aged hockey players all over the word yearn for their teenage years. Not that any one of them – including some current NHL netminders – would have been able to crack an NHL lineup during their teens, but it's nice to dream.

On October 10, 2001, Dan Blackburn made his NHL debut against Jaromir Jagr and the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden.

On October 10, 2001, Blackburn made his NHL debut for New York when the team from the Big Apple took on Jaromir Jagr and the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden. When the Montreal native manned the crease on that memorable night a few weeks back, only three goaltenders younger than him had ever played in an NHL game.

Even though he lost his NHL debut 5-2 to the Caps, Blackburn felt comfortable in the New York goal.

"I felt good in net," said Blackburn following his first NHL contest. "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."

His teammates didn't help him too much in his first start, as Washington raced out to a 3-0 advantage before the game was 14:00 old, courtesy of three power play goals.

"I thought he played fine," Rangers head coach Ron Low said. "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.

"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."

Rangers leader Mark Messier was also impressed with the youngster's performance.

"I thought he played awesome," Messier said." 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."

Five days later, Blackburn would again stand tall in his next start, as he beat the Montreal Canadiens, 2-1, in his hometown in front of his friends and family. The 6-foot, 180-pound puck-stopper not only turned aside 22 of the 23 shots fired his way, he also was voted the game's first star for his stellar performance.

"It feels unbelievable. I can't get the grin off my face and I've been off the ice for five minutes already," Blackburn said after his first career win. "I felt a bit nervous today, but having my friends and family in the stands made me relax and feel more comfortable."

"I can't get the grin off my face and I've been off the ice for five minutes already." - Dan Blackburn after his first career win.

Before Blackburn donned the pads, Harry Lumley of the Detroit Red Wings threw on the gear at the age of 17 on Dec. 19, 1943, while John Vanbiesbrouck, also of the Rangers, and Martin Biron of the Buffalo Sabres were the next youngest to patrol an NHL crease.

Besides being the fourth youngest in NHL history to start an NHL game, Blackburn is also the third-youngest goaltender in Rangers history, behind Vanbiesbrouck and Lumley. Lumley, who four days after making his debut with the Wings was loaned to the Rangers to replace their injured goaltender, Ken McAuley, for the third period of their game in Detroit on Dec. 23,1943. Lumley played the remainder of the 1943-44 season with the AHL Indianapolis Capitols, then played 37 games for Detroit at age 18 in the 1944-45 season.

Rob Picarello covers the NHL for
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