He may be a little worse for wear today, but Erik Brannstrom feels pretty fortunate to have dodged a serious injury in the dying moments of last night's 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple.
Brannstrom put forth a valiant effort to deny Auston Matthews of a garbage-time hat trick in their season opener but needed 8 stitches to close the cuts he suffered around his eye when Matthews' skate struck his face as the buzzer sounded in Toronto.
"It was close to the eye so I got lucky there," he said following today's practice. "I saw all the blood after and I didn't know if it was just a nose bleed or a cut or what."
Sens head coach D.J. Smith praised his young defender's effort to play until the final whistle as well as his toughness for quietly returning to practice the following day.
"It was outstanding. I've seen him be competitive right through training camp and that's why he's here," said the coach about Brannstrom's resolve at the end of the game. "I thought he was great last night and I thought he was good again today in practice. He had stitches in his face and came out there and never said a word about missing practice. This kid just wants to be a hockey player."
With the Senators down by two goals, Smith deployed Brannstrom with Thomas Chabot in the final minute to see if the offensive pair could help reduce the deficit. While they ultimately dropped a 5-3 decision in their first game of the year, Smith liked what he saw from the team's young defencemen.
"It's all about development here. You want to win hockey games but it's about the long-term success of the franchise," said Smith. "We want to be good for a long time and part of that is these young kids."
"You see Chabot and Brannstrom out there last night and you can see that these guys are going to be good defencemen for a long time," he continued. "They both can move the puck, they're both very competitive and I was really happy to see that."
And for his part, Brannstrom was happy to be put in that situation to help his team at the end of the game. The 20-year-old defender wanted to show his coach that he can be relied on at both ends of the ice when the result is on the line and he believes his effort to defend until the final buzzer showed that.
Now that the play, the injury and the stitches are behind Brannstrom, Smith echoed how luck he was to not sustain something more serious…besides being a little less handsome today.
"That's a very dangerous play that could ruin a career," Smith said. "I was really happy that it was just stitches. Unfortunately for him, he's not going to look good for now but he'll be alright."
The Sens return to action this Saturday for their home opener against the New York Rangers. If you haven't already, click here to grab some tickets to watch the Senators kick off their season at Canadian Tire Centre.