UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Ryan Vesce dreamed of scoring a goal in the NHL long before those dreams became reality on Saturday night.
After spending his childhood skating on rinks all over New York and its surrounding areas, the Long Island native spent four years at Cornell University before playing another five seasons in the American Hockey League or in Europe.
Finally, though, the hard work paid off in a big way on Saturday -- and it couldn't have come in a more appropriate place.
With his team locked in a 1-1 tie, Vesce scored what proved to be the game-winning goal with 3:36 left in the second period to lead the San Jose Sharks to a 4-1 win against the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
The Isles' home rink is roughly a 30-minute drive from where Vesce grew up in Lloyd Harbor, N.Y. With his parents in the crowd, Vesce created a moment he or his family won't ever forget.
"To get that first goal and to be home … it's very exciting," said Vesce, who started this season with the AHL Worcester Sharks. "I grew up a Rangers fan, but I came to a lot of Islanders games because I lived so close. My whole family is here, my wife's family is here … this is great."
Vesce started the night on the fourth line, but coach Todd McLellan quickly promoted him to the top unit with Joe Thornton
and Dany Heatley. Vesce thrived in the new role, converting on a Thornton feed late in the second to give the Sharks a lead they never relinquished.
"It's got to be exciting for him," McLellan said of Vesce, who was never drafted. "We expected a little bit of offense from him. He took advantage of playing with the big boys. One of the things that we like about him is he's very reliable defensively. He understands where to go."
He showed that over the final 40 minutes, during which time he and his teammates found some energy. After allowing 19 shots in the first period, the Sharks allowed only 13 the rest of the way.
"They came out pretty good," Vesce said of the Islanders, who are winless in their first six games. "I thought they outskated us in the first period. But we got our legs. We had a pretty good skate this morning and we got our legs in the second period and took the game over from there."
Vesce, who put up 71 points in 67 AHL games last season, is obviously hoping he's seen the last of the minors. Saturday's performance can only help his cause.
"I'd like to stay here, but it's only one game," the 27-year-old said. "It's special just to be called up. But that's why I'm in the United States and not over in Europe … it's a chance to play here."
And with a chance to perform in front his parents, who sacrificed so much during his childhood so he could play the game he loves, Vesce thanked them the best way he knew how.
So, is he giving Mom and Dad the puck?
"I don't know … I don't even have it," Vesce joked. "I'm sure they'll take care of it." Contact Brian Compton at: firstname.lastname@example.org