As told to: Joe PackI was at Boston’s camp but I’d had knee surgery that offseason and was just rehabbing. The day before the season started, I got sent down to Providence where I skated with the team for two months. My parents drove down because I’d been told I was going to be in the pre-game skate with the chance to play, but I got scratched instead. I remember Peter Laviolette saying, ‘Why didn’t you tell me your parents were here? I would have played you.’ I was like, ‘it’s earned, it’s not given. I haven’t earned it.’ I would stay after practice and get bag-skated. The weekend I played my first AHL game, two of my best friends drove down.
My first three shifts I drew three penalties and was on the ice for maybe 20 seconds. It was, ‘You’re off, powerplay unit on,’ and I hated it because I’d waited so long to get my chance to play and I wasn’t frickin’ playing. Second period, I grabbed Kirby Law who was a 200-PIM, 40-goal scorer, and we got in a scrap because we were losing and I was trying to get us a jump, and had my first legit tilt. When I got out of the penalty box, Laviolette pretty much double-shifted me the rest of the game. He liked the way that I brought it.
After that game, we didn’t play for a couple nights so I took my two buddies out to a couple of establishments around Providence and had a good time. Next morning, I came to the rink a little foggy, not gonna lie. It was just gonna be a light skate and after the team meeting, Laviolette called me into his room. I was like, ‘Oh no, I smell bad or he knows I was out.’ He was asking me how my knee was and how my first game went and, I’ll never forget it, he stood up from behind his desk and reached out his hand to say ‘Congratulations, Boston liked what they saw, you got called up, you’re playing tonight against Washington.’ I was like, ‘Shut the front door! Is this what you guys do to all rookies? I’ve played one game and you’re trying this on me?’ He was for real. I had this warm feeling from my feet, way up my legs, my whole body – I was gonna be playing in the show.
He told me to walk out calm and quietly because there are guys in the room who haven’t been in an NHL game yet so get changed, go home and come back to get your bag on the way to Boston. I walked fast out of the room, got my gear on and just jumped in the truck and drove back to my apartment that I just got. I called my family and friends back home, ‘I’m playin! Ahhh!’ I woke up my buddies who were passed out on the living room floor and told them, ‘We’re goin’ up!’
Chris Simon grabbed me by the throat and said, ‘Rookie, if you hit another guy, I’m sending you down to the minors in a body bag.
We hit a traffic jam and I was worried I’d be late. I got in 15 minutes before I was supposed to be there and when I opened the Boston dressing room door, Ray Bourque was the first guy I saw and he said, ‘Hey rookie, 15 more minutes and you would have been sent right back down to Providence!’
When the game started I ran around and hit everything that moved. As we were skating off after the first period, Chris Simon grabbed me by the throat and said, ‘Rookie, if you hit another guy, I’m sending you down to the minors in a body bag.’ I ended up playing 20 minutes that game. That was a lot for anyone, let alone a rookie. I made the front page of the Boston Herald: me crushing Calle Johansson.
Obviously after my first NHL game I treated my buddies again to some surf ’n turf and we went to some the Boston establishments that I knew.
I went to the skate the next day and that’s when Pat Burns said I was coming on the road with them for four days and two games. My second game I put Brad May into our bench. Brendan Witt held me down and I yelled at the ref for a penalty and he shouted, ‘Ya gotta earn your dues, rookie!’ It was awesome.
JOE PACK is a freelance writer based in Toronto and a rec-league rent-a-goalie.
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