The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

May 2, 2013

NHL Rookies proving their value

CHICAGO — A year ago, Brandon Saad was just a footnote when he made his postseason debut for Chicago against the Phoenix Coyotes. He skated for just over 10 minutes in two games and picked up his first career NHL point on an assist, but the Blackhawks were eliminated in the first round.

This season, the 20-year-old Pittsburgh native is skating on the same line as Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. He is one of several rookies playing an important role for contending teams in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely more intense,” Saad said. “Guys working harder, faster pace.”

Saad played 21 minutes and had two shots in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime win over Minnesota in Game 1 of their best-of-7 series on Tuesday. It was the first career playoff game for Wild rookies Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker and Jonas Brodin, who will be back on the ice when the series resumes Friday night at the United Center.

“It’s a little bit different,” Brodin said. “It’s a step higher with everything. More intensity and stuff. So it’s fun to play in. We were waiting for this, all the year. It’s a really fun time right now.”

The playoffs are full of important rookies this year.

Forwards Brendan Gallagher (15 goals, 13 assists) and Alex Galchenyuk (nine goals, 18 assists) helped Montreal grab the Northeast Division title and No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin, who took on a more prominent role when the defending champions were hit with a slew of injuries, had 16 points in the regular season, then picked up an assist in Los Angeles’ 2-1 overtime loss at St. Louis in Game 1 of their series.

Pittsburgh forward Beau Bennett scored a power-play goal just 25 seconds into his first playoff shift on Wednesday night, converting a nifty wrist shot to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead over the New York Islanders. The 21-year-old rookie got the start on the fourth line over veteran Tyler Kennedy.

“The skill he adds to our lineup in that role starting with today, which was the fourth-line role, was not only evident in a great goal on the back end of that power play, but 5 on 5 as well in some of the shifts he had in the offensive zone,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “That’s something he added, especially the last stint he got called back up, he’s proven he can do that and certainly did that again.”

Bennett became the first rookie to score the first goal for the Penguins in the playoffs since Jordan Staal against Ottawa in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on April 11, 2007. He also joined an impressive list of Penguins who scored in their postseason debut, including Sidney Crosby.

“We have a lot of depth on this team so we’ve all got to be ready when we’re called upon,” Bennett said. “Luckily I got the call. I tried to take full advantage of it.”

Saad made his NHL debut on Oct. 7, 2011, at Dallas, but spent most of the season with Saginaw in the Ontario Hockey League. He came into his own this year, when he had 10 goals and 17 assists in 46 games. He also led all NHL rookies with a plus-17 rating.

Playing with veteran stars Toews and Hossa has helped with the development of the second-round selection from the 2011 entry draft.

“It’s helped out tremendously,” Saad said. “I mean being able to play on this team with how good we’ve been playing and especially with those guys on the same line, it’s been huge for my confidence and for my learning ability. I couldn’t really ask for anything more.”

Coyle, who was acquired in the 2011 trade that sent All-Star defenseman Brent Burns to San Jose, plays on Minnesota’s first line with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu. The 6-foot-2 right wing had eight goals and six assists in 37 games this season.

“You have many dreams growing up, and playing for the Cup is my biggest one,” said Coyle, a first-round pick by San Jose in the 2010 draft. “So it’s pretty special to be here and be with this group of guys. It’s a good group of guys, so it’s exciting.”

Brodin and fellow defenseman Ryan Suter stepped up after goalie Niklas Backstrom was scratched from Game 1 with a leg injury. Brodin played 34 minutes in his first playoff game and Suter was on the ice for 41 minutes, providing valuable support for backup goalie Josh Harding.

Zucker, who played six games for Minnesota last season, had a shot go off the crossbar in overtime in the playoff opener.

“I thought that all our young kids played a very good game,” Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said. “They were able to play their game and go out and execute.”

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Sports
  • Pirates cut down by Reds’ Cueto

    April 23, 2014

  • Penguins 0422 Blown leads are troubling trend in series

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Sunnehanna makes changes to tourney week

    April 22, 2014

  • Penguins 0421 Penguins finish hot to grab 2-1 series lead

    Brandon Sutter, Lee Stempniak and Jussi Jokinen scored in a span of 2:13 of the third period to revive the Penguins from yet another two-goal deficit in a 4-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pirates 0421 Pirates walk off against Reds to halt home skid

    Ike Davis became the first player to hit grand slams for different teams in the same April, and Neil Walker had a winning run single with two outs in the ninth inning as the Pittsburgh Pirates twice overcame deficits to beat the Reds 6-5 Monday night.
    Pittsburgh trailed 2-0 before Davis’ fourth-inning homer off Mike Leake.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Sitting Bulls bring home national sled hockey title

    The Johnstown Sitting Bulls disabled sled hockey team recently won a national championship.
    The team, comprised of disabled athletes from Cambria, Somerset, Indiana, Bedford and Blair counties, finished first in the Youth B Division at the USA Hockey National Disabled Hockey Festival held April 11-13 in Marlborough, Mass.

    April 21, 2014

  • Local Sports Briefs

    April 21, 2014

  • APTOPIX Boston Marathon.jpg Marathon men’s winner has names of victims on bib

    The winner of the Boston Marathon men’s race had the names of last year’s victims written in marker on the corners of his race bib.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pirates Brawl 0420 Brewers top Pirates in game highlighted by dustup

    Ryan Braun homered in the ninth inning to tie it, then Khris Davis hit a home run in the 14th that put Milwaukee ahead for good.
    Yet those were hardly the big blows that attracted all the attention Sunday in the Brewers’ 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Football team ends boycott of embattled coach

    Minnesota State University-Mankato’s football team has ended its boycott of reinstated head coach Todd Hoffner, who successfully fought child pornography charges and other misconduct accusations that removed him from the job for 20 months.
    Hoffner said he assured the players, who refused to take the practice field Wednesday, that interim coach Aaron Keen, who led the team in Hoffner’s absence, will continue in a major role with the team.

    April 20, 2014

AP Sports Video
Poll

Should the NFL get rid of the extra-point attempt after a touchdown?

Yes
No
     View Results
Order Photos


Photo Slideshow