There are two moments in every NHL player's career that they never forget. Their first game and their first goal.
Forward Carter Rowney took the long road to the league, paying his dues in the American Hockey League and ECHL before making his NHL debut this season at the age of 27.
And in his 15th game on the year, he finally recorded his first NHL goal. Rowney lifted a shot over the outstretched body of New Jersey goaltender Keith Kinkaid in the third period for the eventual game-winner in Pittsburgh's 6-4 victory against the Devils at PPG Paints Arena Friday night.
He is the second former Grande Prairie Junior A Storm player to score an NHL goal. The first was Grant Stevenson, who played for the Storm during the 2000-2001 season. Stevenson scored in his first-ever NHL game with the San Jose Sharks against the Calgary Flames on Nov. 23, 2005. Stevenson played 40 games with the Sharks that season, his only in the NHL, scoring 10 goals and collecting 12 assists.
“That is a great feeling,” Rowney said after scoring against the Devils. “I think it was a great play by my teammates, get that monkey off the back. It was a great feeling.”
“It's fun anytime somebody gets their first goal,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “I think you can tell that it kind of gives everybody a boost. For a lot of us, we have all been there and it is an exciting time. We are happy to see him get that one. It was a big goal in the game, so we are happy for him.”
Carter was named the first star of the game and Crosby the second.
Kinkaid was sprawling on the play when the Tom Kuhnhackl fed Rowney at the side of the net. Instead of rushing a shot, Rowney waited for Kinkaid to fall flat before lifting the puck into the goal.
“I was just trying to wait it out,” Rowney said. “I saw he went down early, so I just tried to wait him out and I was lucky enough to finish.”
“Really good patience there, he waited him out,” center Nick Bonino said. “He's played well for us. He's come in with all the injuries, worked hard. We're happy for him.”
Bonino was also the recipient of a Rowney pass that led to a Pens' goal. With Bonino netting his 14th goal of the season, Rowney finished the night his first career multi-point game.
“Rowney gave me a bullet,” Bonino said. “It's one of those where I caught it and I thought I'd have to make another move. The pass was hard enough that Kinkaid bit the wrong way and I had a pretty easy goal.”
Rowney's wife was in the crowd to witness the goal firsthand. But Rowney is expecting to have a lot of messages on his phone when he retrieves it from the change room.
“I am sure there are a few congratulations,” he said, “and I am sure my brothers were watching back home.”
Home is Sexsmith where he was born and played minor hockey before joining the Grande Peace Athletic Club where he played bantam and midget hockey before graduating to the Junior A Storm and then to the NCAA where he played with the North Dakota Fighting Sioux.
– with files from Pittsburgh Penguins