Surprise: Heward in, Koci sits
Though he said it wasn't a "total surprise," Jamie Heward said he did not know he would get thrown into the Lightning's first game when he signed a day ago a one-year, two-way contract that pays $475,000. But the veteran will be in the lineup today in Tampa Bay's season-opener against the Rangers.
"I didn't know what to expect," Heward said after the morning skate. "To play in the first game is nice."
Enforcer David Koci, whom coach Barry Melrose on Friday indicated would play, will sit out along with forward Ryan Craig and defenseman Mike Lundin. But it was Heward's insertion into the lineup that drew the most interest.
The 37-year-old, who came to the Lightning on a tryout, played in the first preseaon game against the Penguins, and, while he played well, was sent to AHL Norfolk. Heward had not yet signed a contract, and was contemplating whether to play or perhaps do a bit of coaching. Then Tampa Bay sent defenseman Andrew Hutchinson to Norfolk, and the Lightning's top six averaged just 23.8 years old.
Heward, the Lightning determined, adds a veteran presence, and in his ninth NHL season, he can step in, he said, without feeling too out of place.
"The game in Pitsburgh is still fresh in my mind," he said. "I just do what the team tried to do and emulate the same plays. I'll ease into it and do the best I possibly can for these guys."
Said Melrose: "A defenseman is never out of the game; that's what everyone should realize because they're so hard to find. We just felt he's a big body, doesn't beat himself and that's what we need right now. We've got a really young D. We're hoping he can come in and be a guy who moves the puck, plays good in our end and shoots it when he gets a chance."
Koci, who is from Prague, wouldn't say he was disappointed.
"I knew it would be hard to make the team. They signed lots of players," he said. "I like the challenge. I think I'm ready toplay every time. I just continue to work hard and wait for my chance, and when I go there, show I can play. That's all I can do. So far I'm happy and grateful to be here."