TAMPA — As memorable moments go, playing his first NHL regular-season game Saturday for the Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum is on top of Dana Tyrell's list.
That Tyrell's parents, Ray and Dawn, were in the stands, enjoying a visit courtesy of the team, made it that much better.
"It just shows how classy the organization is and what good people they are," Tyrell said Sunday.
"A first-class organization," Ray said. "They paid for our whole trip, set it all up, looked after us. You couldn't ask for any more."
The game was a beginning and an end for Tyrell, 21.
The fourth-line wing said he is prepared for "a battle every day to stay up here and play with these guys."
But he also finally can put behind him the knee injury that cost him half the 2008-09 season and delayed by perhaps a year the fulfillment of his childhood dream of playing in the league.
"It was a big-time learning experience," said the 47th overall pick of the 2007 draft. "I had a lot to learn about a few things from life and hockey that I never encountered before. So it was a big step in my life."
In January 2009, Tyrell had surgery on his right knee for torn ligaments sustained in a warmup game for Canada before the world junior championship. Some still believed he would make the Lightning in 2009-10, but Tyrell was assigned to AHL Norfolk, where after 38 games he had zero goals and nine points.
It was a low point, Tyrell said, because he had worked so hard to get back, beginning workouts two weeks after the operation.
"Mentally, it was tough," he said. "I wasn't playing as I could. … But I just kept working hard and sticking with it, which is tough to do. Eventually I just found my stride. I found out I can play the way I did before the injury, got my confidence, and it's been moving forward ever since."
Tyrell had nine goals and 27 points in his final 36 games for the Admirals. He was so good at Lightning training camp, coach Guy Boucher determined Tyrell would better develop playing fewer minutes with Tampa Bay than more with Norfolk.
"Speed, speed, speed and speed," Boucher said of Tyrell. "And he's just fearless. He's like a pinball out there. He's not scared of anybody. He's first on puck everywhere. He crashes the net. He's good defensively. He's just the type of player we need."
"He just goes and goes," said defenseman Mike Lundin, who played with Tyrell at Norfolk. "He takes hits, he gives hits, he falls down, he gets up. He just never stops moving and never stops working."
Tyrell, 5 feet 11, 185 pounds, worked hard during Saturday's 5-3 season-opening victory over the Thrashers with two shots and a hit in 8:44 of ice time. One of the shots resulted from a turnover Tyrell caused with a hit in the offensive zone.
"It was unbelievable," he said. "To be in warmup, to skate with all the guys, and the fans were there, it was awesome. And after I took that first shift, I was part of the NHL."
"It pretty much brought tears to his mom's and my eyes," said Ray, who was home in Airdrie, Alberta, north of Calgary, by Sunday afternoon. "He made it, and all the credit goes to him."