TAMPA — Carter Verhaeghe figures he shook off the nerves of his first NHL game sometime Friday morning, the day after the game.
“I was pretty nervous,” the Lightning forward, 24, said. “After a couple shifts, you kind of get going. … I’m glad it’s over with, and now get the next one.”
He said it was pretty crazy to skate out of the tunnel for warmups to the cheers of a sellout crowd at Amalie Arena for the game against the Panthers.
Verhaeghe had skated in preseason games, and the first one was exciting, but it was nothing like his NHL debut.
When he got word he’d be in the opening-night lineup, his parents made plans to fly to Tampa from Waterdown, Ontario. Thomas and Karen Verhaeghe brought with them a group of 10 that included Verhaeghe’s girlfriend, an aunt, an uncle, cousins and friends. Verhaeghe’s fan club was continuing on to Sunrise for his second game, tonight against the Panthers.
“They were pretty ecstatic to see my first NHL game,” Verhaeghe said. “It’s something else.”
Verhaeghe got one scoring chance in the game — “We’re going to try to get a couple more next game,” he said — in 10:55 of ice time, third lowest among forwards, but he did what was needed of him.
“He did his job,” coach Jon Cooper said. “It wasn’t like he played 20 minutes, but his line contributed. They got offensive-zone time. He kept his shifts short, which is understandable. And he did his job.”
In some ways, Verhaeghe just needed to get the first game out of the way. It’s special but maybe too monumental.
He hopes to make a bigger impact tonight. His first game was for the experience.
“I think I’ll remember all of it,” he said. “It was a big win. I am happy we won. I just tried to take everything in. I’ll remember it for a very long time.”
A player’s NHL debut is one of the biggest moments of his career. What do other Lightning players remember from theirs?
He can recite the starting lineup from his first game, March 1, 2018, at Dallas. Cirelli started against the Stars, taking the opening faceoff opposite Tyler Seguin. The Stars started a stacked lineup of Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov at forward.
He remembers stepping out on the ice in Toronto, then taking a penalty 30 seconds into his first shift. It wasn’t a bad penalty, though, the kind that results from a 50-50 battle for the puck.
The best part of the night was when warmups started. “That’s when it’s real, ‘This is the NHL,’ ” he said.
He was the somewhat surprise rookie to make it out of training camp last year. The team gave him a rookie lap, when the rookie comes out first for warmups and does a lap alone. That moment, with the crowd cheering, was special.
He remembers the leadup to the game. He got called up a couple of days before, and his parents canceled an international vacation they had planned in case he got in the lineup. Ryan Malone got hurt, and Killorn made it in … at Madison Square Garden.
He started on opening night of the 2016-17 season against the Red Wings in Tampa. The moment hit him as he stood on the bench during the national anthem, staring at the floor.
He tried to take his usual pregame nap and couldn’t sleep. Witkowski tossed and turned as his brain buzzed with excitement. He remembers getting the win and having his parents and now-wife there.
Killorn scored with less than 30 seconds to play against the Devils and the Lightning won in a shootout on March 29, 2013 in Tampa. “I can still remember walking through the tunnel for the first time and being as jacked up as any player,” he said. Coaching against Martin Brodeur, one of the best goalies to play the game, made it all the more special.
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @dianacnearhos.