TAMPA — It was an NHL debut Ross Colton will never forget.
The rookie center was positioned in front of the crease on his second shift of Wednesday’s game against Carolina when defenseman Victor Hedman skated around the back of the net and backhanded a pass to him through traffic.
Colton shot, and the puck got behind goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic to open the scoring in the Lightning’s 3-0 win over the Hurricanes.
“I was always taught when I was younger to go to the dirty areas, so I just got in front and tried to bang one home,” Colton said, “and luckily it went in.”
Colton, 6 feet, 191 pounds, is the ninth Lightning rookie to score in his first NHL game. The last to do so was Anthony Cirelli on March 1, 2018. Nikita Kucherov scored his first goal on the first shift of his first game on Nov. 25, 2013.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper called Colton Tuesday night to tell him he would be playing. Colton’s mother, Kelly, and other members of his family booked flights that night and flew to Tampa from New Jersey Wednesday morning.
“I didn’t sleep last night, I was so nervous,” Colton’s mother said. “We’re just so happy to be here.”
With the quick turnaround, Colton wasn’t sure whether his family would arrive in time for the game. He said it was nice to see some familiar faces in the stands.
“I don’t really have the words right now,” he said. “I’m just really excited. I think that’s the best way to put it.”
Colton played 7:52 over 12 shifts skating on the fourth line between Pat Maroon and Alex Volkov.
Cooper has seen his fair share of first goals since he joined the Lightning in 2013, but he said it’s something that never gets old.
“It’s the coolest feeling,” Cooper said.
“There’s hundreds of goals scored in the year, and everybody’s excited for all of them. But there’s usually a few that stand out: overtime goals, game-winning goals in the last minute or two and first goals. ... You’re just watching a lifelong dream to play a game in the NHL.”
Colton’s teammates said they were impressed with Colton’s debut.
“To score your first goal on your second shift, I can’t imagine what was going through his head there,” Blake Coleman said. “I thought he played a good game all around and helped our team.”
Colton has skated with the Lightning’s AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, since 2018-19, scoring 76 points. His 42 points last season trailed only fellow rookie Alex Barre-Boulet.
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“I think definitely my time in Syracuse was the biggest development for me,” Colton said. “I give credit to the guys there who have helped me and pushed me to get here, for sure.”
Colton was recalled from Syracuse on Feb. 15 along with Barre-Boulet, who made his NHL debut in Monday’s win at Carolina.
Colton is the third Lightning player to make his NHL debut this season, following Barre-Boulet and defenseman Cal Foote (who skated in Tampa Bay’s opener against Chicago).
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