Los Angeles, CA – Shortly after the end of the magnificant NHL debut of former Husky Ryan Poehling, two more former SCSU players got their taste of the NHL . Only a week removed from the NCAA West Regional hockey tournament in Fargo, ND, it couldn’t have been a greater departure from that venue. Jimmy Schuldt, the three time SCSU captain, NCHC Player of the Year and Hobey Baker Hat Trick Finalist and Blake Lizotte, NCHC All-First Team laced up the skates for the first time at the 18,000 seat Staples Center in downtown LA.
With both teams on a different trajectory, it could have been seen as a meaningless game for the Vegas Knights who have clinched a playoff spot and have their eyes focused on the San Jose Sharks who they face in the first round of the playoffs on April 10th. The last-place Kings on the other hand, eliminated from playoff contention for some time were shuffling the lineup and celebrating Anze Kopitars 1000 game on their home rink. With a youth movement and obvious personnel changes for next season, they opted to insert the energetic Lizotte into the lineup with no pressure on him and to just go out and “have fun.” And that he did having a goal-mouth opportunity on his first shift, winning 50% of his faceoffs and earning 11 minutes of ice time. However, it was obvious at this level, his ability to cycle and control the puck along the boards was contained much more by the bigger stronger professionals. It’ll all be part of the learning experience at this level of hockey.
On his NHL debut, Lizotte told the LA Insider “It was great. It was a lot of nerves, but all the guys in the room were really good to me and gave me some advice and kind of calmed me down and said, ‘You’ll be fine out there. Just play your game, you’re here for a reason.’ So that just kind of calmed me down, but after the first shift I felt a lot better for sure.” In facing former teammate Jimmy Schuldt “During warmups we chatted a bit and just said, ‘congrats’ and ‘how cool is this?’ You’re sitting on the blue line and you’ve got guys like Doughty and Marchessault and a lot of great players around us, so back in St. Cloud a week ago, it was pretty cool to be here.” And, to top things off Lizotte car-pooled to the rink with Kopitar, who was celebrating his 1,000 game. “He offered to pick me up, so his 1,000th celebration and he offered to come get me, so he’s one heck of a guy.” Lizotte said.
Schuldt, on the other hand, was given a strong indication of their intent to get him comfortable in the lineup and possibly be a factor for the playoffs. He finished the game with more ice time than any other Golden Knight with 21:03 of play and had substantial time on the Knights power play unit. He finished with an assist on a second period goal by Valentin Zykov on a heady play connecting with him down low from the blue line, had one shot on goal and one blocked shot.
On being paired with 622 game NHL veteran Derek Engelland Schuldt commented “He had pointers after every shift and for a guy like me that hasn’t played at this speed or level it helps a lot to get points from a guy that’s been around so long. It made it real easy.” It was obvious as Schuldt was composed, appeared relaxed and obviously was given the green light to join the rush up ice or pinch from the blue line as he did it consistently throughout the game.
“He was composed in every position. I was really impressed to watch him play the way he played.” said Vegas coach Gerhard Gallant. “For his first NHL game, every pass was on the tape and he played real good and strong in the defensive zone and to make that play to Zykov. So, definately a great first game for him and makes us excited for sure.”
Additional Game notes:
Unfortunately, for former SCSU Husky Jonny Brodzinski, the roster shuffling made him a casualty of last nights roster. An early season shoulder injury curtailed ice-time this season with the Kings only allowing two goals and three points in 13 games. “I wanted him to get a game. He’s worked hard,” coach Desjardins said. “It would’ve been nice to get him in there.That’s the problem when you come down with getting guys in. You have to take somebody out, and it’s not that he didn’t deserve to play, but we felt other guys did as well.” For Brodzinski who signed a two-year contract on July 14, 2017, he’ll be a Unrestricted Free Agent this summer.