Flames’ DeSimone delivers warm-and-fuzzy moment with first NHL goal

Article content

For Nick DeSimone, the ultimate Christmas gift has a simple wrap-job. Just a single strand of white hockey tape. 

On that surface, one of the Calgary Flames’ equipment staffers scrawled the details in black Sharpie marker. Not that hed ever forget.

Article content

When DeSimone hustles home for the holidays, he’ll have this keepsake with him. 

The 29-year-old defence call-up, the sort of feel-good story that we all love to hear at this time of year especially, scored his first NHL goal in Thursday’s 3-0 victory over the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center. The puck is proof. 

Advertisement 2

Article content

“Finally got the first one out of the way, so now everybody can stop talking about it and we can just keep going,” DeSimone told reporters in Anaheim. “Some of my buddies from back home, they’ve been saying, ‘Why is it taking so long?’

“But it’s awesome.”

As a bonus, DeSimone’s bucket-list bury turned out to be Thursday’s game-winner.

Hallmark struggles to write scripts with much more warm-and-fuzzy than that.

“That’s one of the cooler stories that you’ll see, and it’s maybe a good lesson for people to never give up,” beamed Flames head coach Ryan Huska after his club climbed back to .500 at 14-14-5. “I mean, you’re 29 years old and you’ve barely had a taste of playing in the NHL, but it says a lot about a person’s character when you’re willing to continue to work and believe in yourself and then make sure you’re ready when that chance comes.

“He’s done a really good job for us since he’s been up. He’s kept his game simple. He has moved the puck well. And it’s fantastic to see him get rewarded with a goal.”

Indeed, this night belonged to DeSimone, although the Buffalo-raised rearguard had some competition.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Calgary Flames vs. Anaheim Ducks
Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom blocks a shot by Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Strome with Flames defenceman Rasmus Andersson defending at Honda Center in Anaheim on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023. Photo by Alex Gallardo /The Associated Press

With a 27-save shutout, Jacob Markstrom celebrated a milestone moment of his own. The 33-year-old has now collected 200 career victories, becoming only the third Swedish puck-stopper to hit that nice round number.

Workhorse centre Elias Lindholm had the offensive outburst that many have been waiting on, scoring on the power-play and picking up a pair of assists against the Ducks.

Showing the urgency of a last-minute shopper, fourth-line thumper A.J. Greer had both a goal and a fight in the final two minutes.

“That’s a big win for our group, too, getting back to .500,” DeSimone said in a post-game interview on Sportsnet 960 The Fan, already turning his attention to Saturday’s showdown with the Los Angeles Kings. “Now, we have another opportunity, one more game before our break, to go in one game over .500 and really feel good about our game.”

DeSimone might someday tell his grandkids that his first notch in ‘The National’ was a howitzer, although that’s not quite how he described it at the intermission.

He’d just hopped over the boards for his initial shift of the evening and headed for the offensive zone, where rookie left-winger Connor Zary had attracted the attention of two defenders as he peeled back along the side-boards and waited for his pals to arrive.

Advertisement 4

Article content

As No. 57 glided over the blue-line, he hoisted his stick blade off the ice, indicating he was ready to uncork a one-timer. Zary plattered the pass and while DeSimone didn’t pound it, Lukas Dostal was fooled in Anaheim’s crease.

“Zar entered the zone and I’ve seen him to do that 100 times … I knew he was going to pull up,” DeSimone told Sportsnet after 20 minutes. “He dragged a couple guys to him and I knew he was going to make a play. I knew he was going to get it to me. So I just tried to get to a soft area and be ready for it …

“And, lucky enough, the muffin went in.”

As the old saying goes, they don’t ask how, they ask how many.

And DeSimone, who has been mostly stationed in the minors for the past seven seasons, might have — must have — wondered if he’d light even one lamp at the highest level.

Calgary Flames vs. Anaheim Ducks
Anaheim Ducks goaltender Lukas Dostal blocks a shot by Calgary Flames forward Mikael Backlund, center, with Ducks defenceman Pavel Mintyukov looking on at Honda Center in Anaheim on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023. Photo by Alex Gallardo /THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Exactly a month after celebrating his 29th birthday, he becomes the fourth-oldest player to score his first career goal in Flames silks. The three others on that list — Sergei Makarov (31 years, 108 days), Jiri Hrdina (30 years, 70 days) and Pavel Torgayev (29 years, 288 days) — were all established stars in Europe before crossing the pond.

Advertisement 5

Article content

While Thursday’s tally must have prompted goosebumps for loved ones back in the Buffalo area, DeSimone is laser-focused on adding to another column on his personal stat-sheet.

He has now logged 17 appearances on NHL ice, to go along with nearly 400 in the minors. He knows there is an opportunity to carve out an every-night role on the Flames’ back end, especially with a couple of minute-munchers potentially on the trade block as pending free agents.

“It’s what I’ve worked my life for,” DeSimone told Sportsnet, describing what it means to be living out this dream. “But you don’t take it for granted. Every day is an opportunity. If you don’t do your job, it won’t be there anymore. So just try to take it day-by-day.”

[email protected]

Article content