Looking at the play now, Connor Carrick knows what he should have done early in the first period Tuesday night when he was jockeying for positioning with big Blackhawks winger Brandon Bollig.
The two were battling for space behind the goal line and when they reached the front of the net Bollig had positioning prompting Carrick, who’s listed at 5 feet 11, 185 pounds, to shove his 6-foot-2, 223-pound opponent.
“What I could have done better was position myself from the corner in front of Bollig, picked him a bit and prevented him from getting there,” Carrick recalled later. “Once we were in front, I gave him a shove the puck landed on his tape. It’s pretty tough when it bounces right to him but there’s no excuse for that. That’s a flat out mistake on my end. They scored and 20,000 people saw it.”
It’s not easy to be a 19-year-old defenseman making your NHL debut anywhere, let alone in your home town in the arena where you attended games as a fan throughout your life with roughly 15-20 friends and family members watching.
There were moments that caused goosebumps, like when he stood on the blue line during the raucous rendition of the national anthem United Center is famous for or heard the ‘Here come the Hawks’ fight song he knows by heart. But there were also the times he could see his dad trying to get a read on him from the stands after each mistake.
“I would have liked a couple do overs but there’s no mulligans in this game. I’ll live with it. That’s what pros do,” said Carrick, who was grateful to have his family’s support even if the contest wasn’t perfect. “That’s what helped was the support after the game because that was a tough one to swallow [Tuesday]. No matter what was going to be the result, it’s something to look back on. It’s going to be a good memory no matter what. Unfortunately it wasn’t ideal. I saw that playing out a little differently in my head but that’s how things go.”
Based on Coach Adam Oates’s comments Carrick won’t have to wait long for a chance at redemption. The rookie will likely be back in the lineup for the home opener Thursday against the Calgary Flames.
Oates is well aware of the range of emotions a player experiences in their first game and how difficult it can be to manage all of it. He also knows it’s important to give young players an opportunity to keep learning.
“I think that’s where you realize maybe being an ex player the severity of what a first game feels like and what your first how many feel like because every team you play it’s your first time and it’s for real,” Oates said. “He’s been a great player wherever he’s played the last few years of his life so he’s handled success and failure. It’s just another level of it. We just try to keep him upbeat and fix mistakes.”
Two other plays Carrick would have liked back also led to goals. He hooked Bollig in the second period, creating the power play that resulted in Brent Seabrook’s goal. Then in the third, he turned the puck over to Duncan Keith creating a rush back up ice that saw Brandon Saad sneak behind John Erskine for a backhander that tied the game at 4-4.
On a fundamental level Carrick’s decision to jump up in the play is something that Oates and his coaching staff encourage, that was the right call the coach said. The problem was what ensued after the turnover when neither Erskine nor Carrick managed to keep tabs on Saad.
While it wasn’t the debut he envisioned, Carrick was encouraged by a pat on the back from Oates as they got on the team plane to return to Washington that night.
“The positives was it was over with, Coach Oates said that as soon as we got on the plane. One down, it’s gone,” said Carrick, adding that this isn’t the first time he’s had a less-than-ideal performance in a first game.
“My first preseason game was atrocious. Really, really bad in Belleville. I was convinced I was going home the next day. My first OHL game was horrible we played in Sault Ste. Marie it was really, really bad,” Carrick said. “I’m a guy that I need to be comfortable, I need to be poised it’s the way I see the game. If I was a higher energy guy in that kind of role it might help me with those nerves but I need to feel at ease and I didn’t. That’s my own fault for not prepping myself mentally but it was my first game. Hopefully I have a better second.”