Brian Skrudland never had scored a goal in a Stanley Cup playoff game. In fact, he had scored precious few in the NHL, a mere nine in this, his rookie season with the Montreal Canadiens.
Yet he was taking the key faceoff as overtime began Sunday night in Calgary, with the Canadiens needing a victory to avoid falling two games down to the Flames.
Nine seconds after he won the draw from Doug Risebrough, Skrudland was banging it past Mike Vernon and the best-of-seven Stanley Cup final was even, before moving here Tuesday for Game 3.
It was the fastest overtime goal in Cup history, ensuring Skrudland a place in the record book and instant public-enemy No. 1 status in his native province of Alberta.
It resulted in unaccustomed recognition for a young man who has been forced to scrap for every bone, after being passed up in the NHL draft despite a solid junior career in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
"I wouldn't have predicted that in 1,000 years, me scoring the winning goal in overtime," he said. "I had good chances earlier, but it was like I was playing with a rubber stick. Then I got good wood on it when Mike McPhee laid it on my stick and that made up for the others.
"I wasn't surprised to be out there for the overtime. Coach Jean Perron has been giving me lots of ice time and our line has started a lot of the playoff games. Veteran line or not, I think we've been playing pretty well."
Of his failure to score in 16 previous playoff games, Skrudland said: "It was frustrating a bit, but other guys were getting goals and we hadn't given up any. That's the key. Every time we go out, I know my linemates McPhee and Claude Lemieux are going to give 100 percent and they know I'll be out there giving 100 percent."
Despite his lack of scoring punch, he is plus-six in the playoffs, trailing only Guy Carbonneau and Mike Lalor, and Perron places considerable weight on such statistics. He also appreciates Skrudland's tireless effort on the ice.
"Brian is as important to our club as anybody," Perron said. "He plays in the shadow of others, but he's got a big heart and a dedication for the game. He's a leader.
"In the playoffs, everything is tight and Brian always has his nose in the traffic. He's always very, very involved, physically and emotionally. He likes the tough part of the game and he likes to challenge players."
Those words will come in handy for Skrudland at contract time at the end of the season. He figures to get a big raise and some job security, after three seasons of wondering whether he could make it as a hockey player.
Skrudland chose hockey over football and baseball, in which he had impressive credentials. He was an all-star linebacker for a high school team that won the Saskatchewan championship in his senior year and he pitched and played shortstop for the Saskatoon Astros when they won the Canadian midget title in 1979.
"I liked baseball and football just as much as hockey," he said.
After being shunned in the NHL draft, he got more bad news when he was the last player cut from the Canadian Olympic team in September 1983.
After that disappointment, he signed with Montreal and was sent to Nova Scotia, where he scored 13 goals in 56 games. Last year the Canadiens shifted their farm club to Sherbrooke and, after a so-so 22-goal regular season, he blossomed in the playoffs. He had 17 points, including nine goals, in 17 games and he was voted the most valuable player as Sherbrooke won the Calder Cup.
He was good enough for Edmonton to offer goaltender Gilles Meloche to Montreal for him. Although he has played in every postseason game, Skrudland was a press-box observer much of the second half of the regular season, battling his way back into the lineup when the Canadiens went into a late tailspin and nearly missed the playoffs.
Besides being an excellent checker, he knows how to ease tensions. At practice Saturday, when a puck got past goalie Patrick Roy, Skrudland imitated Calgary fans by shouting "Roooo-aaaah" while waving his arms in a hex sign. Roy broke up.
Skrudland captained Saskatoon at 17, Sherbrooke at 21 and now, 2 1/2 months away from his 23rd birthday, there is talk that possibly a couple of years down the line, he will inherit the storied Canadiens' 'C' from Bob Gainey.
Certainly, he has his teammates' respect. After the overtime goal, Chris Nilan said: "A more deserving guy couldn't possibly have gotten the winning goal. Brian Skrudland works like a dog every night."