BOSTON — Peter DeBoer wasn’t around to see all of Nic Hague’s near-misses as the rookie defenseman searched for his first NHL goal.
But when Hague finally broke the seal during the second period of Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Boston Bruins at TD Garden, the moment wasn’t lost on the new Golden Knights coach.
Hague grew up in Kitchener, Ontario, about 70 miles west of Toronto, where DeBoer coached the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League from 2001 to 2008.
“I’ve actually known Nic since he’s been 10 years old,” DeBoer said. “He used to come to the hockey school I ran, so real happy for him. Where he’s come in his career and how he’s developed and where he’s at now and the career he’s got ahead of him, I’m sure his parents and his friends in Kitchener (Ontario) are happy. It’s due.”
Hague came close to scoring several times during his first 37 NHL appearances, including Dec. 22 against San Jose when his wrist shot clanked off both posts and stayed out. (DeBoer had been fired as Sharks coach 11 days prior and wasn’t there for that close call.)
He also had a prime chance with a little less than seven minutes remaining in Saturday’s shootout loss at Montreal only to be turned away by Canadiens goaltender Carey Price.
But with 9:01 left in the second period against Boston, the 6-foot-6-inch Hague unleashed the powerful shot his teammates call a “Haguer Bomb” to give the Knights a 2-1 advantage.
With the Knights on a power play, Hague gained the zone down and sent a backhand pass behind the Boston net to the far corner.
Reilly Smith gained possession and tapped the puck to Jonathan Marchessault, who then fed defenseman Nate Schmidt at the left point. Schmidt teed up Hague for a one-timer from the top of the right faceoff circle, and he blew it past Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak high to the glove side.
Hague pumped his fist in celebration and was mobbed by his teammates moments later.
“We did a good job on the entry and got a puck back,” Hague explained. “Won a battle down low in the corner and worked it up, and Schmidty made a good pass to me. I’m just over there, I’m just shooting it. It was nice to see that one go in. Great job by all the guys to get it to me there. I was happy to see that one find the back of the net.”
Second-youngest VGK to score
Hague, who turned 21 on Dec. 5, became the second-youngest player in franchise history to score behind Cody Glass (20 years, 184 days).
However, the Knights were unable to hold the lead in the third period and Hague was left with mixed emotions following the outcome.
”I still enjoyed it in the moment,” Hague said quietly while seated at his locker in the corner of the room. “It’s definitely a dream come true for me. It felt like it took forever, but we’re there. I’m definitely happy with that, but really it sucks just the way the game ended. We want better and too bad I couldn’t score another one, I guess.”
Hague was temporarily reassigned to the American Hockey League after the game Tuesday with the Knights beginning a nine-day break. The Chicago Wolves play Friday and Saturday, and the move saves the Knights a bit of salary cap space, as well.
But Hague, who also made two key defensive plays in the third period, continues to impress his teammates.
“He’s been playing so well for us,” right wing Mark Stone said. “He’s become a good pro. Obviously there’s learning experiences for him, but now that he’s finally got that monkey off his back he’s going to start to score.
“That’s a goal-scorers goal. He’s got an absolute bomb of a shot. When he’s going to be able to use that on the power play, it’s going to help us for sure.”
The Knights head into the All-Star break holding the second wild-card spot and are with Edmonton, Calgary and Arizona at 57 points. Vancouver (58 points) sits on top of the jam-packed Pacific Division standings.
According to NHL public relations, the last time the top five teams in a division were separated by one point in January or later of a full regular season was the Norris Division on Jan 1, 1987.