Calgary Flames fans are looking for something, anything, to be excited about.
On this night, Connor Zary looked to be exactly that.
While the Flames have now lost six straight, the latest a 4-3 defeat to the Dallas Stars, the obvious bright spot Wednesday was an impressive introduction for the new guy in No. 47.
Zary scored on just his third shift at the top level.
He nearly buried another on a dazzling rush.
The 22-year-old forward call-up started the pre-game warm-up with a solo lap — the traditional treatment for any newbie — and was asked to stick around a few hours later for a curtain-call as second star.
Welcome to the NHL, kid. Keep this up, and you’ll be staying a long while.
“I think if you look at it that way, beside the point of the scoreboard, I think I did what I wanted to do,” said Zary, who was both proud of his personal performance but also frustrated that the Flames failed to score the tying tally during a furious third-period push. “I think I was able to showcase myself a little bit. The first period, I was a little nervous and had to get the butterflies out, but I think it just became another hockey game once the second started.
“It’s a little harder to enjoy when you don’t get the win,” he continued. “I think that third period is how this team wants to play. If we keep playing like that, we’re going to get wins. But at the end of the day, it was pretty special to play my first NHL game.”
There’s no doubt that Zary will be playing his second NHL game Saturday in a Hockey Night in Canada showdown against the Kraken in Seattle (8 p.m. MT, Sportsnet/Sportsnet 960 The Fan).
“He was absolutely awesome,” assessed Flames defenceman MacKenzie Weegar, who registered a goal, an assist and a team-high eight shots against the Stars. “That was a great performance by Zary.”
“I thought Connor was excellent tonight,” echoed head coach Ryan Huska, whose club dropped to 2-7-1 on the season. “He played with confidence. He played with courage. He was one of our better forwards, for sure.
“When he was on the ice, there was impact. There were a few things on the defensive side of the puck that you can work with him on. But I thought when he was on the ice, he skated. He wanted the puck, and he made plays when he had it. And he didn’t do it in a risky or an unreliable way.”
Zary’s loved ones — including his mom and dad, grandmother, brother, etc. — hustled from Saskatoon so they could witness his first twirl in the Flaming C.
A first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and the leading scorer for the AHL’s Wranglers before his recall, he made sure it was worth the trip.
While Zary’s initial big-league bury wasn’t exactly a bar-down beauty, you couldn’t help but smile when he lived out a childhood dream by lighting the lamp at the 5:28 mark of the opening period. The third-line left-winger had beelined to the crease, where a shot a plunked his pants and plopped in the blue paint. As he was being hooked by one of the bad guys, he nudged a backhander across the goal-line.
“To be honest, I remember it hitting me and I remember just trying to find it. It dropped down right in front of me and I put it in,” Zary beamed. “But after that, I don’t remember much. I just remember kind of looking around, just happy as can be, screaming. It was pretty cool.
“And then hugging the guys and all the guys coming over and tapping me, it was pretty special.”
Although you don’t get keepsake pucks for close calls, Zary nearly scored a jaw-dropper in the third, blowing past Stars defenceman Jani Hakanpaa with a slick move and trying to sell Jake Oettinger on a deke to his backhand. Trouble is, Oettinger flashed a pad to preserve a one-goal lead. It was the best of his 43 saves, including 21 in the final frame.
Zary, who started the season with a six-game point-spree in the minors, directed a half-dozen shots on net in his NHL debut and was also credited with drawing a hooking penalty. On the not-so-bright side, he was minus-1 and was on the ice when Mason Marchment scored the would-be winner.
“I was proud of the way he played today and the way he battled and the confidence he had,” said Nazem Kadri, who was at centre between Zary and Yegor Sharangovich. “That’s the challenge with young players, to continue to do it, but really happy for him and he deserves it.”
Indeed, this was a nice way for Zary to introduce himself on the NHL stage.
While the Flames are still skidding, this kid will be the hottest topic in town tomorrow.
“Biggest game of my life, right?” Zary said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole entire life and something I’ve worked so hard for. I was a little caught up in the moment, just thinking of my parents and my grandparents and everything that everyone has done for me. But I think once I got comfortable in the game, it was just hockey.”
ICE CHIPS: Zary is the first Flames rookie to tickle twine in his NHL debut since Patrick Sieloff on April 9, 2016 … Andrew Mangiapane also tallied for the hosts. His next notch will be the 100th of his career … Kadri, with a pair of helpers, had his first multi-point performance of the season … The Flames were missing winger Dillon Dube because of an undisclosed injury and also without defenceman Nikita Zadorov due to family reasons … Local goaltending legend Mike Vernon, less than two weeks out from his Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony, was treated to a standing ovation during a second-period stoppage … A noteworthy post-game quote from Weegar after Wednesday’s loss: “If there is something positive out of it, there were some glimpses of a great hockey team out there.”
On X: @WesGilbertson
Wes Gilbertson and Danny Austin have been covering the Flames for years and know what makes the team tick. Have questions? They have the answers – or the contacts to track them down. Send your questions to email@example.com