Elias Pettersson had one thought when he hit the ice before his first NHL game Wednesday — stay upright.
The 19-year-old Vancouver Canucks centre said he knew about the league’s tradition of initiating rookies with a solo skate during warm up, but hoped his teammates might make an exception.
“Maybe I thought they would forget it because it was lonely, not that fun,” he said after the game.
“My only focus was not to fall.”
Not only did Pettersson stay on his feet, he scored his first NHL goal on his first shot and tallied two points in the Canucks’ 5-2 win over the Calgary Flames.
He got on the scoresheet midway through the first period, collecting the puck in the neutral zone and then sprinting into Calgary’s end with teammate Derrick Pouliot for a two-on-one. Pettersson opted not to pass, instead rocketing a wrist shot into the top of the net.
That brought the fans to their feet and prompted chants of “Petter-sson,” a reaction that wowed the young Swede.
“Everyone on the team congratulated me, including the coaches. And then I didn’t expect a standing ovation from the crowd. So that was amazing,” said Pettersson, whose parents were among those in attendance at Rogers Arena.
His teammate Erik Gudbranson said the former star of the Swedish Hockey League was an “absolute stud” in his NHL debut.
“One of the most impressive things about him is how responsible he is and how competitive he is,” Gudbranson said. “If he turns the puck over, he’s right back on it and he takes it away from you. He doesn’t give up anything. He plays the game incredibly well.”
Even Calgary’s netminder Mike Smith had kind words for Pettersson.
“He made a great shot, he put right in the top corner. I got a piece of it with the glove, but yeah I have heard quite a bit about this young kid and he let her go and hit the perfect spot there,” Smith said.
All of Vancouver’s goals Wednesday night came from players under the age of 25.
Brendan Leipsic, Jake Virtanen, Nikolay Goldobin and Tyler Motte — on an empty-netter — all scored in the season opener. Goldobin added an assist and veteran centreman Loui Eriksson had a pair of helpers.
Matthew Tkachuk and Sean Monahan responded for the Flames.
Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom turned away 20 of 23 shots, while Smith stopped 30 of 35.
Vancouver head coach Travis Green said Markstrom was great in net, but played better when they were up 1-0 in the first than 4-1 in the third.
“We got a little sloppy with the puck. That was not a Picasso by any means,” he said.
“You’re never going to complain about a win, but we’re going to go over every game and continue to teach these guys.”
Green said he wants to see his squad be better on their sticks and take fewer penalties.
Calgary was unable to capitalize on any of their seven power-play chances Wednesday.
Flames head coach Bill Peters said his team had speed on the breakout, but lacked execution.
“Not enough pace, and not enough execution on it and not enough desperation,” he said.
“At one point, I think through 40 (minutes) we were 1 for 7 on faceoffs on the power play, so it’s an important part of the game.”
Capitalizing when your team has an advantage is key, said left winger James Neal, who signed with the Flames as a free agent in July.
“The power play is crucial, it wins and loses you games. There’s no excuse, we’ve practiced it enough, we should have been a little bit more crisp,” he said.
“We just have to be better on the power play. We score one of those goals early and it’s a different game.”
The Flames and Canucks will have a rematch Saturday in Calgary, the first stop in a six-game road trip for Vancouver.
Elias Pettersson wasn’t the only rookie to score in his debut Wednesday night. Anaheim left winger Max Comtois scored 49 seconds into his first game, where the Ducks beat the San Jose Sharks 5-2. ... Vancouver’s Erik Gudbranson and Calgary’s Travis Hamonic came to blows in the first period, resulting in five-minute fighting penalties for both. Hamonic left the game, but later returned wearing a full-face mask.