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Pechurski Shines in NHL Debut

Sunday, 01.17.2010 / 1:45 AM / Features
By Sam Kasan
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Pechurski Shines in NHL Debut
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA -- On Friday night 19-year-old goaltender Alexander Pechurski made a season-high 32 saves for Tri-City of the Western Hockey League to help the Americans pull out a 3-2 victory over rival Seattle Thunderbirds.

During that game he was just another hockey prospect honing his skills in juniors. Less than 24 hours later, he made his National Hockey League debut.

When Penguins starting netminder Marc-Andre Fleury suffered a fractured left ring finger, Pittsburgh needed a backup for their contest against the Vancouver Canucks at General Motors Place. Pechurski, a Magnitogorsk, Russia native, was signed to a one-game amateur try out.

And Pechurski made the most of his try out as he turned aside 12 shots in relief duty for the Penguins in their 6-2 setback to the Vancouver Canucks. The rookie netminder allowed only one goal and played brilliant despite being forced to use Marc-Andre Fleury’s pads due to NHL regulations.

“I was very surprised to play,” Pechurski said. “At the same time I was happy I had a chance to play. It was a dream coming true playing in the NHL.”

“I think that’s the definition of getting thrown into the fire,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “He got the call last night and wore Flower’s pads in his performance is a lot to ask of a young kid. He played fantastic. He stood in there, was confident and even the way he handled the puck, you could tell he was in the moment and confident. He did a real good job for us.”

Alexander Pechurski makes one of his 12 saves in his NHL debut at General Motors Place.
Credit - Getty Images
Pechurski’s whirlwind began following the Americans’ 3-2 win. Tri-City head coach Jim Hiller spoke to the team and then turned to Pechurski and said, “You better get changed, go home and get some sleep. You’re going to the NHL tomorrow.”

Pechurski, who is still learning English, did a double take, unsure of what his head coach had just told him.

Hiller repeated: “You’re going to Vancouver to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins tomorrow night.” Pechurski’s Tri-City teammates gave the young teenager a loud ovation.

Pechurski, the Penguins’ fifth-round pick (150th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, boarded a 6 a.m. flight from Kennewick, Washington and arrived in Vancouver at 10 a.m. He came to the rink with Michel Pelletier, who provides housing to Pechurski in Washington, suited up in his gear and joined the Penguins for their 11:30 morning skate.

When Fleury was ruled out of the game, Pechurski was named the backup goaltender to John Curry, who would make his first start with Pittsburgh of the 2009-10 season.

But when Curry struggled early in the game, head coach Dan Bylsma turned to Pechurski at the 4:29 mark of the second period and told him told him to put on his helmet.

“We needed a change regardless of who was the backup,” Bylsma said. “The team needed the change no matter which player was going in. It happened to be a 19-year-old kid in his first month in North America and using Flower’s pads. That did cross my mind but the team needed it and the kid went in and did a good job.”

Pechurski gloved down a Sami Salo slap shot to make his first career save. He stopped seven shots in the second period, but also suffered his first goal against when Ryan Kesler redirected a shot from atop the crease and into the net. The Canucks had a lot of momentum and attacked the Penguins zone hard but Pechurski held down the fort for Pittsburgh.

“I think he played very well,” defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. “He played last night and had to travel. He was wearing Fleury’s pads and did so well. It was a surprise for him and he didn’t expect to play. But he did so well and we’re happy for him.”

Pechurski arrived in North America in late December and has excelled as a member of the Tri-City Americans. In six games he has posted a 4-1-1 record with a 1.84 goals-against average, .936 save percentage and two shutouts.

But for the night, Pechurski can enjoy his dream coming true. It’s an experience he won’t ever forget.

“It was tough on me because I finished the game last night and was traveling,” Pechurski said. “I didn’t sleep much so it tough physically.

“My defense helped me. We have a young team and everybody was helping me, cheering me up and supporting me.”

Pechurski was named the game’s No. 3 star and received an ovation by the GM Place crowd when he curtain called on the ice.

“He showed a lot of poise,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “That’s not an easy situation to come into. They had a lot of momentum and they were still creating some chances when he came in. He showed a lot of guts coming in like that and then playing the way he did, that’s a tough way to come in and he passed the test big time.”

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