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Slavkowski fulfills dream with NHL debut for Canadiens

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Montreal — Yurai Slavkovsky Twenty minutes after the Montreal Canadiens beat the Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-3, in their respective season openers at the Bell Center on Wednesday, he said he still has goosebumps.

He had good reason to feel that way.

“I can’t believe it,” the 18-year-old forward said with a wide smile. “My first NHL game. Auston Matthews, one of my favorite players growing up. And they beat the Maple Leafs, the team they wanted to beat. I loved the moment at the beginning of the game when the fans booed when they first came out on the ice.

“I always dreamed of playing in the NHL one day and now it’s come true. And to win like we did, to beat that team in the end, it couldn’t be better was.”

To be fair, the only thing that kept Slavkowski’s NHL debut from becoming a true Cinderella story was scoring his first NHL goal or registering his first points. He said he would come.

Ultimately, the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft played 14 shifts covering 10:34 of ice time. He recorded his 1 hit, 1 shot, 1 giveaway, 1 takeaway, and 1 block his shot. Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said he would have liked Slavkowski to be on the ice more, but the team’s total of nine penalties was due to his reliance on special teams play. It meant that time was limited.

That doesn’t dampen the spirits of Slavkovski’s legions of fans, both in Montreal and in his native Slovakia.

Slavkowski became the best Slovak ever selected when the Canadiens chose him. According to fellow Slovak former Montreal forward Richard Zednick, the youngster is no big deal in his home country.

“People at home remember him as the best player at the (Beijing 2022) Olympics, and he came in first overall,” Zednick said. “His excitement over there is great.

“It was midnight when we got home.

From 1996 to 2009, Zednick scored 379 points (200 goals, 179 assists) in 745 games for the Canadiens, Washington Capitals, Florida Panthers and New York Islanders. Before the game, he met with Slavkowski and gave him some advice to help him control the butterflies that were churning in the kid’s gut.

“I told him to take it all in and enjoy it,” Zednick said. “This is a special place with a rich history. People here are very interested in hockey. I told him to embrace hockey.”

Slafkovsky did just that.

“It was amazing. They were so loud when we stepped on the ice.”

it will get better.

Midway through the opening period, he hit a shot that crossed the blue line and nearly passed between the legs of the Maple Leafs goaltender. Matt MurrayA few minutes later, he slipped through Toronto’s defense and doodled. Rasmus Sandin Take a tripping penalty before he has a clear shot on goal.

“Did you see that move?” Canadians Forward Brendan Gallagher Said. “Impressive.”

So was the play in the third period when he knocked Matthews to the ice and got tangled with him. Yes, the same Matthews that Slavkowski idolized until he was drafted.

“Hey, I don’t care who it is. I’m Canadian and he’s my opponent. He’s in the way of our victory,” Slavkowski said. “I do what I have to do to win.

“It was the perfect ending to the perfect game.”

Slavkovski was referring to the opening goal scored by his team-mate Josh Anderson 19 seconds left in regulation. Everyone in the arena who had nothing to do with Maple Leaf seemed to rise to their feet, and among them was Slavkowski.

Later, in the jubilant Canadiens’ dressing room, he spent at least 25 minutes answering questions with the ubiquitous smile. I took a picture with Zednick.

“He’s already a special player,” Zednick said. “What we saw tonight was just the beginning. He’s getting used to the small ice surface and will only improve.

“I can tell you this. The best is yet to come.”