NAHL alum Keith Kinkaid makes NHL debut
March 7, 2013
Keith Kinkaid played for the St. Louis Bandits in the NAHL in 2008-09 and led them to a Robertson Cup.
By Tom Gulitti
Johan Hedberg and NAHL alum Keith Kinkaid crossed paths in front of the Devils’ bench, two goaltenders headed in opposite directions.
Hedberg, the 39-year-old backup forced into the No. 1 job while Martin Brodeur is out with a back injury, was headed off the ice to a mixture of “Moooooose!” calls and boos from the Prudential Center crowd after giving up three goals on 11 shots in the first 33:13. Kinkaid, the 23-year-old rookie with legs “shaking” with nerves, heard loud cheers as he headed toward the Devils’ net to make his first NHL appearance.
As they passed, though, Hedberg gave Kinkaid a tap on the pads with his sick and each offered words of encouragement to the other.
Hedberg said he told Kinkaid, “Just come in and do your best, enjoy the moment and have fun and I think he did.”
“I couldn’t really hear him,” Kinkaid said of Hedberg. “I think he said ‘Good luck’ and I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s not your fault.’ We need support. He’s very supportive of me. I’m very supportive of him. He’s a great guy, so it’s tough for him to get the yank, but he’ll be back in there next game and get the win.”
Devils coach Pete DeBoer already said after tonight’s 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay that Hedberg will be back in there to get the start Thursday night against Buffalo.
“There’s a supportive cast of our coaches and we still believe in ourselves,” Hedberg said. “There’s no reason why shouldn’t. Sometimes things don’t go your way and you’ve just got to get out of it. Right now it seems like whatever there is that can go wrong it will.
“It’s hard work that will get you out of it and staying positive.”
Still, Hedberg has been struggling in Brodeur’s absence. He’s started all six games on the Devils’ six-game losing streak and given up 21 goals on 130 shots (.838 save percentage).
“Things haven’t been exactly going our way lately,” Hedberg said. “Tonight was no different, but there’s only one way out of it and that’s keep your head up, work hard and come prepared to play the next one.”
When I asked Hedberg if he saw the hook coming, he replied, “You never expect anything. I’m disappointed that it came to that point. … You see the other guy come on and then you know you’re not playing. There’s no particular feelings. That’s the game and there’s not much you can do about it.”
DeBoer said he made the goaltending change to spark the team and not because of the way Hedberg was playing. Hedberg’s teammates didn’t blame him either.
“He wasn’t being pulled because of his play or anything like that,” Devils captain Bryce Salvador said. “I think it was just we’ve got a lot of hockey coming up. Look at my play. I could have helped him out on the first three or four. By no means was it Hedberg’s play. We’ve got to do a better job of giving him support. He’s done such a great job for us at the start of the season when he’s come in and played big and won us games and got us points and right now we’re not returning the favor to him.
“So, I think as a group we’ve got to show what kind of resolve we have and what kind of character we have and I think it’s a good test right now.”
Hedberg said, “I don’t think I would have done anything differently in any of the situations if that’s what you’re asking. When things are going your way, maybe the puck hits you instead of going in.”
As for the mixture of “Mooooose” calls and boos, Hedberg said, “I think you understand the situation and the difference between the positive cheer and the ironic cheer.”
Meanwhile, Kinkaid was trying to calm himself down and get his mask, which was back in the locker room.
“Once I got the call, I didn’t know what to do. I was scrambling for my equipment,” he said. “Once I got in, I had to settle down a little bit with deep breaths.”
He’s not even sure what happened on his first save, which came on a Sami Salo right point shot that hit him in the left shoulder with 1:33 left in the second period.
“After I got in that first save, I don’t even think I saw it,” he said. “The ref comes up to me and said, ‘Good start, bud.’ That was nice of him and after that I kind of settled down after the second intermission.”
His biggest moment came in 1:08 into the third period when he stopped Steven Stamkos, the league leader with 17 goals, on a breakaway with his left pad.
“You see Stamkos coming down, he’s a great player,” Kinkaid said. “I don’t think he knows my tendencies, so I tried to just stayed with him, stick to what the goalie coaches say here and I just got a pad on it, thankfully.”
After that save, the crowd erupted with chants of “Kin-kaid!”
“I’ve never had that many people chant my name, if half that much,” he said. “It’s exciting.” It’s good to see the fans into it and, hopefully, we can come back strong Thursday.”
Fortunately, the Farmingville, N.Y. native’s parents and sister along with the parents of one his friends made the drive from Long Island to see the game, not knowing that he’d actually play.
“They wanted to see me on the bench and whatnot,” he said.
Overall, it was an exciting evening for Kinkaid.
“I’ll take any taste of the NHL right now and it was exciting getting in there,” said Kinkaid, who signed with the Devils as an undrafted free agent in 2011 after his sophomore year at Union College. “It’s just getting your feet wet. You know what to expect. You get the game pace. It’s a tough game out there. Guys are bigger, stronger, so it’s just all about getting your feet wet and now if I ever get a start and, hopefully I do, I’ll be ready.”