By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
After watching his son make his NHL debut with the Bruins on Thursday, former NHL forward Louie DeBrusk reflected on how he didn’t force his son to play hockey.
“He just took to it. So I was happy he did, but I knew it’s a grinding long road,” Louie said. “So I was like, ‘Be in for a marathon kid because it’s not a sprint.’”
Jake’s race took a dazzling turn in the season opener against the Nashville Predators, as the rookie potted his first NHL goal 5:48 into the second period to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead. The Bruins went on to defeat the defending Western Conference champions 4-3 and DeBrusk added an assist later in the game.
The goal epitomized Jake’s style of play, part grit and part high-end speed and skill. He drove to the net while fellow rookie Anders Bjork and David Krejci led the rush and gained the offensive zone. Once Jake got behind the defenseman and had the puck on his stick, he went backhand to forehand and beat elite goaltender Pekka Rinne with a wrist shot over the blocker side.
“It’s surreal,” Jake said. “It’s one that I’ll never forget, that’s for sure. A little bit of a blur for a moment. Just trying to make a quick move, it went in and the crowd got pretty loud.”
Jake said after the game he had never seen his dad cry. Well, now the world has seen it and Jake will be able to see it every time he watches the highlight reel. After the goal, the NESN cameras caught Louie (in addition to Jake’s mom, sister, girlfriend and grandma) in joyous celebration. Then the magnitude of the moment caught up to Louie and the tears came.
“It’s really emotional,” said Louie, who played 401 regular-season NHL games. “For me, I just know how bad these kids want it.
For Jake, I know how bad he wanted it last year. He worked really hard in the offseason. He came in here a little bit hungry and they gave him an excellent opportunity on a line to show what he can do. It didn’t entirely go his way but he did some really good things to get a looksee here at the start. And to score in your first game, it’s always nice.”
Jake, one of three Bruins first-round picks (14th overall) in 2015, has come a long way from his humble beginnings in youth hockey.
“His very first goal it took him 11 games to score in hockey,” Louie recalled. “He took like four whacks at it in the blue paint and finally jammed it home. And I got it on video, I was just so pumped.”
From there the goals kept coming. Jake scored 78 goals over three seasons in the Western Hockey League and then 19 goals in his first season with Providence in the American Hockey League last season.
Jake came as close as a first-year pro could come to getting called up to Boston last season, but the Bruins thought it best for him to play a full AHL season. His performance last season earned him early confidence from coach Bruce Cassidy in training camp this year, as he was inserted on a line with David Krejci and David Pastrnak. That line started the game Thursday, but in the second period Bjork and Pastrnak changed lines.
After Jake’s goal made it 2-1, another rookie Charlie McAvoy scored to make it 3-1. Krejci set up the goal while Jake created havoc in front with a net drive. Jake skated 18 shifts for 14:05 of ice time, including 2:22 on the power play, and continued to impress Cassidy.
“Smart player. You can’t teach that. Good feel for the game. We’ve talked about liking his pace,” Cassidy said. “It’s just for him, it’s playing against big men now. Is he ready for that? Tonight he looked good. Other times, guys pushed him off the puck. He’ll have to learn what he can get away with, but he does have the ability to separate. We saw that. … See tonight, he had a little bit of finish as well. That’s the other part. You need that production at some point, and we got it tonight.”
Jake showed off his ability to finish. But at 20 years old and with just one NHL regular-season game under his belt, his career marathon has a long way to go until the finish line. There should be more spectacular stretches along the way.