Coming off of a record breaking goal last week, Trail native Steve McCarthy is enjoying the Heat on the west coast and his new home.
After winning a Swiss League Championship in April by scoring the Game 7 winning goal for the Zurich Lions, McCarthy packed his bags and made the journey back to B.C. and the American Hockey League for a tryout with the Calgary Flames affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat.
“It’s been great, obviously its been a few years,” said McCarthy after practice in Abbotsford Tuesday. “I spent a few seasons over seas and things went pretty well there, and I stayed healthy for a few years so I thought I’d give it another crack over here and see what happens.”
McCarthy’s return to the American Hockey League has been nothing short of impressive. While Abbotsford enjoys first place in the North Division and second spot overall, the 31-year-old defenceman leads all Heat D in points with a goal and seven assists, and is a solid plus-6 for the season.
“The biggest thing for me is that I feel healthy. I feel as I’ve gotten older, I approach things a little bit differently, and things have worked out a little bit better for me.”
The former Trail Smoke Eater has made such a positive impact not just through his outstanding play, but his leadership on and off the ice; as a result, he was named assistant captain by his peers on Thursday prior to a game against the Toronto Marlies.
“It was a little bit of a surprise, the group here has been together for a few years, and have some veteran guys, so it was a pleasant surprise and something you take with pride,” said McCarthy.
He scored his first goal of the year later that same night in what turned out to be his first career short-handed goal, the game-winning goal, and the first tally in what would be the fastest two goals ever scored.
“I didn’t even see it (the second goal). There’s no video of it; it happened so fast. Everybody that wasn’t here will have to take our word for it I guess.”
McCarthy’s short-handed goal broke a scoreless tie at 4:28 in the third period and then on the ensuing faceoff at centre ice, Ben Street fired the puck into the net past a bewildered Ben Scrivens in the Heat’s 3-0 win over the Marlies.
“(Assistant coach) Cail MacLean told me they would probably go forward off the draw, so I figured there was no use trying to win it back,” Street told a Canadian Press reporter.
“I tried to go forward myself and got pretty good wood on it. I got it high enough that he didn’t pick up on it. I picked the right club, I guess.”
They were the fastest two goals scored by one team in North American professional hockey history, beating the old AHL mark of five seconds and the NHL mark of four seconds.
McCarthy’s goal was a little nicer. He flew down the left side, skated wide on a Marlies defender before taking the puck to the net and squeezing it through the pads of Scrivens.
“It was a huge play by a veteran-type player,” said Abbotsford coach Troy Ward. “There are moments in games where you need to step up and he made a great play at the right time.
“It was the play that will go (unnoticed) in this whole thing and it was the biggest play of the game.”
A first-round pick of the Chicago Black in 1999, McCarthy logged 302 NHL games through nine seasons with the Blackhawks, Vancouver Canucks and Atlanta Thrashers. His career totals: 17 goals, 55 points and 168 penalty minutes.
All of that came after he led the Kootenay Ice to the franchise’s first Memorial Cup berth in 2000 and captained Team Canada to a world junior bronze medal the same season.
If McCarthy stays healthy and continues his outstanding play, if and when the NHL gets back on the ice, a promotion to the Calgary Flames just might be in the cards.
“I’ve played in the NHL before, it seems like a long time ago now, and if you would have thought I would have even had a crack at it, I didn’t even think that opportunity would be there,” said McCarthy. “But it’s something that is in the back of your mind, and it would be nice, but at the same time, I’m pretty happy with where I am at, and what I’ve overcome with injuries just being able to get back here and contribute. If it happens, it will definitely be something special, but if it doesn’t, I’m comfortable with that too.”