Teammates ease goalie Hackett's excellent debut

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 8, 2011 - 11:42 AM

Being surrounded by teammates he knows from the minors helped settle the nerves of Wild goalie Matt Hackett during his NHL debut.

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Wild goalie Matt Hackett won his NHL debut by beating San Jose 2-1 on Tuesday. He entered with the Wild trailing 1-0 after Josh Harding suffered whiplash 71 seconds into the game.

Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press

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LOS ANGELES - Matt Hackett was mobbed Tuesday night.

He was congratulated by appreciative veterans who knew the young goalie was thrust into an unenviable situation in his NHL debut. And he was roughed up by euphoric youngsters who got to be part of his unlikely victory after riding to the American Hockey League finals with him a year ago.

It was hard to tell what was more satisfying for Hackett after the Wild's 2-1 victory at San Jose, a game he entered with the Wild trailing 1-0 after Josh Harding suffered whiplash 71 seconds into the game.

Was it that he survived after being abruptly tossed behind a furious Shark attack? Or was it that he was able to share this moment with so many Houston Aeros from last year?

The ear-to-ear smiles when Hackett high-fived those Aeros current and former teammates afterward made it seem the latter.

"It's pretty cool and pretty special to do this with a bunch of boys from last year and this year that I played with," said Hackett, 21. "They are all great friends, and to do it behind them, it's just an unbelievable feeling."

In the game were former/current Aeros teammates Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Casey Wellman and Cody Almond. In street clothes because they weren't playing, Colton Gillies, a former Aero, and Nate Prosser, called up with Hackett on Saturday, greeted him with hugs.

Having so many pals around has helped Hackett, whom Scandella says is "in awe," integrate into the team more comfortably.

"I knew he was pretty nervous. He said his legs were shaking when he got in net, but he's been unbelievable this year and keeps making strides," Almond said. "We're real excited for him. First NHL win, a shutout. It's a pretty big deal."

The shutout isn't official, but make no mistake, Hackett shut out the Sharks. He stopped all 34 shots he saw and made eight saves before the Wild registered its first shot.

"The start was not good," coach Mike Yeo said. "Something we talked about was, 'This is a good team, but let's not give them so much respect. We're a good team ourselves,' and it looked like when we started the game, we weren't even playing."

But Yeo said a few guys got "ticked" and said this wasn't acceptable. A couple big forechecks by Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck got the Wild started and suddenly, Mikko Koivu sparked a rally by burying Dany Heatley's rebound and setting up Pierre-Marc Bouchard's eventual winner just before the first period ended.

The debut of Hackett might have been the wake-up call the Wild needed. Overwhelmed early, the Wild started to protect the net better, collapse down low to keep San Jose to the perimeter and block shots -- 33 in all, led by Scandella's seven.

"You know a young kid is coming in, you want to play well in front of him," Cullen said. "It was cool to see [Hackett] play like that. He was unbelievable."

Hackett's play didn't shock Yeo. The former Aeros coach saw him play big game after big game last postseason.

At the trade deadline a year ago, the Wild's only trade was sending Anton Khudobin to Boston so Hackett, a 2009 third-round draft pick, could get the full-time keys to the Houston net.

"We believe Matt Hackett has a real chance to be a quality goaltender in the NHL, and for that to happen, he had to get the minutes, he had to get the starts every game," Yeo said. "We freed up the net for him, and he ran with it.

"With that, he played every playoff game, he played Game 7s, all those overtimes. And all those times when the game's on the line, he knew he had to be at his best. As a goaltender, you gain an awful lot of experience from that."

Hackett might have been nervous Thursday, but he looked poised.

"He didn't have time to think. That's sometimes better," said Niklas Backstrom, who won his first NHL game in relief as a 28-year-old in 2006. "Just a big win for the kid. We're all excited for him."

And that's why Hackett was mobbed by vets and kids alike.

"When they want to see somebody else in the group do well and have success, that's a team," Yeo said.

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