Midway through the third period of Tuesday’s night’s American Hockey League game between the Hamilton Bulldogs and St. John’s IceCaps, Hamilton left-winger Phil Lefebvre tapped the stick of teammate and Upper Island Cove native Robert Slaney.
“There’s your goal,” said Lefebvre, looking to help break the spell that had kept Slaney from scoring a single marker through his 61-game AHL career.
In this case, Lefebvre’s stick turned out to be a bit of a magic wand; Slaney scored on the very next shift, breaking a 1-1 tie and providing Hamilton with a lead it would never relinquish en route to a 4-2 win.
Notching his first AHL goal in his home province in front of a packed house that included about two dozen family members and friends is something the 23-year-old Slaney could not have envisioned a month ago.
He was in the Nashville Predators’ organization, having divided time this season between the Predators’ AHL farm club, the Milwaukee Admirals, and their ECHL affiliate, the Cincinnati Cyclones. And with Milwaukee not on the IceCaps’ schedule, there was little hope of him playing in St. John’s except for the longshot chance of the two teams meeting in the Calder Cup final.
But three-and-a-half weeks ago, Slaney was traded to the Montreal Canadiens’ organization as part of the deal that sent veteran defenceman Hal Gill to Nashville and forward Blake Geoffrion to the Habs. One of the first things he did was to see if the Bulldogs, the Canadiens’ AHL team, had any remaining games in St. John’s.
They did, but of course, there wasn’t any guarantee he’d be playing for Hamilton.
“I (checked) the injury report to see what kind of chance I would have to stick (with the Bulldogs),” he said.
“You never want to see guys get injured, but that’s how guys get opportunities. So I had a look and could see where I was going to get a shot.
“I’ve kind of worked my way into a bigger role on this team and I really appreciate it. It’s exciting to be home and get a crack here in Newfoundland.”
Bulldogs’ head coach Clement Jodoin obviously recognized what the trip to St. John’s meant to the young forward and had him in the starting lineup Tuesday. But Slaney admits he had dreamed bigger — about breaking his AHL goose egg at Mile One.
“I had been real close the last couple of games,” he said, also noting a couple of his childhood friends had reminded him he had always done well at Mile One during his QMJHL days with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles when they faced the St. John’s Fog Devils.
Sure enough, at 11:19 of the third period, Slaney scored on a set-up from Gabriel Dumont.
“He put it deep and a couple of guys from the IceCaps had their backs turned,” said Slaney. “I kind of snuck in there and (Dumont) put it right on my tape, but I had no idea it had gone in until he celebrated.
“I thought it was just another one that got stolen on me.”
Instead, he found himself with an experience he’ll hold onto forever.
“It’s been three years coming, so it’s definitely big to get that first one of the way,” smiled Slaney, who played his first AHL game with the Toronto Marlies during the 2009-10 season after signing an entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs.