Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Schwartz NHL debut a success

Rookie nets first goal, earns praise from coach, teammates

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Even though he's only 19 years old, Jaden Schwartz's hockey instincts took over.

The Blues' 2010 first-round draft pick (14th overall) from Colorado College has a distinct understanding of the way to make a mark in his NHL debut: go to the dirty areas and make an impression on your teammates.
(Getty Images)
Blues 2010 first round pick Jaden Schwartz scored in his NHL debut.

"I'm here for a reason. I'm not going to change the way I play or change the way I do things," Schwartz said after scoring his first NHL goal on the power play in the Blues' 3-1 win Saturday at Tampa Bay. "... You've got to go to the net to score goals. The defensemen are so good and the goalies are so good. You're not going to score a whole lot of pretty goals. Some guys have got the talent to do that, but for a guy like me, his first game, I just try to stick within the system. You just go to the net and I got a good bounce."

Schwartz's good bounce turned out to be the game-winning goal in a game where he was plugged into a top-six role after a shoulder injury to Andy McDonald on Thursday.

It really speaks volumes when coach Ken Hitchcock can stick someone with no NHL experience into a prominent role for the NHL's top overall team.

Hitchcock, who's seen plenty of players during a career that's spanned more than 1,000 games, said Schwartz was a no-brainer. After all, this is a player who's represented well on the Canadian international level, most recently as captain of Team Canada's world junior squad.

"From a coaching perspective, when you don't even think about putting a young player on the ice, when you don't worry about him, that's a really good sign," Hitchcock said of Schwartz. "That's where I am with him. I don't even think ... To me, I know he's just 19 years old, but I just put him on the ice because he's a good player. That's all I think about. I don't think about, 'Man, you've got to protect this guy or man, can he read, does he understand?' I don't think of any of that stuff. He just goes out and plays, and he's able to do that because he's smart.

"I think he's a very, very dependable guy. I'm very comfortable playing him. He knows where to go on the ice with and without the puck. He knows how to play the game the right way. It's a very comfortable position to have a guy in."

It's been an up-and-down year for Schwartz, who's sophomore season at Colorado College ended prematurely recently, but more than anything, he lost his older sister Mandi, who succumbed to cancer and passed away last April from acute myeloid leukemia.

But the sting of not making the NCAA playoffs with the Tigers saw some of that disappointment wear off when the Blues decided to sign Schwartz to an entry-level contract and bring him to the NHL right away. And when Schwartz was able to tuck in a rebound on his first shot in the NHL, a smile from up above from his sister and cheers from parents Rick and Carol Schwartz could be heard and felt all the way from Jaden's hometown of Melfort, Saskatchewan.

"It's a pretty cool feeling," Schwartz said of his first NHL goal after netting 15 goals and 41 points in 30 games with Colorado College. "It's a dream-come-true just to be here. You grow up dreaming of something like that. It was pretty special and obviously a very good feeling. We got the win, which was nice, too. But I'm just happy to be here and be a part of such a good team.

"You're obviously nervous. It's your first game. I think it's more excited nerves than anything. You try and control as much as you can and just go out there and have fun. A lot of the guys were saying just enjoy it. You only get one first game, so you want to make the best of it. The whole game, it was pretty cool being out there."

A ritual for rookie Blues players, Schwartz's teammates allowed him to lead the team onto the ice for pregame warm-ups. He obviously didn't know what was coming, but what his teammates knew would be that Schwartz would fit right in.

"It was really good. It was fun to see him score," Blues winger David Perron said. "I told him before the game I had a feeling he would score. He was real excited. I'm sure he was a lot more nervous than he showed. He just looks smart out there with the puck. It was only his first game, but you knew he wasn't going to make mistakes. ... It wasn't going to come fast, but he adjusted pretty well."

Schwartz garnered 13 minutes 50 seconds of ice time in his debut, and although he only had the one shot on goal, the Blues will surely be counting on him down the stretch with the injuries to the front line group.

Who could have seen this as recently as a couple weeks ago?

"To come into a first place team and for me to play as much as I did, that was pretty awesome," said Schwartz, who finished the season at Colorado College with older brother Rylan. "I just tried to play my hardest and work within the system as much as I could and keep it simple.

"I wasn't sure what to expect. They're in first place, they've got a lot of good players. Whatever role I'm here to do, I'm going to do it to the best of my abilities. Whether that's playing one line or not playing, I'm going to try and contribute as much as I can. Wherever I play, it's going to be fun and I'll be happy to do it. ... Whether I'm in the lineup or not, I'm just trying to learn, work my hardest and try to enjoy the moment."

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