By Suzie Cool (@SuzKewl) | Published on November 7, 2019
October is here, which means the season of hockey is upon us and the Ottawa Senators are about to begin their 23rd season in the National Hockey League.
This year they’ll start their campaign on the road, making their way down to the Bridgestone Arena, where they’ll face the rowdy crowd of the Nashville Predators on Opening Night.
The day is October 9th. The year is 2014.
And rookie Curtis Lazar is lacing up his skates to make his NHL debut at just the young age of 19 years old.
Take a second and imagine that.
At just 19 years old this kid is throwing on a jersey, marching through a tunnel with some of the best in the game and making his way onto the biggest stage in professional hockey.
And now Lazar can remember that same day, that same game and those same emotions as if they just happened yesterday.
“When that game hit, I remember the anthem was going on and I was a little short on breath,” recalled Lazar. “That’s when Paul MacLean, the coach, leaned in and patted me on the back and said, ‘It’s the same game you’ve always played, just go out there and have fun.’ When that wrapped up, you kind of realize everything you’ve gone through to get to this point and then you actually get to experience it and live it.”
After the National Anthem and some pregame jitters, it was game-on and Lazar was put into the game just a couple of shifts in. With a little stumble going out onto the ice for his first shift, the forward finally found his way into the offensive zone and got that “first one” out of the way, making him more than prepared to take to the ice for more action in the game that he had always grown up playing.
But it wasn’t until a couple of shifts later that Lazar had his true “welcome to the NHL” moment.
“Two shifts later, I was cutting through the neutral zone and Anton Volchenkov stepped up and open-ice hit me pretty good. That was kind of my welcome to the NHL moment. From there on out, it was just playing. You’re a young kid and facing-off against the best players in the world.”
Now, think about that.
At just 19 years old this kid was going out and playing hockey with the best players in the world. In his rookie season alone, Lazar appeared in 67 games with the Senators and registered 15 points, while also skating in six Stanley Cup Playoff contests.
The best part, he didn’t realize he was one of the best players in the world, too.
Fast forward to five years later and Lazar is now with a completely new organization and donning a brand-new color scheme at the American Hockey League level. And on Oct. 4, 2019, that same kid was now 24 years old, lacing up his skates to play the same game he has his entire life and getting ready to make his Rochester Americans debut at The Blue Cross Arena.
Undoubtedly, this will be the most impressive and humble fact that you will ever discover about the Amerks newcomer.
No, it’s not that he has 246 games of NHL experience, more games at the highest level of play compared to his AHL total. No, it’s not the fact that he made the jump from junior hockey with the Edmonton Oil Kings to the NHL without seeing a single second of the minor league circuit with the Senators organization before his NHL debut. Or maybe you think it’s that five-point game he notched a few weeks back against the Syracuse Crunch where he lit the lamp twice and added three helpers in 7-6 come-from-behind overtime victory. But again, that’s not it.
After 200-plus games at the NHL level between Ottawa and the Calgary Flames, Lazar decided to take a step back prior to the start of last season. For him, it was time to reassess his skillset, and in order to make himself better and the type of player that these teams expected him to be, that meant taking the time to work on these intricacies at a different level – the AHL.
Yeah, you read that right.
Lazar willingly asked to be sent down to Calgary’s AHL affiliate, the Stockton Heat, to start off the 2018-19 campaign. After appearing in 65 games with the big club the year prior and tallying just 12 points, the forward decided it was time to focus on what was needed to be done in order to be successful with the fresh start he had at hand.
“As I moved over to Calgary and got a fresh start, I just couldn’t seem to find my role and I knew I owed it to myself to kind of take that step back and go and develop in the American Hockey League. I did just go from the juniors to the NHL, and that is quite the jump, so I had the chance to go down to Stockton last year and to play 20-25 minutes a night and play on the power-play and handle the puck again. It felt good, I found that passion again, I was having fun and the results were showing up.”
In 57 games with the Heat, Lazar captured career-highs in every offensive category, earned an AHL All-Star Classic nod and posted 10 multi-point efforts. It seemed like Lazar accomplished everything he set out to do last year while in Stockton.
Yet, this amazing hockey player lands right here in the Flower City to start the 2019-20 season with the Amerks thanks to signing a one-year contract with the Buffalo Sabres in July earlier this year.
The day is October 4th. The year is 2019.
And Lazar is lacing up his skates to make his Rochester Americans debut at the age of 24 years old.
Fast forward a month later and it’s time to embrace the caliber of the player Lazar has shown he is capable of being through just his first month in Rochester.
A sixth-year pro, a first-round selection back in 2013, a player who has seen over 200 games in the NHL and one of the best players in the world who is still humble enough to take a step back and focus on the intricacies that will get him back to the big stage in no time while here in the AHL – exactly where he asked to be.