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Pittsburgh Penguins v Vegas Golden Knights


For forward Brendan Brisson, this season has been a year of milestones – his first NHL game, first NHL win, and first NHL goal among them. He’s also just three points shy of matching his first AHL season’s production in nine fewer games, a progression in his professional game that earned the commendation of Head Coach Ryan Craig.

But although Brisson made his NHL debut in January of this year, he attributes the strides that he’s made towards a major-league career to a much earlier milestone: his time spent as a member of the taxi squad for the 2023 Stanley Cup champions.

“You’re around the team, you’re around the rink, going to the games and watching them battle and compete every night at the highest level in the sport,” he said. “So you can kind of go through the motions, especially with the early skates, or you can take advantage of it. I wanted to take advantage of it. I probably learned the most last year out of the taxi squad, especially because they won the Cup. You see all the work that gets put into the playoffs, and you get to kind of live it. Not the games or the work that they put in, obviously, but to see it from a close view is special and even more motivating.”

That experiencing some aspects of a Stanley Cup victory would be motivating was never in question. Hockey players dream of getting to hoist the most iconic trophy in sports long before they play their first professional game, if they ever reach that milestone. The question lies in translating that motivation into production.

That production has not been lacking from Brisson this season. After a strong showing at training camp, Brisson scored 13 points (7G, 6A)  over Henderson’s first 14 games of the season. By January 13, he had tallied 24, tied for second-best on the team.

On January 15, he stepped onto the ice as a Golden Knight for the first time.

“The first game was after we played in Henderson, I was just about to go to bed,” Brisson said. “My mom was visiting and she was actually meant to leave the next morning. Then I got the call saying ‘congrats, you’ve been called up, you’re going to play your first NHL game against Nashville in two days.’ So I was like, you’re probably going to want to change your flight. Luckily I live close to home, so a lot of my family and close friends got to make the trip and come to that game. It was a surreal experience and it was even better that we got the win.”

Brisson remained a strong contributor over his first two NHL games, a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators and a 5-1 win over the New York Rangers. But he wouldn’t score his first NHL goal until five days after his debut.

That goal couldn’t have come at a better time, securing a 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh after heading into the third period with a two-goal deficit.

“Obviously when I got called up I’d looked at the schedule to see what I was getting myself into, who we were playing against,” Brisson admits. “I saw the Penguins were there, and I thought it would be pretty special to play against the favorite team of everyone my age growing up. Watching Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Fleury, all those guys. And it hits home because I’m fortunate that my father does what he does in the hockey business, so some of those players have been my biggest mentors, especially Crosby.”

“So in a tie game after we were down 2-0 going into the third, the fact that I was able to score a goal – not only the game winner, but at home, against the Penguins. Sidney Crosby was on the ice, it was crazy. All you want is to help the team’s success, so to have that kind of an impact was unreal. And it was awesome to have my family there, I got to see Sidney after the game. He was so first-class, he gave me the stick that he used in the game and wrote me a little message on it. ‘Congrats on your first NHL goal, thanks for the dash.’ It was funny. It probably couldn’t have been planned out any better.”

Over the course of 13 games and two separate callups with the Golden Knights, Brisson scored 7 points (2G, 5A). And since returning to the AHL earlier this month, his production reflects that confidence and experience he gained in Vegas. He has eight points (3G, 5A) and a +3 rating over that stretch, six of them over a three-game point streak.

“I just feel like I got some more confidence since I’ve been down from the Golden Knights,” he said. “And also my two linemates have been playing really well, they’ve got a few points in the last five games here with me. It’s nice to produce with them, so hopefully we keep it going and help the team get some big goals and crucial points down the line here.”

“Here in Henderson there’s just been so much opportunity for me. Like, I’ve gotten the chance to be on the first power-play unit, play top-line minutes, and it can be something normal. And then to be called up and get some power-play time and play with guys like William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault, getting a chance to be a top-line player is definitely something I don’t take for granted. So whether I’m here or called up it’s been amazing to get that vote of confidence playing in those roles from the coaching staff.”

Every milestone that Brisson has achieved this year reflects the strides that he has made in his game, the developmental goal that every AHL team sets for their players. But he remains focused on the goals that he is still working towards: not only consistent NHL ice time, but also bringing another championship to the Vegas Valley.

“I got to be in the locker room when they won the Cup, and it was kind of a weird feeling, I mean I never played a game or anything. I was like kind of trying to keep my distance and not be in the way. But a lot of the guys, even though they’d just won the Cup, would come up to us and include us. They were telling us like ‘let’s do it again next year.’ I want to be able to be a part of that, for sure.”

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