Thursday, January 15, 2009

Welcome, Matt


The good news was, he had no time to get nervous.

Matt Beleskey arrived at Honda Center for his NHL debut Jan. 9 against Tampa Bay with literally only a few minutes to spare before puck drop. After they learned Todd Marchant would not play in that night’s contest with a fractured pinkie, the Ducks made an afternoon phone call to their AHL affiliate in Iowa (a place Anaheim had already plucked away five players this season) to retrieve Beleskey. The 20-year-old had already returned home after a pre-game skate (the Chops were facing Manitoba that night) when he learned that the ice he would play on that night would be in a bigger venue approximately 1,678 miles away.

“It was amazing and pretty hectic,” Beleskey said. “I got the call and had an hour to get to the airport. Then to show up 10 minutes before the game, it was a little crazy.”

Once he quickly slipped on his gear in time to be on the bench for the national anthem, Beleskey went on to play 13:53 against the Lightning. The rookie left wing began the game on a line with Andrew Ebbett and Brendan Morrision, but as Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle tinkered with the combinations in search of scoring, Beleskey found himself beside All-Star Ryan Getzlaf and fellow one-time Chops teammate Drew Miller.

That trio was on the ice when Chris Pronger scored a goal (after Steve Montador had done so 12 seconds earlier) to pull even with the Lightning in the second period. But while the Ducks would go on to lose that game 4-3, the day-long experience for Beleskey etched a memory he will always treasure.

“It was definitely a first game you’ll never forget, that is for sure,” Beleskey said. “It was everything you would think it would be, having Ryan Getzlaf as your center. It’s a pretty good feeling to be able to do that.”

Enjoying a more routine day this past Sunday for his second game against New Jersey, Beleskey said he was “actually a little more nervous” because he had time to think about the game. With Corey Perry returned from a four-game suspension, Beleskey saw time (9:48 overall) on the fourth line (also known as the “energy” line) beside Ryan Carter and George Parros and the Ducks held on for a 4-3 victory over the Devils.

“It’s been a lot of fun just trying to get out there, work hard and do the little things they ask from me,” said Beleskey, who was selected by Anaheim in the fourth round (112th overall pick) of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. “It’s a little nerve-wrecking at times, but it’s getting better.”

Following four seasons with the Belleville Bulls (where he amassed 98 goals and 221 points) in the Ontario Hockey League, the 2008-09 season is Beleskey’s first as a professional. Prior to his promotion to the Ducks, Beleskey had totaled 15 points in 18 games with Iowa, leading the Chops in points per game (.83).

“Matt’s a young kid who is in his first year pro and is trying to make a statement,” Ebbett said. “He’s played great down in Iowa and works really hard. He’s got a good shot, a quick release and knows how to shoot the puck.”

Beleskey’s presence in the Ducks lineup brings the number of current players who started the year as Chops to six (Beleskey, Ebbett, Miller, Bobby Ryan, Brett Festerling and Brendan Mikkelson). As each tries to create their own impression on the Ducks and in the league, they are enjoying the luxury of being able to do it together.

“I don’t think any guys down in the American League envisioned them bringing up six guys like that,” Ebbett said. “It’s been wild, but a great opportunity for everybody to get a chance to showcase their skills and hopefully prove that you can stay up here.”

With Todd Marchant projected to be out of action for two weeks with an injured finger, Beleskey should see some action in a handful of games during that span. It’s a nice reward for what was a frenzied start.

“It’s a huge undertaking to grab a guy off an airplane, land him at 6:00 and have him in your lineup at 7:00,” Carlyle said. “I thought he has done fine. He shows that he has the skill set and the ability to skate and bang. He’s surviving.”

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