Tri-City Americans

Ams goalie thrilled to have moment in NHL spotlight

Friday night, Alex Pechurskiy tended goal for the Tri-City Americans in front of a modest crowd of 4,000 at Toyota Center.

Saturday night, dressed in Pittsburgh Penguins gold and black, he made his NHL debut in front of 19,000 at the General Motors Place in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Pechurskiy, 19, was told after Friday's game against the Seattle Thunderbirds that he would be joining the Penguins for their game against the Vancouver Canucks. Pittsburgh signed him to a one-day professional tryout contract -- he received only the NHL per diem, about $100 --and expected him to sit on the bench to back up John Curry, who was starting in place of injured Marc-Andre Fleury.

Pittsburgh forward Evgeni Malkin, who is from Pechurskiy's hometown of Magnitogorsk, Russia, had phoned Pechurskiy on Thursday, but had no idea they were going to bring him up.

"He just asked how I was doing and if I needed anything," said Pechurskiy, who met Malkin about four years ago.

Pechurskiy and billet Michel Pelletier flew to Vancouver on Saturday morning, were picked up at the airport and driven to Pittsburgh's morning skate.

"It was harder than here," said Pechurskiy, with the help of translator Tatyana Polyukh of Kennewick. "After the team practice there was goalie practice. The shots are harder and faster. It was one chance of a lifetime. It was unbelievable."

"They treated Alex really well," said Pelletier, who also got the royal treatment. "Everyone was really nice. I rode the team bus from the morning skate to the hotel and got to eat the pregame meal with the team. They gave me a VIP pass and I was up in the press box next to the general manager. I've been to NHL games before, but not like that."

Pechurskiy, wearing No. 40, started the game on the bench and watch as Curry gave up two goals in the first period and three in the first 3:56 of the second as Vancouver took a 5-1 lead.

Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma yanked Curry at 4:29 and sent Pechurskiy to the net.

"He said 'Let's go, Alex,' " Pechurskiy said. "I didn't realize what was going on, then I'm on the ice. At the start of the game I didn't think I would get to play. The first save (on Sami Salo) was very important, then it felt real and I settled down a little."

Can't say as much for Pelletier.

"I was nervous for him," Pelletier said. "He was focused -- but until his first save I almost puked."

Pechurskiy stepped over the boards and skated to the net, wearing his own glove and blocker, but sporting Fleury's pads. Team officials weren't sure if Pechurskiy's pads would meet NHL specifications and weren't going to take any chances.

"His pads were longer than mine and kind of uncomfortable," Pechurskiy said. "I was just so excited I didn't think about it. It was an honor to be on the team -- nothing else mattered. It was a dream from childhood to wear an NHL jersey."

When Pechurskiy got to the crease, referee Brad Meier bent down and talked to him.

"He asked me my first name," Pechurskiy said. "I told him Alex, and he said 'Welcome to the NHL, Alex.' "

Meier then patted Pechurskiy on the back and play resumed.

Back in Pechurskiy's hometown of Magnitogorsk, his mother Alexandra received a call when her son entered the game. She in turn told Alex's grandmother, who went to church to pray for him.

NHL Network announcers John Hughson and Craig Simpson were taken with Pechurskiy, chronicling his trip from Kennewick to the NHL the remainder of the game.

Pechurskiy allowed just one goal -- to Ryan Kesler on the power play in the second period -- then held Vancouver scoreless the rest of the game.

His performance was rewarded when he was named the game's third star.

"I didn't expect to play," he said. "I thought I played well, but the third star was an unbelievable experience."

But the highlight of his night came just moments before when Penguins captain Sidney Crosby put the game puck in his glove after the game.

"A day to remember the rest of my life," Pechurskiy said. "I would go again if there is a chance."

Pechurskiy faced 13 shots, made 12 saves and earned praise from Pittsburgh veteran Bill Guerin after the game.

"He doesn't speak much English at all," Guerin said in an interview during Hockey Night in Canada's After Hours segment. "He came in and handled himself well. He stayed out and took as many shots as possible this morning. When he got in the game today, he handled himself great. The one play I liked was on the penalty kill, he got the puck beside the net and shot it down the ice. That took some guts and I liked that."

Bylsma was just as impressed.

"That's the definition of thrown into the fire," he told the Associated Press. "From getting the call last night, to wearing Flower's pads, it's a lot to ask of a young kid. But he played fantastic -- stood in there and was confident."

Pechurskiy, who is scheduled to start tonight for the Americans against Kamloops, came home with the game puck, Penguins gear, his game jersey and a special memento.

"I found a blade of a broke stick and asked if Sidney would sign it for Alex," Pelletier said.

The stick came back with the following: To Alex: Great first game -- one of many I am sure. 1-16-10. Sidney Crosby #87.

"It was pretty special to watch a kid's dream come true," Pelletier said.