Thursday's game at Rogers Place in Edmonton for the Colorado Avalanche was highlighted in many ways by the talented youngsters on the club.
Nineteen-year-old Sam Girard notched his first goal in an Avalanche uniform in the first period, 22-year-old J.T. Compher netted the overtime winner, and 19-year-old St. Albert, Alta. native Tyson Jost showed flashes of his vast potential with his mom, sister, and grandparents in attendance.
But there was another player who made his presence felt, a player who is the second-oldest on the Avalanche this season: Meadow Lake's own Blake Comeau.
Comeau, who was born in Vancouver but moved to Meadow Lake at four-years-old, scored his third shorthanded goal of the season to give the Avs a 3-1 lead, and clocked 2:30 of ice-time on a penalty kill that went 3-for-3.
This season, the Avs penalty kill is third in the National Hockey League, at 83.9 per cent, and is a big part of their turnaround from laughing stock of the legue (22 wins in 82 games last season) to right in the playoff hunt with a 28-18-4 record through 50 games.
Much of that strong penalty kill is thanks to Comeau, who is skating an average of 2:48 while shorthanded. That ranks third amongst all forwards in the NHL for shorthanded ice-time per game, and is a new career high for the 31-year-old.
What's interesting is that Comeau was originally drafted as a scorer, taken in the second round of the 2004 NHL entry draft by the New York Islanders. Comeau won two Western Hockey League championships with the Kelowna Rockets, won a Memorial Cup championship on home ice in 2004, and also won a gold medal with Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, where he posted seven points in six games.
Now, with nearly 700 career games played in the NHL, and on his fifth team, Comeau notes he has had to adapt as a player.
"As I've played on different teams, I've played in different roles and I've evolved as a player," Comeau told MeadowLakeNOW after Thursday's win in Edmonton. "It's not easy to put up points in this league. If you're a guy that's one dimensional and only putting up points, you better do it, otherwise you're not going to be in the league very long. I had to quickly learn to play a 200-foot game."
While much of the Avs turnaround this season has been credited to the play of the club's top line (and for good reason), Comeau has been part of an excellent shutdown line, alongside Carl Soderberg and Matt Nieto.
Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar spoke last week of how important that trio has been for the team.
"They’ve been together from day one (of) training camp, didn’t have great years for us last year as veteran guys and they’ve really stepped up,” Bednar said in a recent Hockey Central at Noon appearance, while the team was in the midst of a nine-game winning streak (a streak that ended at 10, the longest in the league this season). "Huge part of our penalty killing, lots of D-zone starts, they usually have a tough matchup every night against other teams’ top players.
“In the defensive roles they’re in, they’ve really helped us give our less-experienced guys some beneficial matchups and put them in areas to succeed.”
Comeau credits much of the team's turnaround to the aforementioned youth.
"It's not just young guys, it's young guys [that have] huge roles on the team," he said. "You've got Compher, you've got [Alexander] Kerfoot, Jost. Girard is 19-years-old and playing 20 minutes a night on the backend.
"We had a huge turnover from last year...I think everyone realized how crappy a year it was last year and how crappy it felt, and we had a renewed energy this year."
But Comeau's job this year, not just on the penalty kill, can't be overlooked.
He is tied for first on the club in takeaways (33) and is second on the team in hits (97).
And offensively, he's on pace for his best year since 2014-15 when he was with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
An added bonus?
His shorthanded goal on Thursday was the 5,000th goal in Avalanche franchise history.
"I just heard that. That's pretty cool," he laughed. "I'll take that. Get my name alongside that."
While his parents weren't able to see the goal (they departed for a month-long vacation in Hawaii on Thursday), other family members were in attendance at Rogers Place, including his sister, who now lives in Edmonton.
When asked to look back on his Meadow Lake days, Comeau recalls how laid back things were.
"Everyone knew everyone...you could walk everywhere in the town. I remember walking to school when it was 40 below," he said. "I remember being young and going to Stampeders games. That was the thing to do when I was growing up. It was a great minor hockey town. Great place to grow up.
"One of the best memories I have was going to the outdoor rink after school, freezing cold and there was a little shack you could put your skates on [in]...that's where I fell in love with the game."
Comeau admits he hasn't been back to Meadow Lake in a while, but said the community means a lot to him.
"It was a great place to grow up," he said. "Great hockey system. I owe a lot to Meadow Lake."
On Twitter: @NathanKanter11
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