Connor Ingram waited 24 years, 207 days to make his NHL debut.
Though it probably felt like longer for the Nashville Predators goalie.
He waited 1 minute, 25 seconds Sunday to make his first NHL save, a shot from the Minnesota Wild’s Joel Eriksson Ek. Five seconds later he made his second, this time against Matt Dumba.
Those were the first two of 33 saves he made during the 5-2 victory.
Those first two shots were much different than what Ingram was expecting, based on his past experiences.
“My first shots in the Western League and the American League went in, so I was half-expecting it to go in,” Ingram said with a smile. “But it didn’t. So that’s a nice way to start.”
A much bigger, much more important save occurred for Ingram nine months earlier, one that allowed him navigate his way to realizing his childhood aspirations.
Ingram voluntarily entered the league’s player assistance program in January. The confidential program provides assistance from the league and players’ association for players and their families in areas of mental health and substance abuse.
“I still don’t think it’s hit me,” he said of playing in an NHL game. “Ignorance is bliss at this point. I don’t know what’s going on yet.”
Ingram said he was caught “off-guard” when he did the traditional solo lap by players making their debut.
“I didn’t know they did that to goalies,” Ingram said. “And I never grab a puck when I go on the ice because I’m always scared if I knock them over and I’m going to step on one and fall over.”
Ingram spent the summer in Nashville preparing for the season, which he knew would be spent mostly in the AHL with Milwaukee.
Juuse Saros had started the Predators’ first five games this season, including Saturday’s 6-4 loss against the Winnipeg Jets. Backup David Rittich was still on the COVID-19 reserve list, opening up the opportunity for Ingram to make his first NHL appearance.
“These guys are hockey players, but they’re people too,” Predators coach John Hynes said. “He went through a bit of a struggle last year, but I give him a ton of credit. … It’s always nice to see a person develop as a player, but more importantly as a person.”
The victory made for what Predators captain Roman Josi described as an “emotional” locker room after the game.
“We’re just really proud of him, the way he worked this summer,” Josi said. “He was the first guy in Nashville. It’s amazing. It definitely meant a lot to him, but also to us.”
Ingram signed a three-year deal with the Predators in March 2020 after he was acquired from the Lightning in June 2019 for a seventh-round pick in the 2021 NHL draft.
The two-time AHL All-Star had fallen out of favor with Tampa Bay.
“As a young kid maybe you get stuck in a rut, or the maturity part of it,” Predators director of player personnel Scott Nichol said of Ingram last year. “Maybe you say something you can’t get back. … Everybody needs sometimes a second chance.”
Ingram became the third Nashville player this season to make his NHL debut, joining Philip Tomasino and Tommy Novak.
He made the most of his second chance, too.
“(My) dad always says, ‘It’s just a game,'” Ingram said. “No matter what happened today, the sun is going to come up tomorrow.”
Reach Paul Skrbina at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PaulSkrbina.