? by Brian McCormack | AHL On The Beat
“Hey guys, Paul scored!”
“Boys, Cotter got one!!”
As the Henderson Silver Knights sat in Stockton last Thursday night waiting for their weekend set against the Heat, most players had their phone and computer screens streaming the Vegas Golden Knights and Minnesota Wild, and watched their teammate, Paul Cotter, net the first goal of his National Hockey League career.
It took just two NHL games for Cotter to score his first NHL goal, having made his debut two days earlier against the Seattle Kraken. Just 24 hours after his wrist shot beat Cam Talbot, Cotter was back in a Silver Knights sweater and on the ice to take on the Heat in California.
After all the pats on the back and congratulations from his work prior in the week, Cotter would score on Friday and Saturday for the Silver Knights to help Henderson take three of four points from the first-place Heat.
After a whirlwind of travel and four games in five nights between two leagues, Cotter had a chance to take a deep breath on Sunday morning. Thursday night’s events had not totally sunk in.
“I think, so far in my life, that was the craziest thing that has ever happened to me,” said Cotter, who is in his third professional season. “It’s tough to describe, but I think it’s pretty similar to the Draft, when they call your name. Some guys have a great feeling, but I went into a daze. I didn’t really remember what happened, I was so shocked.
“I’ve watched the video a thousand times, I think. Watching myself on the video, I usually tend to get pretty fired up [after a goal] but I don’t know if I’ve ever been that fired up.”
Cotter also didn’t need to celebrate alone, as just 10:33 after his tally, Cotter was driving the net to see teammate and fellow Silver Knights alumnus Jonas Rondbjerg net his first NHL goal.
“I was pretty juiced up for that too. Our line was playing well, and for us to share that success together as teammates is so special,” said Cotter. “Then [Jake Leschyshyn] on Saturday night adds another one. We’ve been together for three years now, so to see guys move up and have success is awesome.”
It has been an early theme this season for the Silver Knights. With numerous injuries impacting the Golden Knights and Silver Knights in the season’s first month, other players have been presented with opportunities to take on larger roles in both locker rooms.
“He’s a guy who has such a big frame and a lot of skill. He’s hungry and wants to be better, and he wants to play in the NHL,” said Silver Knights assistant coach Joel Ward, now coaching Cotter for a second season. “I was excited to see a guy live out his dream and play in his first game, and I had a pretty good feeling that he was going to do well.”
Certainly it will be Cotter’s aim to make it back to the NHL again and for a longer stay, but in the meantime he knows that to make that happen, he will need to continue to produce in Henderson. With goals in three straight AHL games, he’s doing just that and is already just one goal shy of his single-season AHL best.
“He’s finishing his chances. For us, it’s a matter of hammering out the details every day and being a good pro on and off the ice, which he’s been doing. He’s been playing in all situations, and he’s going to adapt and learn and get better as each day goes by,” said Ward.
“He’s developing more and more every day. You can see his confidence and I think that’s the main thing that has been driving him forward.”
Cotter made his NHL debut on Nov. 9, but he had joined the team two days prior when the Golden Knights were in Detroit, just a 30-minute drive from Canton, Michigan. The whole family was able to relish in his first call to the NHL and his first game action. Yet not everyone was tuned in live for his first goal.
The Cotter family boasts multiple athletes, including Paul’s brother Jack who currently plays in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.
“She is a crazy woman. She will do anything for her kids to have success,” said Cotter of his mother. “She’ll drive to Maryland for my sister’s lacrosse and then back to Michigan when I got called up, then my brother’s game — she’s all over the place.”
Cotter did not expect to be in the lineup against the Wild and gave his parents the green light to go watch his brother play. When he found out he would be dressing, his parents were already in transit.
“I think she found out driving home. I’m not sure I even remembered to text her that I was playing,” laughed Cotter. “One of my buddy’s moms called her on the ride home from my brother’s game and she found out, and I was worried she might’ve driven into a ditch after hearing that.”
He can make it up to her by sending her the puck. For a player whose journey to the NHL has taken him though nearly every elite league imaginable — the NAHL, the USHL, the NCAA, the OHL, and the AHL — she has quite the collection.
“There’s a stack of pucks on the mantel at home — NAHL, USHL, and every other league I’ve played in. My dad loves taking pictures of it every year, because there’s always another league and another puck.
“Scoring a goal in the NHL, nobody can take that from me. That will always be there and that’s pretty great.”