Sebastian Aho was ready. The weather in Raleigh, Tuesday night, was balmy and pleasant, lending no hint as to what was about to unfold in the PNC Arena. A fierce storm was to erupt, a battle on ice between two teams determined to enhance their playoff chances. And the 19-year old rookie was about to get seriously busy.
The Carolina Hurricanes were the hosts, intent on making the visit by their guests, the Philadelphia Flyers, as miserable as possible. A reset was desperately needed by the host team after a disastrous few games prior to the recently completed NHL All-Star Weekend.
The gravity of the battle was not lost on either team. For the Flyers a win would inch them closer to the New York Rangers, the team guarding the first wild card position in earnest. The outcome was even more dire for the home team, trailing the Flyers by seven points.
An outright victory would move them to within five points, and a loss would widen their deficit to nine points. An enormous four-point swing that could possibly ignite a good run for the Hurricanes, or sink their playoff hopes with 33 games still left to play.
Aho Goes Off
Sebastian Aho scored at 7:11 in the first period. He got the goal, but the team effort was magnificent:
Jordan Staal was credited with the assist and worked hard to keep the puck in the Flyers zone. The determination on display to keep the puck in the offensive zone was fantastic. This was not a “hapless” squad, and even though it was still early in the game, the Hurricanes put the Flyers on notice that they were going to play and play hard. Apparently, Aho had come to play, too.
Aho for the Win
Aho scored again at 16;37 in the first period, launching a rocket past Flyers goalie Steve Mason. Lindholm with the assist:
The goal eventually would go down as the game-winner, and the 13,577 fans watching could feel that this night was going to be something special. Aho and his teammates would not disappoint.
At the beginning of every Hurricanes home game, the arena announcer says, “Please rise and kindly remove your caps.” This is in preparation for the singing of the national anthem, of course. On this night, it was somewhat prophetic, when at 18:05 in the second period, Aho struck agaipower-playower play goal that gave the young Fin his first career NHL hat trick:
Once again, folks rose and kindly removed their caps, this time sailing them down onto the ice. His top-shelf blast showed the skills everyone has seen growing in the youngster. It was an amazing moment and one that Aho will remember for a long time. His energy and youthful zeal could have cared less about the past four or five games. While he is seasoned beyond his years in a hockey sense and ability, he is young and wide-open in the way he plays, focused on the task at hand.
— Hockey Reference (@hockey_ref) February 1, 2017
On the night Aho tallied three goals and one assist. He now has 15 goals and 15 assists on the season, placing him third on the team in points with 30 behind Jeff Skinner with 36 and Victor Rask with 32. If one considers that Aho did not score in the first 13 games, his 15 goals in 36 games is remarkable.
The fans cheered Aho loudly as he was named the games first star, filling the arena with chants of “Let’s Go Aho!”
After the game in the Canes’ locker room, Aho was surrounded by the media. When the crowd thinned I asked him how it felt to get his first NHL hat trick. Aho said, “It’s pretty nice. I haven’t scored a hat trick as a pro. Maybe last time in B-juniors so it was a long time ago and it feels nice.”
I then asked him if he was feeling like he was in a groove and could continue to score. Aho said, “Yeah, maybe, I mean like you get goals and it gets easier to score goals because you have confidence.”
The team on display in Raleigh was in no way similar to the team that lost its previous five games. This was the fast, efficient squad that had great momentum, especially at home. John Forslund, the television play-by-play voice for the Hurricanes said it best when heading into the second intermission, “It’s all Canes!”
It was all Hurricanes as the Flyers were only able to score one goal, and had only 16 shots on goal the entire game. A large part of their lack of offense was due to the Hurricanes defense playing like Peters wants them to play. They were swarming and bottling up the center keeping the Flyers from being able to push into the Canes’ zone.
The Hurricanes got the two points. Aho got four, and there is hope once again in Raleigh.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.