If you were like Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews and you had never heard of Scott Sabourin of the Ottawa Senators, you probably know his name now after the fairy tale-start to his NHL career.
From AHL Veteran to NHL Headlines
On Wednesday night, Sabourin found himself on the scoresheet against the Maple Leafs. He registered his first NHL goal in his first NHL game during the Senators’ season opener at the Scotiabank Arena. “It was cool,” Sabourin said. “It was a quick play, and luckily, I got some good wood on it and was able to beat (Maple Leafs’ goalie Fredrick) Andersen.”
He added that, “My family was very excited, maybe more excited than I was. That’s a good thing. They’ve supported me for a long time.”
While Sabourin has been playing professional hockey in the AHL since 2012, he had never played in an NHL regular-season game prior to Wednesday night’s bout against the Maple Leafs. “It was fun. They let me do my lap there solo for the first couple (minutes), and it was cool,” Sabourin said, “a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I’m glad I got to experience it.”
Before the start of the game, Sabourin got some advice from his new teammates. He said that a bunch of the guys came up to him and told him to enjoy it. You only have your first game once, after all. He added that he was a bit nervous, but he said that once he settled in, it became another hockey game.
Sabourin’s road to the NHL wasn’t an easy or quick one. Going undrafted, he signed with the former AHL Manchester Monarchs where he spent the first three seasons of his pro career. In 2015, the Monarchs moved to the ECHL and the Ontario Reign became the new Los Angeles Kings’ AHL affiliate, replacing the Monarchs.
Sabourin played 28 games with the Reign before being traded to the Iowa Wild (AHL) for forward Brett Sutter. Following his short stint with the Wild, he signed as a free agent with the San Diego Gulls (AHL) in the 2016-17 season and remained there until signing with Stockton Heat (AHL) for the 2018-19 season.
Even though he was never given a chance in the NHL, he didn’t let that phase him. Dating back to his time in Los Angeles, he knew that a chance in the NHL wouldn’t come easy. “I kind of found out that it wasn’t really going to be handed to me, and it was a tough road. I’ve kind of just tried to make a point of trying to put in my hard work over the years and it just becomes an everyday thing.”
In the 2019 offseason, the Senators, Sabourin’s hometown team, offered him a professional tryout. The Senators recently signed DJ Smith to a three-year contract as head coach. In his final season with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, Sabourin had Smith as his head coach, and he only has positive things to say about him.
“He is an awesome coach. He is definitely a players’ coach. He will always go to bat for you. He will always have your back,” Sabourin said. “He is very knowledgeable about the game. He holds guys accountable. He is going to make sure we play a very detailed game. His passion is always there so he’s easy to play for.”
During the Senators’ preseason, Sabourin put in a solid effort on every shift. He sees himself as a player who is going to drive hard on the forecheck and do the little things on every shift. He aims on getting pucks out of his own zone and getting pucks into the opponent’s end.
Sabourin said that he will stick up for a teammate if the need arises. He added that he also wants to net some goals along the way.
His feisty playstyle drew the attention of Maple Leafs’ forward Auston Matthews, who mocked Sabourin by glancing at his nameplate during a heated moment in the second preseason matchup between the Senators and Maple Leafs. “I mean, it was funny. I had a good laugh about it. It’s just another play that happens out there,” Sabourin said. “I guess I should probably be thanking him for the exposure.”
Sabourin’s path to the NHL was an unlikely one, but he offered up some advice for other long-time AHL players who have similar career aspirations. He said it’s about hard work, doing the right things, attention to detail and showing up every day.
“You’re playing a game for a living. Have fun with it, right?” he added. “It’s a passion of yours. You chose to pursue it. Put your best foot forward and enjoy the experience.”
Career team information from eliteprospects.com
International History Graduate from Carleton University. Ottawa Senators writer for The Hockey Writers. Founder of The Senstennial.