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Ultimate experience for rookie

Called up from IceCaps, Albert scores in first game on first shot

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NEW YORK -- It was a quick, subdued moment after the game which featured both disheartening moments and one of true elation.

Winnipeg Jets assistant general manager Craig Heisinger, the man in charge of the club's AHL affiliate in St. John's, had convinced enough of the brass within his own organization that forward John Albert was worth a look-see on the big club.

And so there was Heisinger for no more than 10 seconds, slipping into the Jets dressing room to offer a smile and a stern handshake to the 24-year-old from Cleveland, Ohio, for a job well done in his first NHL game, that included his first NHL goal on his very first shot.

Patience, it seems, paid off.

Albert's goal lifted the Jets into a second-period lead and they were never down after, grabbing a 5-2 win over the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden.

'I've been dreaming (it) since

I was three years old'

-- Jets centre John Albert

The goal, on a partial breakaway exactly halfway through the game, "was a lifetime moment," Albert said. He could think of nothing more exciting he'd ever done.

"Absolutely not. I've been dreaming (it) since I was three years old," he beamed.

Albert's stats for two-plus seasons with the IceCaps are nowhere near gaudy -- three goals and eight points this season -- but his hustling, energy-style of game earned him his chance.

When Dustin Byfuglien fed him the pass up the middle, catching the Rangers going the wrong way, nobody could cut him off before he had snapped a high shot past goalie Cam Talbot.

"Any goal... but in that sort of situation, kind of a half-breakaway there, it was good to score," he said.

Things hadn't start out so well for the centre who was drafted in the late rounds by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2007, but later signed as a free agent by the Jets.

On his first shift, playing with James Wright and Anthony Peluso on the Jets' fourth line, the Rangers converted a series of turnovers into Mats Zuccarello's game-opening goal.

"He had a tough start," said teammate Olli Jokinen. "He had a minus on the first shift but he's a kid who works hard and he didn't look out of place at all. That fourth line was very effective for us tonight.

"They had a lot of good chances there in the second period. After the Rangers were pressing, they were able to shift the momentum for us with a couple of good shifts."

Even Jets coach Claude Noel was discounting the first shift from the fourth line that helped the Rangers.

"I thought he was fine," said Noel, who eventually dished out 12 shifts and eight minutes 29 seconds of ice time for Albert in his debut. "He had a couple little bumps where he was in our zone and they got caught a little bit, but I didn't think too much of it.

"He looked like he knew where he was going. I thought positionally he was strong. He would have liked to have won some battles earlier but after that, he got himself in the game real well.

"And Buff made the pass up to him, I thought that was a good play. He buried it top shelf, a great play. Big goal for him."

The spark was already there for the Jets in the second. Less than two minutes before Albert's shot, Devin Setoguchi had tied the game.

And then came a big boost, and from a rookie.

"That really lifted our bench a lot, like I'd say 90 per cent," the coach said. "Is that good?"

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 3, 2013 D3

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