Mark Pysyk’s mom, Sherry, finally got a chance to journey to Buffalo to see the defenseman play Friday. For 59 minutes, it had to feel like a wasted trip. The Sabres got blown out by the New York Rangers in a game that eliminated them from playoff contention, and the evening was memorable primarily for being so disappointing.
But with 40 seconds left, after most folks had turned their attention elsewhere, a magical moment happened.
Pysyk took a one-timer from the top of the left faceoff circle, and the shot struck Rangers defenseman Steve Eminger. It caromed past goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, and the puck was soon in Pysyk’s possession as the rookie celebrated his first NHL goal in an 8-4 loss.
“Obviously, not where we wanted to be in that hockey game in the last minute there, but I saw it go in and I couldn’t believe it,” Pysyk said Sunday. “I wanted to make sure it didn’t hit one of our guys on the way in. I was definitely pretty excited.”
While the goal meant little to most, it set off a celebration for the Alberta native’s friends and family members.
“Lots of people were pretty excited,” Pysyk said. “My mom was actually here for the game. That was the first game that she saw, so it was pretty cool to score while she was here.”
It was the highlight of Pysyk’s season, and he will try to add more tonight when the Sabres host Winnipeg in First Niagara Center.
The 21-year-old is in his first professional season, and the ultimate goal was to try to appear in a game or two in Buffalo. As the Sabres enter their final week, Pysyk has already played 16 times.
“I wasn’t really expecting any opportunity like this at the start of the year,” said Pysyk, who made his debut March 17 after Andrej Sekera got hurt. “I got called up sort of out of nowhere. I tried to just do my best and enjoy my time up here.
“It’s been a great surprise for me. The coaches have been showing some confidence in me in different situations, which is a good sign.”
The rookie’s goal came on the power play. He has topped 17:30 of ice time in six of the eight games since the trade deadline, bringing his season average to 15:56. He has two assists to go with the goal but also lugs a minus-7 rating.
Since the organization no longer has anything to play for, inexperienced guys like Pysyk are expected to get a larger role in the final three games.
“For a young guy,” Pysyk said, “these are still pretty big games. There’s going to be a lot of eyes in the organization on you. You’ve got to do your best and leave it all out there. Obviously, you suppose you’re playing for a spot next year. You want to show that you’re still committed and still want to win.”
Unlike most Sabres, hockey won’t end for Pysyk and rookie winger Brian Flynn after Friday’s season finale against the New York Islanders. Rochester clinched a playoff spot over the weekend, and the duo is slated to rejoin the Amerks for their postseason run.
“Ultimately, this is where I want to play,” Flynn said, “but if they want me to go down there and play in the playoffs, then obviously I’m more than happy to. I played most of the year down there with those guys, so I’d still feel like I was part of it.”
Flynn recorded 16 goals and 32 points in 45 games with the Amerks, while Pysyk put up four goals and 18 points in 57 outings.
Pysyk might add more stats and memorable moments in the coming weeks, but few will stick out like the final minute of an otherwise forgettable game.
“You want to just get that first one out of the way so you don’t have to worry about it,” he said. “Lucky enough, it went in.”