His parents and brother were able to book last-minute flights from three different cities in order to watch him play first game with Habs.
When Jake Evans woke up Thursday morning, he had no idea he would be playing in his first NHL game with the Canadiens that night.
Evans had scored two goals and added an assist in the Laval Rocket’s 5-4 overtime win over the Utica Comets in AHL action Wednesday night at Place Bell. Around 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Evans learned the Canadiens were calling him up because they were short of players due to a flu bug going through the locker room.
Evans then phoned his parents — Wayne and Marilyn — and his brother, Matthew, to let them know he would be making his NHL debut Thursday night at the Bell Centre against the Anaheim Ducks.
“My dad was in Vancouver, my mom was in Toronto and my brother was in New York,” Evans said after practising with the Canadiens Friday morning in Brossard. “It was pretty cool when I called them all. They all just right away said: ‘We’re coming.’ So it was cool having them there. They brought you up, they supported you, they helped you out. It was really good.”
Evans’s brother at first thought it was a road game for the Canadiens, so he booked a flight to Anaheim before realizing his mistake and changing it for a flight to Montreal.
The 23-year-old Evans logged 11:19 of ice time as the Canadiens beat the Ducks 3-2 in overtime. Evans had two shots and two hits while playing right wing on a line with Max Domi at centre and Ilya Kovalchuk on left wing. Evans had a breakaway on his first shift and made a good move, but was stopped by Ducks goalie John Gibson.
Evans was leading the Rocket in scoring with 12-22-34 totals when he was called up and could be back in the Canadiens lineup again Saturday, when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Bell Centre (7 p.m., CBC, SN1, SNE, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). Forwards Tomas Tatar, Ryan Poehling and Jordan Weal all missed practice Friday with flu-like symptoms, as did defenceman Victor Mete.
Evans led the team stretch at the end of practice.
“That was pretty neat,” he said. “It’s just pretty crazy the past few days and it’s been a good experience.”
The Canadiens selected Evans in the seventh round (207th overall) at the 2014 NHL Draft and he spent four seasons at the University of Notre Dame, where he became captain, before joining the Rocket last season and posting 13-32-45 totals in 67 games. He never expected the Canadiens to call him up on Thursday.
“At my lowest point this season, I wasn’t probably thinking about that,” he said. “But I had a lot of great support in Laval. I had a lot of players tell me they’ve all been through that and that it’s just going to make you stronger. The coaching staff there believed in me and helped me out.”
Evans was mostly playing centre in Laval, but Canadiens coach Claude Julien put him on the wing for his NHL debut and liked the way he played with Domi and Kovalchuk.
“We know that Jake’s got some skill and so throwing him on that line I had no issues there,” Julien said after the game. “Had he struggled, I would have made the adjustment. But he didn’t, so I was able to keep him there for the whole game.”
Kovalchuk was impressed by Evans’s performance.
“Good for the first game in NHL,” said Kovalchuk, who picked up an assist against the Ducks and now has 5-6-11 totals in 14 games since signing with the Canadiens as a free agent. “First shift he got a breakaway … it would have been nice if he had scored. You always feel nervous when you play those games, but I think he did really good.”
Did Kovalchuk say anything to Evans before the game?
“I think Maxy talked to him because they were sitting next to each other,” the Russian winger said. “I just told him to be himself and do what you do best. Don’t overpass or anything … just play your game.”
Kovalchuk still remembers his first game in the NHL as an 18-year-old with the Atlanta Thrashers after being the No. 1 overall pick at the 2001 NHL Draft.
“It was in Buffalo,” Kovalchuk recalled. “I played with Dany Heatley on the same line. I think I got an assist. That’s all I remember. Ray Ferraro was on that team … he’s working for TSN now (as an analyst). Franky Kaberle was there, too. We had a lot of veteran guys there.”
Kovalchuk posted 29-22-51 totals in 65 games during his rookie season.
“It’s crazy how time flies,” he said. “Now I’m the oldest guy on the team.”