RALEIGH — Andrei Svechnikov is a talented player and high draft pick, but he’s still just 18 years old. So there are times when he seems a little out of place in an NHL locker room.
Friday was one of those nights.
The Carolina Hurricanes had won two straight and were about to finish off a season-long six-game homestand. So the Canes’ rookie decided it was time to goof off.
Messing around with a soccer ball, he accidentally bounced a shot in the direction of five-year veteran Jordan Martinook.
“Svech kind of (ticked) me off before the game,” Martinook said. He got on me pretty hard in soccer. Me and him had a moment of silence between the two of us.”
Svechnikov entered a guilty plea.
“I just hit the ball on his head,” he admitted. “He was angry a little bit but it was good.”
Things certainly turned out that way, as a riled up Martinook scored a hat trick to lead the Hurricanes to a 4-1 win over the visiting Florida Panthers. The win was Carolina’s third straight and closed out the homestand with a 4-1-1 record.
“In the past, we’ve always had a long homestand, and it hsnt gone well,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “So I really just wanted to focus on one game and not make it like, ‘We’ve got to win three of four.’ I’ve still been just pushing that whole cliché stuff, and it turned out to be a pretty good homestand, if you look back on it.”
Martinook continued his hot start to the season. His seven goals on the year are more than he had all last season. In 2016-17, it took him until January 31 and game 44 to reach seven. The year before that, it was February 4 and game 50.
“I’m just a guy that goes out and works hard,” Martinook said.
That made his hat trick even more special for the rest of the team.
“He’s the kind of player that — you deserve that,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s worked so hard. He’s hit more posts this year, already.”
Partial credit for Martinook’s big game goes to his young linemate, who found that passing the veteran the puck was a little better received than passing him a soccer ball. Svechnikov assisted on two of Martinook’s three goals in the game.
“Getting better,” Brind’Amour said of the rookie. “There’s still some lapses. It’s the NHL. There’s a lot going on, a lot to pick up. But he’s willing to learn. That’s why I know he’s going to get all this at some point. He’s going to be a really, really good player. He’s already getting there, from where he started. It’s only been a couple months. He’s come a long way.”
“He’s learning,” Martinook agreed. “When he doesn’t make a good play, he’ll come back to the bench. We’ll say something to him. He’s like a sponge.”
He’s clearly learned at least one important lesson, and it’s not that he needs to be careful during pregame soccer drills. No, it’s that you never mess with a winning streak.
“It’s sports,” Svechnikov said of the pregame soccer ball mishap. “Now we’ve got to do that every game.”
Martinook yelled, “You’d better not,” from nearby but later admitted the kid had a point.
“I guess he needs to get on me a little bit more,” he said.