For the first time since he wore the maroon and gold of the Boston College Eagles, Noah Hanifin stepped onto TD Garden ice with his new team, the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, except his teammates had other ideas and did not follow the Boston native. They waited in the runway from their dressing room to the frozen sheet and let Hanifin have the ice in his hometown all to himself.
After joining their rookie defensemen, the Hurricanes went on to defeat the Boston Bruins 3-2 in overtime. It was an important two points in the standings for Carolina. They are challenging for an Eastern Conference wild card playoff spot and left Carolina trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins by just three points.
Hanifin played a big role in the Hurricanes’ victory. He emerged from the game with two assists, four shot attempts, one shot on goal, and one hit in 17:42 Time On Ice. His first assist was on the game’s first goal and his second point of the night came on the game winning goal.
On the play leading to the game winner, Hanifin controlled the puck into his defensive zone then took advantage of a Bruins change of players by sending a pass from his zone to the Bruins blue line onto Jeff Skinner’s tape. Skinner broke in alone and was stopped by Boston goaltender, Tuukka Rask. The rebound went to Phil Di Giuseppe and with Rask down and out of his crease, Di Giuseppe deposited the puck into a gaping net.
“I brought it back with (goaltender) Cam (Ward) and I was hoping that they would change and that they were, and that opened up Jeff there,” Hanifin said in describing how the play developed.
On the season, the first-year rearguard has 3 goals and 13 assists totaling 16 points in 65 games. Six of his points have come on the power play.
Following the game, his teammates bestowed Hanifin with the club’s “Team First Championship Belt” that is given out after each game to the player who goes above and beyond the call of duty for the team.
It was a night, Hanifin will, most likely, remember all of his life.
“It was a really cool experience, you know it was my first game here in the NHL and just to be able to get out there and get a win in front of all my family and friends, it was definitely a really cool experience.”
And how many family and friends were in TD Garden for his homecoming?
“Over fifty, a lot of people,” the 6-foot-3 blueliner said.
Those fifty-plus fans, undoubtedly, came away from the game impressed with Hanifin’s progress since he has entered the NHL as has his coach Bill Peters, who gets to see his budding star ply his trade every day.
“Oh, he’s elite,” Peters said without hesitation when asked to describe Hanifin. “I mean this kid is a lot of fun, a lot of fun to coach, a lot of fun to see him develop and continue on. I thought he had a real good night here and he’s got a real huge upside. His upside is…we’ll see, when it’s all said and done. But I’ll tell you what, he’s a good player right now and nineteen years old.”
If his development continues at this rate, one can only imagine how good Noah Hanifin will be the next time he steps on TD Garden ice.
Follow ESPN New Hampshire’s NHL Writer, Shawn Hutcheon, on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.