Coyotes’ Dvorak caps whirlwind week with first NHL goal
GLENDALE, Ariz. — On Monday afternoon, Coyotes rookie center Christian Dvorak walked out of Gila River Arena with a full equipment bag and a half-dozen sticks after he was assigned to Tucson of the American Hockey League.
He checked into a hotel in Tucson, took part in one practice and one morning skate on Wednesday as the Roadrunners’ prepared to face the Texas Stars, but he did not play because Tucson GM Doug Soetaert knew he was likely to be recalled in the wake of Martin Hanzal’s injury.
Sure enough, Dvorak was back in a car with Coyotes Director of Player Development Steve Sullivan on his way to the Valley for a morning skate and the Coyotes’ game against the Nashville Predators on Thursday night at Gila River Arena.
“It was a little bit crazy,” Dvorak said. “I was in the hotel there for like a day and a half and then packed back up again.”
Dvorak arrived with a chip on his shoulder. While he understood the Coyotes’ reasoning in wanting to get Dylan Strome some ice time while keeping Dvorak in game shape, it’s not a feeling he wants to experience too often.
He helped himself in that regard against the Predators. Dvorak scored his first NHL goal on a patient move to his backhand on which he waited to get goalie Pekka Rinne down, opening the upper portion of the net for Dvorak to lift a backhander in for a 1-0 lead at the 9:17 mark of the first period in Arizona’s 3-2 shootout win over Nashville.
“I had something to prove,” Dvorak said. “I saw the goalie and the D kind of bite toward the shot so I went on the backhand there and threw it on net and luckily it went in.
“It’s obviously special to get the first NHL goal and it’s nice to help the team win.”
Dvorak was also part of Anthony Duclair’s game-tying goal in the third period after coach Dave Tippett put him between Duclair and Max Domi to start the second period. He was part of a goal-mouth scramble and was originally credited with an assist before the official scorer took it away and assigned Domi the lone assist.
“He jumped out there and played a heck of a game,” Tippett said. “That’s the one thing he’s been missing in his game is that urgency — a little jump where you notice him out there and tonight he had that.”
The Coyotes insist they are happy with Dvorak’s progress. Like most rookies, there are parts of his game that need work and the Tucson assignment was simply part of the growth process — a process made easier by the Roadrunners’ proximity as of this year.
“It’s the first opportunity, after buying your American League franchise and moving it so close, to leverage that,” GM John Chayka said. “For Christian, we’re trying him in some different roles and some different capacities. We just felt there were some areas that he could work on and if he wasn’t going to be in the lineup [Thursday], the idea was to get him down to Tucson and get him playing some games to get ice and confidence and work on those things we wanted him to work on. That’s what that league is for.
“It wasn’t like we were disappointed or unhappy. It was about what’s in the best interest of the player. Let’s use our resources to help him get to where he wants to be and that’s not as a fourth-line center. That’s being a top-six player for us.”
Dvorak capped his goal with a fist pump that he insists is not part of his normal goal celebration.
“The moment got to me there,” he said.
So did this week for the Frankfort, Illinois product and lifelong Cubs fan.
“Very good 24 hours,” Dvorak said after the Cubs won the World Series on Wednesday, a day before his first goal. “They both were pretty cool for me.”
Coyotes at Ducks
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Honda Center, Anaheim, Calif.
TV: FOX Sports Arizona Plus
Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM
Records: Coyotes 4-6. Ducks 4-5-2.
Injury report: Coyotes — G Mike Smith (left leg) is on injured reserve. D Michael Stone (upper body) and C Martin Hanzal (lower body) are day-to-day but did not make the trip. LW Tobias Rieder (left leg) is day-to-day and made the trip. He’ll be evaluated in Anaheim. Ducks — C Ryan Getzlaf (upper body) and LW Nick Ritchie (head) are questionable. F Nate Thompson (Achilles tendon) and D Simon Despres (suspected concussion) are out long term.
Scouting the Ducks: The Ducks have lost their last two homes games to Columbus and Pittsburgh. … C Ryan Getzlaf leads the team with a nine points (one goal, eight assists) in nine games. … G John Gibson has a 2.58 goals against average and a. 911 save percentage, but the Orange County Register reported Jonathan Bernier could be called upon for his first start since Oct. 25 at San Jose, when he suffered an upper-body muscle injury. … The Coyotes went 3-2 against Anaheim last season, winning the first three meetings.
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