Thursday night, Matt Kiersted and three of his Charlotte Checkers teammates played their third game in as many nights after the Florida Panthers called them up when a Covid-19 outbreak left the team shorthanded.
The payoff for Kiersted was not only getting to play in an NHL game, but scoring his first NHL goal.
“I honestly couldn’t believe it in the beginning,” Kiersted told Florida Hockey Now.
“Between the first and second periods, I had to pinch myself to make sure that it actually happened.
“It’s something you work your entire life for and to see all of the hard work you put in pay off in a way like that, it’s kinda tough to put into words of how I was feeling, but just very excited.”
Kiersted played in back-to-back games the two prior nights, including a three-assist performance in an 11-1 win against the Rochester Americans on Tuesday.
After the Checkers’ 4-2 win over the Americans on Wednesday, Kiersted was called into the coaches’ office and was told that he would be playing again on Thursday.
This game, however, would be at the NHL level due to the Covid problem in Sunrise.
“I was very excited. I was kind of lost for words,” Kiersted said. “Every time they call you in and tell you that you’re going to Florida, it’s pretty exciting news.
“I was pretty fired up and then I found out it was a group of us going. We were all pretty excited.”
The Charlotte traveling party consisted of Kiersted, Cole Schwindt, Grigori Denisenko and Chase Priskie.
All four of them took a flight from Charlotte to Fort Lauderdale at 10 a.m. on the morning of the game and prepared to take the ice for Game No. 3.
For Schwindt, it was his NHL debut.
Unforgettable night for these boys ❤️ pic.twitter.com/Uamp8j2nJS
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) December 17, 2021
Kiersted had to play the role of mentor for Schwindt as he was sitting next to him on the plane despite playing just 11 NHL games prior.
“Obviously, I’m not an NHL veteran or anything, but I have played a number of games in the NHL and it was his first game and he was super excited,” Kiersted said. “He was kind of bouncing around on the plane a little bit. He couldn’t sit still.”
Schwindt mentioned that Kiersted really calmed him down while the two sat next to each other on the plane ride to Fort Lauderdale that day.
“He was asking me questions and I was just telling him how the day was going to go,” Kiersted said. “The rookie lap, I know he was excited for that, we were talking about that a bit.
“I was just trying to give him a heads up of what he was walking into and I just told him to have fun with it.”
When the group got to South Florida that afternoon, Kiersted made sure to do everything he could to stay loose to play in that game.
“I got to the rink early and did a lot of stretching and warm-up to make sure I was loose going into it because the last thing you want to do is getting injured playing a game like that,” Kiersted said.
After playing as much hockey as he did in the two prior days, he also didn’t let that tire him at all heading into the game.
“Any time you’re able to get into an NHL lineup and play in the NHL, your adrenaline gets going, you don’t really have to worry about energy too much,” Kiersted said. “It was a three-in-three and our legs were a little tired, but I think our energy out of all four of us was pretty high.”
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) December 16, 2021
The Panthers leaned on Kiersted heavily, as the team was playing shorthanded — with just 11 forwards and five defensemen — and he delivered.
On top of scoring his first NHL goal, his 21:11 ranked fourth on the team in time-on-ice, trailing just Priskie, MacKenzie Weegar and Jonathan Huberdeau.
“It was a big game for us guys that got called up because we got to go in and play a lot of meaningful minutes,” Kiersted said.
“I think we can look back at it and say we can play in this league, we just have to take our time with it.
“It’s a process obviously, and there are areas we need to work on. Now we can work on that and try to be better the next time we get the call.”