Tomas Kundratek could not have been happier about playing just over 11 minutes. This was the 22-year-old defenseman’s NHL debut Wednesday night with the Washington Capitals and it was impossible to take the smile off his face.
“It was best day of my life,” he said.
It wasn’t perfect, his performance in those 16 shifts he took for 11:09 in the Caps’ 1-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was out of position at times but generally went unnoticed.
That’s a good thing.
“He was a little nervous, but he kept it simple and moved the puck and he didn’t make any mistakes,” coach Dale Hunter said.
Kundratek played with veteran Roman Hamrlik, a thrill for a kid who grew up watching Hamrlik, a fellow Czech countryman.
Watching Kundratek go through his first NHL game was a thrill for teammates, too.
“Oh yeah. I enjoyed that,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “In fact, he was pretty fired up about it too. And he was great. He was great on the bench and even at practice this morning it seemed like he was having a blast. So it was good to see.”
Kundratek won’t be expected to fill Mike Green’s role as a top power-play guy and minutes-eating defenseman, but he brings fresh blood to a team that had lost two in a row.
More comfort will come in time on the ice.
“I feel like I played solid,” Kundratek said. “Every game I’ll go shift by shift and it will give me more confidence.”
Solid isn’t a ringing self-endorsement, but Kundratek also doesn’t seem like the kind of player who will overvalue his accomplishments.
Whether this is a brief cameo or a long-term stay with the Caps remains to be seen, and as of Wednesday night the defenseman didn’t really have an answer.
“I don’t know yet. You have to ask coach this question,” he said. “I put my all in the game and that’s it.”
That’s just about all the Caps can ask.