PHOENIX – Arizona State goaltender Joey Daccord hoped to realize a dream in Buffalo, New York, by reaching the Frozen Four there in the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance.
That dream fell through when ASU lost its tournament opener, 2-1, to Quinnipiac in Allentown, Pennsylvania. But five days later, another dream came through for Daccord.
And in Buffalo, of all places.
Just a few days after the tournament loss, Daccord, who started all 35 games for the 21-13-1 Sun Devils, became the first ASU player ever to sign an NHL entry-level contract. He made his debut in goal April 4 for the Ottawa Senators at Buffalo’s KeyBank Center against the Sabres.
The cornerstone of the ASU program during its quick rise to national prominence, Daccord even wore his ASU helmet and pads during his debut with the Senators, who had drafted him with the 199th overall selection in the 2015 NHL Draft.
“It was indescribable,” said Daccord, a junior from North Andover, Massachusetts. “I had been pretty calm all week, and when I woke up that morning, it hit me that I’m playing in the NHL (Thursday night). It was pretty crazy.”
Daccord’s seven shutouts for the Sun Devils led the nation (along with Providence College goaltender Hayden Hawkey, who added an eighth in the NCAA Tournament). And he compiled a 2.35 goals-against average and .926 save percentage, warranting recognition as a finalist for the Mike Richter Award, annually given to the best goaltender in college hockey.
With the playoffs out of reach, the Senators elected to start Daccord, who agreed to a two-year contract, against the Sabres in Ottawa’s next-to-last game of the season. The matchup featured two of the bottom four teams in the Eastern Conference with Ottawa in last place.
Daccord battled the Sabres and his own nerves through the first period before settling into the game.
“Once the game started I was a little nervous,” Daccord said. “But I touched the puck right off the opening faceoff, and then I was like, ‘OK, we’re playing hockey, let’s go.’ ”
Daccord didn’t need long to shake the pre-game jitters. He showed flashes of his potential by stopping two quick shots against Buffalo center Sam Reinhart, stopping a wrist shot on a breakaway and then smothering Reinhart’s rebound attempt.
Couple nice stops by Joey Daccord pic.twitter.com/LyvU4Ttlrp
— Sens Prospects (@SensProspects) April 4, 2019
“It’s so much faster,” Daccord said of the NHL game. “They’re the best players in the world for a reason. The shots come off the stick so much quicker and the guys are so much faster. But I felt once I got through the first period, I really settled in.”
Daccord limited the Sabres to one goal in the opening period and Ottawa led, 2-1.
But he generated more buzz on the bench with a rookie moment during an Ottawa power play. A puck was cleared to Daccord and while he attempted to get the Senators’ rush going again, he collected the puck on his stick and tripped backward over his own skates with teammate and defenseman Christian Wolanin coming towards him.
Welcome to the NHL Joey Daccord pic.twitter.com/gEOyPnwX4B
— Ben Mathewson (@Ben_Mathewson) April 4, 2019
“Last time I checked, ice is still slippery in any rink,” Daccord said, smiling. “A couple guys on the bench hopped up and were banging their sticks on boards and laughing. I just gave them a head nod back and laughed. Everyone is going to fall. That’s just hockey.”
Wolanin gave the rookie some friendly ribbing after the play.
“He came over and said, ‘Hey, man, I wasn’t forechecking you. I’m on your team.’ We had a good laugh about it.”
The Senators ultimately lost 5-2. Daccord saved 35 of the 40 shots he faced with family members, friends and ASU coach Greg Powers in attendance.
“Seeing my parents after the game was extremely emotional,” he said. “They’ve put so much time and effort, love and support into me. And I had a special moment with my mom, but me and my dad shared a long embrace, and that was a really special moment that I’ll never forget.”