The nerves were jangling and his heart was beating loud in his ears when Scott Laughton jumped onto the ice in an NHL game for the first time in his young life on Saturday.
The Flyers' first-round draft pick, just 18 years old and trying desperately not to get sent back to juniors, also had the advice of teammate Scott Hartnell in his ears.
"He just told me to play my game and do the things that got me here," Laughton said. "Do every little thing right and the rest will take care of itself."
The advice was good and solid, and, fortunately, so is Laughton, who made his reputation as a defensively sound forward with the Oshawa Generals before being selected by the Flyers as the 20th pick in the 2012 draft.
Laughton has been staying with Hartnell since the lockout ended and the abbreviated training camp began last week. Who knows what other advice the irreverent Hartnell has imparted? But what he told Laughton before Saturday's game must have sunk in. Laughton swung onto the ice with linemates Wayne Simmonds and Matt Read for the third shift of the game and he knew he had to do one of two things.
"You either want to hit somebody or get hit and that takes care of it," Laughton said. "I tried to play the body early and get into the game that way. It's nice to get that out of the way."
He got it out of the way fast, going into the corner with a hard forecheck within seconds of entering the game. As coach Peter Laviolette has said of him during training camp, if you didn't know which player was the 18-year-old without a second of NHL experience you wouldn't be able to pick him out.
Laughton's first game yielded 17 shifts and more than 12 minutes of ice time. He looked as if he belonged, and, after a sluggish first period, the Flyers didn't look bad, either. They didn't get lucky on some chances and their power play looked rusty and was missing the pop of Danny Briere.
Overall, though, it was a crisper game than expected given the length of the lockout and the brief training camp. It was essentially a one-goal loss, even though Pittsburgh made the final score 3-1 with an empty-netter in the final seconds. Of the two previous goals allowed, one was a deflection that was simply a good goal, and the other was a coverage error on a faceoff in their defensive zone.
Laviolette will work to tighten up that stuff, but he probably won't have to work to get the energy level he demands. After picking up the pace near the end of the opening period, the Flyers pushed it pretty hard the rest of the game.
"Even though you worked out during the lockout, it wasn't really like being in game shape," Hartnell said. "I thought it could have been a lot worse. I've felt worse in my career before."
For his part, Laughton never felt better. He has a clock ticking on his NHL career, however, and just four more games to keep midnight away. If he plays a sixth game this season, his professional service time, which has an effect on future free agency, will begin.
It could be that the Flyers have no intention of keeping him around, and the training camp and a five-game baptism are just meant to give him some experience with the big club before he returns to Oshawa. He could disappear, in fact, as soon as Briere returns from a wrist injury, which could be later this week.
Of course, he could make them keep him, too. As it is, this is the first time in more than 30 years that the Flyers' top draft pick has started the season with the team in consecutive years. Sean Couturier preceded Laughton. (Since you asked, the last time it happened that way for consecutive top picks was 1979, when Brian Propp made the team one year after Behn Wilson.)
"Every game is a tryout for me," Laughton said. "It's tough to stay relaxed, because you really want to stay with the big club. Every day I wake up and it's a new experience."
Laviolette said he thought Laughton did fine in his debut, but he will probably need to see more, or at least more of the same, before making a decision on whether he stays.
"It was a tough situation for the kid. Sold-out building, the game's on NBC. I thought he handled it all well," Laviolette said. "He played responsible defense, had four or five good hits. He battled."
That's the coach's highest compliment right there, and with a few more good games Laughton could get the reward that goes with it. We'll wait on that, but the Flyers like what they see so far.
As for the team itself, we'll wait a while on that as well. One game isn't a career and one game isn't a season. There are clocks ticking for everyone, but after a long wait, it is nice just to see them started again.