NEWARK, N.J. – It was a few minutes after the second game of Sidney Crosby’s latest comeback, and the second the Pittsburgh Penguins locker room opened at the Prudential Center, the assembled media made a mad dash to "The Kid’s" stall.
Largely left alone, however, was the relatively anonymous player stretching on the floor in the back left corner of the cramped space.
Walking past the endless sea of camera wires and media members would lead you to goaltender Brad Thiessen, who seemed to be enjoying his first extended taste of National Hockey League life.
"It’s exciting," said the Northeastern alum. "You work hard and you just try and wait for your opportunity. It’s all happened in the last few weeks, and I’m just trying to take advantage of it."
Thiessen, who played in 12 games for the Wheeling Nailers during the 2009-10 season, finally got his long-awaited and well-deserved opportunity after backup Brent Johnson went down with an undisclosed injury. Truth be told, there really wasn’t much left for the 25-year-old to accomplish at the American Hockey League level.
"They kept telling me that the opportunity was going to come," Thiessen told ECHL.com
"I tried to just maintain the work ethic and level that I could down there and just try and focus on my game there and not worry about what was or wasn’t going to happen."
He posted a 1.94 goals against average and .922 save percentage in 46 games for the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins last year, winning 35 games and the Aldege "Baz" Bastien Memorial Award as the league’s best goaltender along the way. Although, comparatively he struggled this season (2.88, .885 in 37 games), Thiessen finally earned some first playing time in the NHL this year and made his debut on Feb. 26 in Pittsburgh against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"I remember just going out there and being so excited," said Thiessen of his 22-save performance and first NHL win.
"I just remember before the game, when the coach was going through the lineup, and you realize you’re in it. That’s what you go out there and work so hard for all your life. To get to that top level and be able to play out there and help contribute to a win was a lot of fun."
Although he’s in just his third full professional season, the soft-spoken Aldergrove, British Columbua native has come a long way from those first games in Wheeling.
"I’m more experienced, of course," he said. "At that time, I was just trying to get my feet wet in pro hockey and now I feel like I’ve been able to do that and work on the different parts of my game that make you succeed at this level. Stuff like controlling rebounds and coming up with the big save at the right time."
Thiessen, who has 113 regular season games of experience at the AHL level, plus another 13 in the playoffs, didn’t have too big of an adjustment to make going from the ECHL to the AHL. But the AHL to the NHL was a little different.
"Guys are obviously that much better up here," he said. "Plays are more crisp, the speed of the game is faster. But it’s nice when you’re practicing against the best players in the world so you can test yourself against them when you’re playing in games."
Thiessen has made three starts for Pittsburgh and won them all, putting up an impressive 2.68 goals against average in the process.
With Johnson out for an unknown amount of time, Pittsburgh may have to rely on him to back up Marc-Andre Fleury once the Stanley Cup Playoffs roll around. The Penguins have been near the top of the Eastern Conference all season long thanks to strong play from Fleury, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin, but in his latest game, an 8-4 win over the Winnipeg Jets, he got to play in front of Sidney Crosby for the first time.
"It’s huge to get him back," Thiessen said with a smile.
"He’s the best player in hockey, and to be able to add that to your team when the team is pretty good as it is, it can definitely only help us as we go forward."