SAN JOSE – The long road has paid off for Jeff Zatkoff.
The Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender, who spent his first professional season with the then-ECHL’s Ontario Reign in 2008-09, was on the ice for the postgame celebration following his team’s 3-1, Game 6 win over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night.
The 29-year-old started the first two postseason games for the Penguins, winning one of them, and was on the SAP Center ice with the rest of his teammates to celebrate.
“It feels great, words can’t describe it,” he told ECHL.com. “It’s been a long journey to get here with a lot of ups and downs, but it’s all worth it. It’s a special moment for me, and it hasn’t really set in. But for me to get those first games, get a win and get it started, it feels special to have one of those wins.”
The third-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2008, Zatkoff was assigned to the ECHL after a three-year collegiate career with the Miami University RedHawks. He posted a 2.97 goals against average and .915 save percentage in 37 games before eventually moving to the American Hockey League, where he spent the next four seasons before making his National Hockey League debut in 2013-14.
Although he was serving as the team’s third goalie during the stretch run after the emergence of Matt Murray, Zatkoff still relished his opportunity to lift the most cherished trophy in all of sports over his head.
He just couldn’t tell you what was going through his mind when he did it.
“I blacked out,” he said. “Pure emotion, pure joy. Just a lot of hard work, and (there were) a lot of people that helped me get to this point, so it was a real exciting moment.”
It’s moments like that one that drove Zatkoff during the early days of his career.
“It’s why we play,” he said. “This is the ultimate prize, to win the Stanley Cup. To be a part of something like this, it doesn’t get any better.”