You could forgive Zach Aston-Reese for having a few butterflies fluttering around before Tuesday night’s game against the Hartford Wolf Pack. After all, the 22-year old was about to make his professional hockey debut while suiting up on the top line for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
“I was a little nervous in warm ups. I think I whiffed on half of my shots,” he laughed following the Pens’ 5-2 win. “But halfway through the first I got my confidence a little bit.”
And by the end of the period, any semblance of nervousness was gone.
The leading scorer in the NCAA this season, Aston-Reese netted his first pro goal with just 17.3 seconds left in the opening frame, giving the Penguins a 3-2 lead after 20 minutes of play.
The goal came off of a goal line feed from team captain Tom Kostopoulos, who found Aston-Reese in the slot.
“TK made a really nice play to me. I didn’t hesitate, I just put it on net,” said Aston-Reese. “It was fortunate enough to go in.”
The Northeastern product was being a bit modest saying he was fortunate to score. Goals have come at a prodigious pace for the recently signed free agent this season, as he scored 31 times in 38 games with the Huskies during his senior year.
Head coach Clark Donatelli was impressed with what he saw out of the rookie forward.
“Quick release. For his first game, he’s pretty poised with the puck,” said Donatelli. “You can tell he’s a goal scorer.”
Aston-Reese didn’t look out of place skating with Kostopoulos and Kevin Porter, two vets who had combined to play more than 1,900 professional games headed into last night’s action. But he did notice a bit of a difference in one area compared to the college game.
“I said on the bench to TK actually that guys are a lot stronger and it’s tougher to get to the net,” he remarked.
Tuesday was just a taste of the AHL for Aston-Reese. The Penguins will play three games in three days this weekend, something which is a rarity in the college ranks. Still, the Staten Island native is looking forward to the challenge of the late season schedule.
“It’s not going to get any easier. I just have to keep my mind right, keep my body going here.”
NOTES: Aston-Reese became the first Penguins player to score in his pro debut sine Kasperi Kapanen tallied against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on April 8, 2015…Aston-Reese became the 77th Penguins player to receive an assist from Tom Kostopoulos.