Monday, March 4, 2024

Late in the first period, Greg Koehler rose from the Hurricanes bench. He flung his legs over the boards and, for the first time, propelled himself into the heart of NHL action. The moment his left skate hit the ice, a dream was realized. It was Dec. 29, 2000, and he was a big leaguer.

Sitting on the bench most of the period had given Koehler time to take in his surroundings at Columbus’ Nationwide Arena and settle his nerves. By the time he went on for his first shift, he was clear-headed, hungry to show he belonged. He skated forward, crossing the GMC logo in front of the bench before turning toward the offensive zone. Carolina’s Ron Francis, a few strides ahead, raced toward a loose puck in the corner. Koehler followed, his eyes up in anticipation for a pass from his captain. It took eight strides for him to cross the blue line.

“Oh, there he is!” shouted his mom, Cathy Koehler, watching on TV from the family home in Scarborough, Ontario.

But as Koehler reached Carolina’s offensive zone, Blue Jackets forward Steve Heinze’s stick hooked around Francis. The veteran crashed to the ice and slid into the wall. An official blew his whistle immediately. It was a clear-cut penalty.

“Ah, f—,” Koehler thought to himself and instantly turned toward the bench. He wasn’t on Carolina’s power play unit, so he knew his shift was over. There had been other moments in the period Koehler had been ready to take the ice, but something always seemed to get in the way, be it a penalty or a teammate not heading to the bench for a line change.

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