Eriah Hayes is hoping the 15 games he spent with the San Jose Sharks last season is just the beginning to a long and fruitful career.
"Looking into the crowd, you have 22,000 people. It's packed. I think I took a center ice face off and I was going up to that face and thinking 'Wow, I'm really here," Hayes said when reflecting on his NHL debut.
That "welcome to the NHL" moment ended one journey and began another for La Crescent's Eriah Hayes.
Hayes made his NHL debut January 5 at Chicago after a surprise call-up from to the San Jose Sharks from their minor league affiliate in Worcester.
."It was a dream come true for sure. I didn't see it coming. I was playing really good hockey at the time. You just never really know when an opportunity is going to knock on the door.
It's a dream that's been in the making for quite some time.
And it all started from humble beginnings at the La Crescent Community Ice Arena.
It also took him to Waterloo,Iowa, Minnesota State-Mankato and then to the Sharks minor league affiliate in Worcester, Massachusetts.
"Coming back into the rink today was pretty cool. I was thinking of all the memories and all games I played here. It's a good feeling knowing all the little guys look up to me. I remember looking up to guys in high school. It's definitely a cool feeling. I'm just glad I can be a role model for kids."
Three weeks after his NHL debut came another first: His first NHL goal, January 30 at Calgary.
"It was a big weight off my shoulders. I don't know if there's a better feeling in the world than scoring your first goal in the NHL."
It was symbolic in way. It was a goal scored and a goal reached. "I think it's good for the kids to see, even if you're from a small town, not a hockey hotbed in Minnesota, you can still do it.
Hayes is viewed as an emerging talent in the Sharks organization.
He will compete for a roster spot starting September 10 when the Sharks open their training camp.