By Phil Stacey
---- — BOSTON — The end result was not at all what he and his teammates were hoping for.
But the simple fact that John McCarthy was able to play his first professional hockey game before family and friends at the TD Garden last night was a nice consolation.
McCarthy, the former St. John’s Prep and Boston University captain, skated a regular shift for the San Jose Sharks last night during their heartbreaking 2-1 loss to the Bruins — a game in which the visitors dominated statistically, but the hosts won on a goal with 8/10ths of a second remaining.
“It was cool, a great experience for me,” said McCarthy, now 27 years old and in his fifth pro season.”It’s not the outcome we were looking for, but it was a good experience for me. And my family, girlfriend and some friends from home were able to see me play, which was cool.”
The Andover native, who wears No. 43, began the night skating left wing on the Sharks’ fourth line with center Andrew Desjardins and newly acquired enforcer Mike Brown on the right side, but was moved up to the third line late in the second period after teammate Tommy Wingels suffered an injury and did not return.
For the night, the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder played 17 minutes and 17 seconds over 25 shifts. He was credited with one shot on Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (a wrist shot in the slot that Rask knocked away), one hit, a blocked shot and won his only faceoff. He also spent 41 seconds killing a San Jose penalty.
“I got a lot of ice time and got moved up to the third line, which was nice,” he said. “I thought we played well defensively and got some momentum going on the forecheck. That’s pretty much my role.”
McCarthy, who figured he’s the only born and bred Red Sox fan in the San Jose locker room (although some of the Sharks’ players scored tickets to Game 1 of the World Series Wednesday night at Fenway), was a healthy scratch the only other time he was up with the Sharks and they came to Boston (Feb 5, 2011). Last night, he was a regular contributor for a Sharks team that lost for the first time in regulation (8-1-1) this season, the last NHL club to do so.
“We threw a lot of shots at Tuukka and probably deserved better, but that’s the way hockey goes sometimes,” said Sharks (and former Bruin) captain Joe Thornton.
With a slew of talent up front, San Jose’s offensive game plan is simple: use its speed and skill to attack opponents coming through the neutral zone and into scoring areas. McCarthy isn’t a sniper along the lines of, say, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, rookie Tomas Hertl or Thornton. But the speed his possesses, the pressure he’s able to apply via the forecheck and consistent play in all three zones area areas of the game in which he can excel.
“That’s one of things we always talk about, creating speed and pressure. With our team speed, we want all four lines contributing,” said McCarthy, who was able to go out to dinner with family members earlier in the week after the Sharks arrived in Boston late Monday night following a game in Detroit.
Last night was McCarthy’s 55th NHL game; he’s spent much more of his professional career with the Sharks’ American Hockey League team in Worcester (231 games). He’s well aware of his situation; play well when given the chance in San Jose — be it because of an injury to another forward, the need for an infusion of new blood or another reason entirely — and he’ll stick around. If not, his ticket gets punched back to Central Massachusetts.
“It’s a day-to-day thing. I’ve got to be on top of my game every day or I’ll find myself back in Worcester,” McCarthy, who has 2 goals and 4 points in his NHL career, admitted. “It’s not my job to make that decision, so I just have to focus on playing my game.
“I think I’m getting better at that. This is my fifth year in this sort of situation, so I kind of tell myself, ‘just play the game and things will sort themselves out.’”
Although he has a place in South Boston, McCarthy has been staying in a hotel in Worcester because he only played two games in the AHL this season before being called up to San Jose. If he never went back to that hotel this season, that’d be just fine with him.