Reliving Every NHL Team’s First Goal

The NHL played its first games on Dec. 19, 1917. Although there is no definitive time for the first puck drop in league history, research shows that the Montreal Wanderers faced off against the Toronto Arenas shortly before the Ottawa Senators took on the Montreal Canadiens. The NHL recognizes Wanderers’ defenseman Dave Ritchie for scoring the first goal in league history. 

Related: Wayne Gretzky, Alex Ovechkin and the Goalies They Scored On

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Ritchie played six seasons in the NHL with six franchises, appearing in 57 games and tallying 15 goals from 1917 to 1926. He never won any awards, let alone a Stanley Cup title; however, his place in hockey history is undoubtedly secure as the first player to score a goal in the world’s largest hockey league. 

There are now 32 franchises in the NHL, almost quadrupling the number of teams in 1917-18. With each new addition, there’s a special place for a player to score that franchise’s first goal and become a part of history. 

Arizona Coyotes – Morris Lukowich (Oct. 10, 1979)

Before relocating to the desert in 1995, the Arizona Coyotes were the Winnipeg Jets. After the World Hockey Association (WHA) folded in 1979, the NHL adopted four teams, including the Jets. During their first contest, a 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Civic Arena, Morris Lukowich beat Greg Millen at 13:34 of the second period for the first goal in team history. 

Anaheim Ducks – Sean Hill (Oct. 3, 1993)

Initially, Disney owned the Anaheim Ducks, which debuted in 1993 as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Unfortunately, in their first game against the Detroit Red Wings, they were blown out 7-2.

After falling behind 3-0, Ducks’ forward Sean Hill scored a power-play goal on Peter Ing at 4:13 of the second period for the team’s first-ever goal.

Boston Bruins – Smokey Harris (Dec. 1, 1924)

As the first American franchise in the NHL, the Boston Bruins played their first game against the Maroons at the Boston Arena. Historically, Smokey Harris tallied the first goal in franchise history, beating Clint Benedict at 3:30 of the second period. Ultimately, the Bruins lost the contest 2-1. 

Buffalo Sabres – Jim Watson (Oct. 10, 1970)

The Buffalo Sabres joined the NHL in 1970 and, to this day, remain one of a handful of franchises never to win a Stanley Cup championship. While facing off against the Penguins at Civic Arena, Jim Watson scored Buffalo’s first goal when he beat netminder Les Binkley at 5:01 of the second period. Interestingly, the Sabres won the game 2-1. 

Calgary Flames – Morris Stefaniw (Oct. 7, 1972)

Before moving to Calgary, Alberta (1980), the Flames were the first NHL team to call Atlanta, Georgia, home. As the Atlanta Flames skated in their first game against the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Morris Stefaniw scored a shorthanded goal on Gerry Desjardins at 12:48 of the first period. Ultimately, the Flames won the contest 3-2. 

Carolina Hurricanes – Gordie Roberts (Oct. 11, 1979)

As many fans know, the Carolina Hurricanes debuted in 1997 after two decades in Hartford, Connecticut, as the Whalers. During their first game against the Minnesota North Stars at Metropolitan Sports Center, Gordie Roberts beat Gary Edwards at 14:15 of the third period to collect the franchise’s first goal. Unfortunately, it was their only tally of the night, as Hartford would lose 4-1. 

Related: Hartford Whalers: A Look Back at the Demise of the Brass Bonanza

Chicago Blackhawks – George Hay (Nov. 17, 1926)

The Chicago Blackhawks are one of the Original Six franchises, joining the NHL in 1926 and winning six Stanley Cup titles in their history. While playing their first game at Chicago Coliseum against the Toronto St. Pats, George Hay scored on John Ross Roach just one minute into the contest en route to a 4-1 victory. 

Colorado Avalanche – Real Cloutier (Oct. 10, 1979)

After 16 seasons as the Quebec Nordiques, the franchise moved to Denver in 1995 and became the Colorado Avalanche. Interestingly, the team lost their first game (5-3) to the Flames (Atlanta) at Quebec Coliseum. However, Réal Cloutier became the first player to score a hat trick in a team’s debut, beating Dan Bouchard three times in the third period, tallying the Nordiques’ first goal at 9:51. 

Columbus Blue Jackets – Bruce Gardiner (Oct. 7, 2000)

The NHL welcomed the Columbus Blue Jackets in 1999; however, the team didn’t play until the following season. In their initial game against the Blackhawks at Nationwide Arena, Bruce Gardiner scored the franchise’s first goal at 7:34 of the first period against Jocelyn Thibault.

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Unfortunately, the Blackhawks won the contest 5-3. However, both teams would finish the regular season with 71 points to finish at the bottom of the Central Division.

Dallas Stars – Bill Masterton (Oct. 11, 1967)

The North Stars were one of the original six expansion teams in 1967, staying in Minnesota until a move to Dallas in 1993. Historically, the first goal in team history belongs to Bill Masterton, whose power-play goal against Seth Martin and the St. Louis Blues came at 15:21 of the first period. Eventually, the two teams ended the game in a 2-2 tie at St. Louis Arena, while Masterton played another 37 games before passing away at age 29

Detroit Red Wings – Harold Halderson (Nov. 20, 1926)

When Detroit entered the NHL in 1926, they were the Cougars and then the Falcons before becoming the Red Wings in 1932. Historically, the Bruins shut them out in their first game (2-0), so Harold Halderson scored the first goal in their second game. Although they lost 4-1 to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Duquesne Gardens, he scored the game’s last goal at 19:54 to break Roy Worters’ shutout.

Edmonton Oilers – Kevin Lowe (Oct. 10, 1979)

Considering the legends who played for the Edmonton Oilers in their first game, it is shocking that Wayne Gretzky did not score the first goal but took the first penalty (slashing) in team history. Instead, Kevin Lowe tallied a power-play goal at 9:49 of the first period on Tony Esposito and the Blackhawks at Chicago Stadium. Eventually, the Oilers lost the contest 4-2. 

Florida Panthers – Scott Mellanby (Oct. 6, 1993)

Within a year of the league launching a team in Tampa Bay, the NHL was in Miami to welcome the Florida Panthers. In the franchise’s first game at historic Chicago Stadium against the Blackhawks, Scott Mellanby scored a power-play goal on Ed Belfour at 12:31 of the first period. Interestingly, the two teams battled to a 4-4 tie that night. 

Scott Mellanby Florida Panthers
Scott Mellanby, Florida Panthers (Rick Stewart / Allsport)

Historically, many people may have forgotten that Mellanby scored the team’s first goal. Realistically, he’s more famous for his two-goal performance in the 1995-96 home opener, leading to the “rat trick,” an iconic goal celebration still celebrated 30 years later.

Related: Florida Panthers Rats: How the Tradition Came to Be

Los Angeles Kings – Brian Kilrea (Oct. 14, 1967)

The Los Angeles Kings joined the NHL during the league’s first major expansion in 1967. Historically, in their first game, they faced off against another expansion club, the Philadelphia Flyers, at Long Beach Convention Center. Interestingly, the Kings won that game 4-2, thanks to two goals from Brian Kilrea, who tallied L.A.’s first goal at 3:20 of the second period against Doug Favell. 

Minnesota Wild – Marián Gáborik (Oct. 6, 2000)

After losing the North Stars in 1993, the NHL returned to Minnesota when the Minnesota Wild joined the league in 2000. During their first game against the Mighty Ducks at Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, franchise icon Marián Gáborik scored the first goal at 18:59 of the second period against Guy Hebert. Sadly, it was the only goal for the Wild, who lost 3-1.

Montreal Canadiens – Joe Malone (Dec. 19, 1917)

The Montreal Canadiens are among the most successful organizations in professional sports, thanks to 24 Stanley Cup titles. Historically, it is only fitting that one of the game’s original stars, Joe Malone, tallied the first goal for the Canadiens during a 7-4 win over the Senators at The Arena. After beating Clint Benedict at 6:30 of the first period, Montreal won 7-4.

Related: Top 10 Goal Scorers in Montreal Arena History

Nashville Predators – Andrew Brunette (Oct. 13, 1998)

Surprisingly, the Nashville Predators were shut out (1-0) in their first game by the Panthers; therefore had to wait to celebrate their first goal. During the team’s second contest, which came against the Hurricanes at Nashville Arena, Andrew Brunette tallied the first goal for Nashville at 5:12 of the first period against Trevor Kidd. Eventually, the Predators hung on for a 3-2 win. 

New Jersey Devils – Simon Nolet (Oct. 9, 1974)

Before becoming the New Jersey Devils in 1982, the team played as the Kansas City Scouts (1974-76) and Colorado Rockies (1976-82). During the franchise’s inaugural game against the Maple Leafs at Maple Leafs Garden, Simon Nolet collected the first goal at 56 seconds of the second period against Doug Favell. Unfortunately, the Scouts ended up losing the game 6-2. 

New York Islanders – Ed Westfall (Oct. 7, 1972)

Within six years of joining the NHL in 1972, the New York Islanders became the league’s last true dynasty, winning four straight titles between 1980 and 1984. Before that success, they played their first game against the Flames (Atlanta) at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Ed Westfall, New York Islanders
Ed Westfall, New York Islanders (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)

Interestingly, Ed Westfall, who became the team’s first captain, scored a power-play goal at 19:29 of the second period against Phil Myre for New York’s first goal. 

New York Rangers – Bill Cook (Nov. 16, 1926)

The New York Rangers have reigned in New York City since 1926, winning four Stanley Cup titles as one of the league’s Original Six franchises. Historically, their first game came against the Maroons at Madison Square Garden, where Bill Cook scored their only goal at 18:37 of the second period against Clint Benedict in a 1-0 win. 

Ottawa Senators – Neil Brady (Oct. 8, 1992)

The Ottawa Senators returned to the NHL in 1992, once operating as a team from 1883 to 1934. Considering the current team does not share a history, Neil Brady is in the history books with their first goal against the Canadiens. During a contest at Civic Centre Arena, he scored a power-play goal just 26 seconds into the second period against Patrick Roy en route to a 5-3 win.

Philadelphia Flyers – Bill Sutherland (Oct. 11, 1967)

The Flyers joined the NHL in 1967 and were Stanley Cup champions within seven seasons, establishing a league record in 1974. However, their first game had different results, a 4-1 loss to the Oakland Seals at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena. Interestingly, Bill Sutherland collected the Flyers’ only goal, a power-play tally at 10:07 of the second period against Charlie Hodge. 

Related: Philadelphia Flyers History Trivia

Pittsburgh Penguins – Andy Bathgate (Oct. 11, 1967)

The Penguins are one of the most successful expansion franchises, with five Stanley Cup titles. Historically, their first game came against the Canadiens at Civic Arena, who eeked out a 2-1 victory. During the third period, Andy Bathgate scored the only goal for the Penguins at 7:06, beating Rogie Vachon. 

San Jose Sharks – Craig Cox (Oct. 4, 1991)

The San Jose Sharks were one of the newest NHL franchises in the 1990s, playing their first game against the Vancouver Canucks at Pacific Coliseum. Interestingly, the Sharks fell behind 3-0 before Craig Cox beat Kirk McLean at 4:09 of the third period. Eventually, San Jose tied it 3-3 before losing the game 4-3 in the dying seconds.

Seattle Kraken – Ryan Donato (Oct. 12, 2021)

In 2021, the Seattle Kraken became the latest NHL expansion team. Moreover, in September, Ryan Donato joined the team as one of their final free-agency signings.

Ryan Donato Seattle Kraken
Ryan Donato, Seattle Kraken (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Eventually, in the Kraken’s first game, against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena, Donato scored the franchise’s first goal at 11:32 of the second period against Robin Lehner. Unfortunately, the Kraken lost the contest 4-3. 

Related: Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft Tracker

St. Louis Blues – Larry Keenan (Oct. 11, 1967)

Interestingly, the Blues became the last expansion team from 1967 to win the Stanley Cup, with a victory during the 2019 season. Historically, their first game ended in a 2-2 tie against the North Stars at St. Louis Arena. During that initial contest, Larry Keenan tallied the first goal at 3:22 of the third period against Garry Bauman. 

Tampa Bay Lightning – Chris Kontos (Oct. 7, 1992)

The Tampa Bay Lightning had one of the best first games in league history, beating up the Blackhawks 7-3 at the Expo Hall. Interestingly, just 4:43 into the first period, Chris Kontos scored a power-play goal against Ed Belfour. Statistically, Kontos finished the night with four lamplighters, setting an NHL record for most goals in a franchise debut. 

Toronto Maple Leafs – Reg Noble (Dec. 19, 1917)

The Maple Leafs were initially called the Toronto Arenas and began operations in 1917. Interestingly, the franchise participated in the official first game in league history, dropping a 10-9 contest to the Montreal Wanderers at Montreal Arena. After falling behind 2-0 early in the first period, Reg Noble scored the first goal in Leafs’ history at 3:05, beating Bert Lindsay.

Vancouver Canucks – Barry Wilkins (Oct. 9, 1970)

The Vancouver Canucks have celebrated 52 years as a franchise; however, they are still chasing their first Stanley Cup championship. Debuting at Pacific Coliseum against the Kings, the team lost 3-1, with Barry Wilkins tallying their only goal. After falling behind 2-0, he beat Denis DeJordy at 2:14 of the third period. 

Vegas Golden Knights – James Neal (Oct. 6, 2017)

During the 2017 Golden Knights Expansion Draft, the team selected James Neal, who scored their first goal against the Stars at American Airlines Center. After falling behind 1-0, Neal tied the contest up with a goal at 10:27 of the third period against Kari Lehtonen.

James Neal
James Neal, Vegas Golden Knights (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Shortly after, he secured the franchise’s first win (2-1) with his second tally of the night. Eventually, the Golden Knights lost in the Stanley Cup Final the following spring.

Washington Capitals – Jim Hrycuik (Oct. 9, 1974)

Historically, the Washington Capitals own the record for the worst season in NHL history, winning only eight games in 1974. However, in their opening night contest against the Rangers, they tallied the first goal when Jim Hrycuik scored at 5:06 of the first period against Ed Giacomin. Although they led twice in the contest, the Capitals lost 6-3. 

Winnipeg Jets – Kelly Buchberger (Oct. 2, 1999)

Although the Winnipeg Jets have been in Manitoba since 2011, the team shares a history with the Atlanta Thrashers, which came into existence in 1999. During the franchise’s first game against the Devils at Phillips Arena, Kelly Buchberger scored the only goal for the Thrashers in a 4-1 loss. Interestingly, his lamp lighter at 11:26 of the second period came against Martin Brodeur.

Historical Perspective 

There has yet to be a player to score a franchise’s first goal for two teams; however, there is one goalie in league history to surrender three first goals. After giving up tallies to the Bruins, Canadiens, and Rangers, Benedict stands alone as the only netminder to be a part of history on three occasions. Meanwhile, there are only two other goalies with multiple first goals against, including Favell (Devils and Kings) and Belfour (Lightning and Panthers).

Every hockey player who laces up their skates as a kid dreams of making it to the NHL someday. When they eventually achieve that dream, the next task is scoring their first goal and getting the game puck. Although there have been thousands of first goals in league history, there have only been 32 franchise-first goals. Ultimately, these moments in time have a special place in NHL history, and without digging through the yearbooks, many fans would not remember the player who scored their favorite team’s first goal.

2023 NHL Entry Draft Guide Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli Banner

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