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A Night to Remember

Ex-Gopher Pitlick keeps NHL debut close to home

Former University of Minnesota forward Rem Pitlick made his NHL debut for Nashville in the Predators’ 1-0 win over his hometown Minnesota Wild on Monday night at Xcel Energy Center. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

Ex-Gopher Pitlick keeps NHL debut close to home

St. Paul — A little more than a week ago, Rem Pitlick saw his junior season with the Minnesota Gophers squad come to an abrupt and controversial end. The Gophers lost 2-1 in overtime to Notre Dame in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, meaning there would also be no NCAA Tournament for the maroon and gold.

Turns out, Pitlick will still be part of a postseason club. It’s just on another level.

Pitlick made his NHL debut with the Nashville Predators Monday night and it just happened to be close to home at Xcel Energy Center as the Predators faced the division-rival Minnesota Wild. He skated 14 shifts for 9:43 on the ice as the Predators clinched a playoff spot with a 1-0 victory.

“That was crazy out there,” Pitlick said. “It was a lot of fun. Definitely some learning moments, but something I’ll never forget.”

Pitlick, a third-round (76th overall) Nashville pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, left the University of Minnesota early and signed a two-year, entry-level contract with Nashville on March 22 following the season-ending loss for the Gophers on March 16.

In three seasons with the Gophers, Pitlick skated in 112 games scoring 47 goals and 108 points. He set career highs in all three offensive categories this past junior season, scoring 21 goals, 24 assists and 45 points.

He turns 22 years old on April 2. Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said Pitlick looked good and played a smart game in his debut.

“It’s a big task to come in, a young player that is meeting a team for the first time and a coach and a system,” Laviolette said. “That could be a bit overwhelming, but our guys are pretty good in there. They’re good guys. They took care of him.”

Plymouth’s Rem Pitlick warms up on the Xcel Energy Center ice prior to his first game as a professional. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

Still, Pitlick was the one that had to get out there and play the game, Laviolette added. Pitlick was listed as the right wing of the second line on the lineup sheet, along with center Kyle Turris and a familiar face to Minnesota fans, Mikael Granlund.

The Predators (43-28-6) took a 1-0 lead with a shorthanded goal from Ryan Johansen 4 minutes, 32 seconds into the game. It was a lead that held up despite 29 shots from the Wild (35-33-9) on Nashville netminder Juuse Saros.

Though Pitlick didn’t register a shot on goal, he played a role in the victory and didn’t have any glaring mistakes either. Late in the first period, he chipped the puck into the Wild zone and got it to Granlund for a scoring chance that was broken up. Near the end of the second, Pitlick sent a neutral-ice pass to Granlund who fired a shot on Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Pitlick helped set up Granlund for another scoring chance early in the third, too.

He also took his first NHL penalty, for delay of game, when he sent the puck down the ice and up over the glass with 10:50 to play in the third period. It came as the Wild’s Marcus Foligno was going off for holding, so the result was 4-on-4 hockey rather than Pitlick putting his team on the penalty kill.

Pitlick said after the game that he was nervous out on the ice, jumping into a level of time and space that is a lot faster than what he’s played.

“But I think with more games and with just watching the game even more, you’re going to know that you have even more time than you really think you do out there,” Pitlick said. “Something I think I’ll gain with maturity as I continue playing.”

Pitlick did well jumping in for his first time, his coach said.

“There was a lot of wall play on breakouts in the defensive zone where I thought he won the battles,” Laviolette said. “He was in the right spot. He did the right things.”

He continues to follow in his father’s footsteps. Lance Pitlick was a defenseman for the Gophers from 1986-90 prior to an eight-year NHL career with Ottawa and Florida. A ninth-round (180th overall) NHL Draft pick, skated in 393 career NHL games, scoring 16 goals and 33 assists. Rem’s cousin, Tyler Pitlick, started in the NHL with Edmonton in 2013-14 and is currently with the Dallas organization.

During warm-ups Monday, there were some fans in Predators gear around the Nashville zone and bench area. Pitlick, a Plymouth native, took the ice first, skating around a bit and putting a puck in the net before his teammates joined him and the Wild skated out at the other end. At the end of warm-ups, Pitlick set up P.K. Subban for some slapshot practice before firing the puck into the net himself and was the last to leave the ice.

After the game, Pitlick was asked about the text messages he received throughout the day, and he said he’d get back to as many people as he could.

“There’s a lot of people that helped me get to this moment,” Pitlick said. “Those people know who they are, and I’m forever grateful for them.”

Heather's love for watching hockey started when the Minnesota Wild came to town in 2000. Before that, she caught a few Minnesota Moose games as a youngster, and more recently she's kept up with the Austin Bruins and Fargo Force. She's a writer, freelance journalist and blogger who previously worked as a news reporter in Austin and Fergus Falls, Minn. She enjoys watching sports and closely follows the Wild, Minnesota Twins, IndyCar Series, tennis and prep sports. Heather keeps up her sports blog Thoughts from the Stands. You can follow her on Twitter/X @hlrule or Instagram @hlrule.

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