October 26, 2017: The puck on his stick, Boston Bruins rookie Danton Heinen dashed into the San Jose Sharks’ zone before dishing off to veteran linemate David Backes.
Backes snapped the puck on net and it bounced off the pads of Sharks goaltender Martin Jones.
The disc laid deliciously in front of Jones where a wide open Heinen smoothly snapped it into the net, blocker side.
It was Heinen’s first NHL goal, an indelible moment for the Langley resident and Surrey Eagles alum who just four years ago was playing junior B hockey in tiny rinks in Aldergrove, Abbotsford, and Mission.
“It was pretty cool, something I’ll never forget,” Heinen recalled. “It’s taken a while. I would have liked it to have come a little sooner. You’re waiting for it and it finally comes, and you realize you can score at that level and it gives you a little bit more jump moving forward.”
Heinen would go on to score the Bruins second goal in a 2-1 win and since then, he’s been in a fixture in the Boston lineup, netting 12 points (including four goals) in 19 games. He’s played on the Bruins first line and has seen some power play time.
That’s not too shabby for a 22-year-old who was held scoreless in eight games in a brief stint with the Bs last season.
On the phone from Boston on Nov. 30, the day after he picked up a primary assist in the Bruins’ 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, Heinen told the Langley Times he’s never going to take his foot off the pedal in his battle to remain in the world’s most elite hockey league.
“Every game you feel a little bit more confident but I think you can never kinda feel comfortable here, you know,” he said. “It’s the toughest league in the world and you’ve got to try to keep working hard every day, and earn your spot every day.”
Based solely on where he was selected by the Bruins in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft (fourth round, 116th overall), Heinen was a longshot to become a regular contributor with the Bruins, despite a notable body of work, pre-NHL.
The fact that nearly five years ago, he was playing junior B hockey in the Lower Mainland is impressive.
Heinen scored scored 63 points the year he helped lead the Richmond Sockeyes to the Pacific Junior Hockey League championship, securing a four-game sweep of the Aldergrove Kodiaks in the title series by edging the Kodiaks 2-1 at Aldergrove Arena in late March 2013.
The Sockeyes went on to capture the Cyclone Taylor (BC) and Keystone Cup (Western Canada) championships and in 10 playoff games Heinen scored six goals with nine assists.
The very next season, he captained the B.C. Hockey League’s Surrey Eagles.
In his first (and only) BCHL campaign, Heinen was named the junior A league’s Rookie of the Year award while leading the Eagles in scoring with 62 points in 57 games.
“Surrey was awesome,” Heinen said. “I went there as an 18-year-old and playing junior B the year before, it was a big deal for me. It (the BCHL) is a good league and I got a lot of exposure with colleges, and a lot of NHL scouts at the games. It was a big year for me. They had a great coaching staff, there and (former Eagles head coach) Peter Schaefer helped me a lot. He was a good mentor for me.”
Heinen’s rapid ascent up the hockey ladder continued at the University of Denver, where as a NCAA freshmen he led the team in scoring as a freshmen with 45 points.
Another 48 point season followed with Denver in 2015-16 before Heinen turned pro.
He started last season with the Bruins but was soon sent down to Providence, where with the Baby Bs he had a decent rookie year, tallying 14 times while adding 30 assists.
“I felt like the eight games (with the Bruins to start last season), I didn’t get anything (on the scoresheet) and I wasn’t feeling great about my game,” Heinen said. “This year, with a year under my belt in Providence, did feel like I had a lot more experience and a little more confident.”
Heinen’s roots are deeply planted in Langley. He played all his minor hockey in the community and graduated from Langley Christian High School. He speaks at least twice a week to his parents and lives in Langley with his folks in the summer.
“I’ve got a good gig, living there,” Heinen said. “It’s nice going back.”
The dream of playing pro hockey was always there, but once he got to Denver it became “more real,” Heinen said.
“That’s when I kind of realized that if I kept working hard, I could maybe make a career out of it,” he added.
Now that he’s in The Show, Heinen is taking it all in, living his boyhood dream.
“It’s awesome,” Heinen said. “It’s a dream playing in the NHL. It’s everything you imagine. The team’s on a pretty good streak, here so it’s even more fun when you’re winning.”
He’s also a student of the game, learning all he can from savvy NHL stars including Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, who also happen to be his occasional linemates.
“Those guys are unbelievable,” Heinen said. “Marshy and Bergie, they’re superstars in the league, and they’re still the hardest working guys in practice. For me, those are guys you look at, and you try to emulate. It just shows you that once you think you’ve made it, you haven’t. You’ve got to keep on working hard and keep on trying to get better, and those guys are an unbelievable example, day in and day out.”