Brad Thiessen keeps an eye on Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash as he circles behind the net. Thiessen

Brad Thiessen keeps an eye on Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash as he circles behind the net. Thiessen

MEI grad Thiessen victorious in NHL debut

Sunday evening was a night to remember for Brad Thiessen.

Sunday evening was a night to remember for Brad Thiessen.

The 25-year-old goalie, a graduate of Abbotsford’s Mennonite Educational Institute, earned a victory in his NHL debut for the Pittsburgh Penguins, making 22 saves in a 4-2 triumph over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

In a post-game media scrum, Thiessen shared some advice that Penguins goalie coach Gilles Meloche gave him prior to the opening faceoff: The puck is the same size in the NHL as it is at every other level.

“It was everything I expected and more,” he told reporters, after earning first star honours. “It was a lot of fun to be a part of it and contribute to a win.”

Thiessen, an Aldergrove native, was recalled from the Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last week after backup netminder Brent Johnson suffered an injury. And with the team playing back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday, Thiessen figured he might get his first taste of NHL regular season action.

Thiessen’s dad and a cousin were able to make it to Pittsburgh to watch the game, as was his fiance.

Any nerves he may have had were soon gone. He used his head — literally — to make his first save, as a Derek Mackenzie slapshot deflected off Thiessen’s helmet and out of danger.

“They had a few good chances on their first few shots so just to be able to make those saves helped me get settled and into the game,” he said.

Columbus opened the scoring when captain Rick Nash beat Thiessen on a shorthanded breakaway 9:49 into the second period. But Pittsburgh tied the game at one on an Evgeni Malkin goal and then scored three times in the third. The Blue Jackets’ Vinny Prospal scored the final goal of the game.

“I knew we had some pretty good forwards on this team that we were going to come through and eventually they did,” Thiessen said.

Thiessen spent three seasons in the BCHL before starring at Northeastern University. In his junior season, he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, presented to the top collegiate player. He left school early and signed with the Penguins as a free agent in 2009.

Thiessen has spent the majority of his three pro seasons in the AHL and last year, won the Aldege ‘Baz’ Bastien Memorial Award as the league’s top goaltender and setting franchise records with 35 wins and seven shutouts.

— with files from Pittsburgh Penguins website