Da Costa finds his place with Sens
The road to the NHL varies from player to player, but few have travelled as much Ottawa Senators forward Stephane Da Costa.
Five years ago, Da Costa left his home of Paris, France, to try his luck at a hockey career in North America. Just 17 at the time and not speaking a word of English, he landed in Frisco, Texas, where he suited up for the Texas Tornado of the North American Hockey League. He followed up a year there with two seasons with Sioux City's USHL team.
From there, he headed northeast after being recruited by Merrimack College, where he spent two years before signing with the Senators.
But all that travel nearly never happened.
"I don't know how I did it. It was a really a tough time," Da Costa told SensTV of his arrival in Texas. "After three weeks, I wanted to go back home and play (hockey) with my brothers or something like that. My parents, they got me through it."
His English has come almost as many miles as he has since then, aided by a French-Canadian family he stayed with and time spent with teammates over the years.
The 22-year-old first got into the game when he was 3, thanks to his older brothers Gabriel and Teddy. Both also play hockey, in France and Poland, respectively. All three spent a lot of time at a nearby rink.
He followed the NHL as best he could growing up, turning to websites to stay in the loop. Live games weren't on television and on those rare occasions they were, it was in the middle of the night locally.
And while he enjoyed the game, it wasn't until his mid-teens that he realized this could be something.
"When I was about 15 or 16, I knew I could get pretty good, because in France I had gotten pretty good," he said. "So I kept working at it and got to better teams and at 17, I left."
Da Costa may have struggled with a new country and language, but it was clear he understood hockey. In Texas, he finished the season tied for the team lead in scoring. He wrapped up his time in Sioux City with a team-leading 31 goals and 67 points.
He earned NCAA Rookie of the Year honors at Merrimack and closed out his college career with 30 goals and 90 points in 67 games.
That earned him a contract with the Senators. When he made his debut late last season — a four-game stint in April — he became just the sixth player from France to play in the NHL.
"He's got great skills and has that knack of understanding where to be on the ice," teammate Nick Foligno told The Canadian Press. "He's a fun guy to play with and when he has that puck on his stick, he does some pretty nice things with it."
Da Costa showed off that knack in the Senators' second game of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Defenseman Erik Karlsson found him all alone at the top of the left faceoff circle and Da Costa netted his first NHL goal.
"It was really special," he said. "It's always good to score in the NHL. I never thought I would get there when I was 15 so it was a special feeling."
Northeast Division notes
The Montreal Canadiens are struggling mightily in the first month of the 2011-12 season. After Saturday's 5-4 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs, they are the only one-win team in the Eastern Conference. Only the winless Columbus Blue Jackets have fewer points with one in eight games. Special teams have been a major issue for Montreal, which had just two power-play goals on 30 opportunities. ... Maple Leafs winger Phil Kessel and captain Dion Phaneuf have been putting up the points since the start of the season. Both continued their hot starts against the Canadiens. Kessel scored his eighth goal and added an assist, while Phaneuf scored his second goal a goal and added his seventh assist. ... The Bruins welcomed David Krejci back to the lineup against the Maple Leafs on Thursday, posting their third win of the season. While he failed to mark on the scoresheet, the slick pivot was dominant on the faceoff, winning 68.8 percent of his draws. ... LW Ville Leino, one of the Buffalo Sabres' prized free-agent pickups this offseason, is enduring a rough start with his new team. Leino has just two points in six games. After scoring in the team's season opener, he recorded his second point – an assist – Thursday against the Panthers. Two nights earlier, he logged less than 10 minutes of ice time against the Canadiens.