OTTAWA - Stephane Da Costa is looking to be an impact player for the Ottawa Senators, but so far he’s been on the receiving end of some serious contact.
Da Costa, who signed as an undrafted free agent with the Senators last March and played four games, really considers this season as the start of his NHL career and after just two games it’s been memorable.
In the Senators' season opener in Detroit, Da Costa took six stitches after being hit into the glass. The following night the 22-year-old was drilled by Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf on a hard but clean hit. He finished the night by scoring his first NHL goal in a 6-5 loss.
“I got crushed,” admitted Da Costa. “Last year the guys had warned me about Phaneuf and of course the one shift I didn't pay attention to him I paid for it.”
Da Costa is the sixth player born in France to play in the NHL and only the third French-born and -trained NHL player.
Growing up, Da Costa didn’t have the opportunity to watch hockey on television, but his upbringing wasn’t all that different from many Canadian-born players.
“There was a rink just down the road from our house and me and my two older brothers spent a lot of time there,” said Da Costa. “It was my brothers who introduced me to the game.”
He followed the NHL online and became a big fan of Sergei Fedorov, a member of the Detroit Red Wings at the time.
Da Costa admitted his parents knew nothing about the game, but were supportive of their three boys playing. Teddy and Gabriel both play in the French League.
With an eye on pursuing his hockey career, Da Costa chose to move to the United States to play junior hockey for the Texas Tornado of the NAHL. He was 17 and spoke no English, but was happy. He finished the season tied for third in team scoring.
He went on to play two years for the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL where he led the team in scoring in his final season with 31 goals and 67 points. Da Costa joined Merrimack College for the 2009-10 season and scored five goals in just his second game.
“That’s when I really started thinking I might have a future in hockey,” said Da Costa. “There were some scouts who started paying attention and that was really the turning point.”
Da Costa was named NCAA Rookie of the Year in 2009-10 and finished his two seasons there with 30 goals and 60 assists in 67 games.
The Senators are hopeful Da Costa will use his vision to produce offensively on a team that has struggled to score goals of late.
“He’s got great skills and has that knack of understanding where to be on the ice,” said teammate Nick Foligno. “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.”
Foligno says the rookie is fitting in nicely and isn’t afraid to ask questions or for help.
“He’s getting used to the game a little bit more; he’s good with the guys and just good to be around.”
While he’s excited and relieved to have scored his first NHL goal he’s also anxious to prove that he can be a regular in the Senators lineup. He’s currently living in a hotel and has no intention of moving until he’s told he’s here to stay.
“There’s a few of us young guys at the hotel so it’s not so bad,” he said. “It will do for now.”
For now the coaching staff is satisfied with his play and, if Da Costa can remain consistent and continue to add some offence, he might just find himself looking for a more permanent place to live.
“We’re very pleased with him and we found out he can take a hit and can make a play when he’s doing it,” said MacLean. “He’s played real well … made plays and done things we expected of him.”
Notes: Daniel Alfredsson missed practice due to the flu…C Peter Regin will be in the lineup Tuesday night when the Senators host Minnesota. C Jesse Winchester practised with the team for the first time since the first day of training camp, but he wore a no-contact jersey. G Craig Anderson will get the start against Minnesota.