The play most associate with Patrik Stefan, the first-overall pick in 1999, remains his empty-net gaffe that came only 13 games before his NHL career came to a close.
It’s arguably the most memorable miss in NHL history.
Exactly 10 years ago today, on Jan. 4, 2007, Patrik Stefan came down the ice with little more than a dozen seconds remaining in a contest between the Stars and Oilers with a chance to seal the contest for Dallas. He cut in alone after a fanned pass by Oilers defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, skated towards the vacated net, moved the puck from his forehand to backhand and was about to deposit the empty netter when the unexpected happened.
As Stefan shifted the puck, it hit a rut in the ice, flipped up and over his stick and skittered helplessly wide. Stefan, trying to scramble to recover, lost his footing, mistakenly swatted the puck back towards Oilers center Jarret Stoll, which started a play up ice that resulted in a game-tying goal from Edmonton’s Ales Hemsky:
For Stefan, it would unfortunately be his career-defining moment despite the fact that he didn’t really cost the Stars the game. It’s lost in the ridiculousness of the play, but the end result of the game in which Stefan’s gaffe occurred was a 6-5 shootout victory for the Stars. That’s often overlooked, though, most likely because of the way Stefan’s career had gone to that point.
The first-overall pick in the 1999 draft by the Atlanta Thrashers, Stefan’s career got off to a rocky start when he managed just five goals and 25 points in 72 games as a rookie. He didn’t earn a single vote for the Calder Trophy despite being picked at the top of the draft. What followed was six mostly mediocre seasons, with his best year coming in 2003-04 when he managed a 14-goal, 40-point effort. But by the summer of 2006, the Thrashers decided to cut ties with the then-25-year-old. He was shipped to the Stars, along with Jaroslav Modry, for Niko Kapanen and a seventh-round pick.
His stay in Dallas saw him continue to be a bottom-six player, and he managed five goals and 11 points across 41 games while averaging little more than 12 minutes of ice time per game.
Following the empty-net miss, Stefan would only score two more points in the NHL over a span of 13 games. His career would fade out, a hip injury forcing his attempted foray into the Swiss NLA to last a mere three games. Stefan, now an agent and minor hockey coach in Michigan, finished his career with 455 NHL games played, 64 goals and 188 points.
And asked about the possible 65th goal and 189th point — the one that more than got away — Stefan explained to the Detroit Free Press’ George Sipple how he’s turned an infamous negative into positive.
“I tell the kids you can have a bad shift, bad game,” Stefan told Sipple. “There’s always next shift, next game. I didn’t kill somebody. It’s a game. Mistakes happen.”
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