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NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE: BHS grad Sneep makes debut with Penguins

Carl Sneep couldn't help but glance around the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh and wonder if it was a dream.

The former Brainerd High School standout defenseman made his National Hockey League debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins in Saturday night's 8-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres before 18,584 fans. Sneep is the first BHS graduate to appear in an NHL game.

"It was a great experience, definitely the coolest thing I've ever done in my life," Sneep said Sunday from Pittsburgh. "I went out there, and was pretty nervous, especially in warm-ups. I was trying to look around to take in the whole environment. I wasn't sure how many fans were there but I looked up and every single seat was packed. It's a huge, amazing stadium. I was definitely a little bit nervous at the start."

Sneep collected an assist on an Evgeni Malkin goal at 17:30 of the first period to make his debut even more memorable.

“From my defensive zone I passed the puck up the wall," Sneep said. "Malkin picked it up and went down and scored. It was definitely pretty special to get an assist in my first NHL game."

Earlier Saturday, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Sneep was recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League where he has played in 27 games this season, with nine assists and a plus-6 rating. W-B/S coach John Hynes informed Sneep of his promotion Saturday.

"I found out when I was at the rink at Wilkes-Barre," Sneep said. "When I got there I knew there was a chance I could get a call-up because Pittsburgh has some guys hurt. The head coach called me in his office and said, 'It's your time. Here's your chance. You deserve it. Go there and enjoy it."

After meeting with Hynes, Sneep made the 4.5-hour drive to Pittsburgh.

"A limo came and picked me up from Wilkes-Barre," he said. "I jumped in the back and got a little ride up here to Pittsburgh."

Sneep was called up when defenseman Paul Martin was out of the Penguins' lineup because of a lower body injury he suffered against Ottawa during Friday's game.

"It's a day-to-day thing for me here," Sneep said. "I don't know where I'm going to go. It depends on when guys get back, when guys get healthy.

"They don't really keep you too informed about other player's injuries. They like to keep those things quiet and private, so I don't know what's going to happen."

Sneep, who was born in St. Louis Park, grew up in Brainerd. He was drafted by the Penguins in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft in the second round (32nd overall).

He played in the Brainerd Amateur Hockey Association before playing three years for the Warriors and eventually receiving a scholarship to play at Boston College.

"Growing up and going through the Brainerd hockey system, playing Minnesota high school hockey, coming from a pretty small town, and making it in the NHL is something I'm proud of," he said. "I’ve talked to a lot of my friends that I grew up with playing Brainerd hockey. I’ve talked with them the last day and a half.

"It was definitely a great day, and I got a chance to share it with childhood friends that I grew up playing hockey with in Brainerd."

Warriors coach Jim Archibald thought Sneep deserves to be in the NHL.

"I think it's absolutely fantastic that an individual from Brainerd had an opportunity to step in and play at the NHL level," Archibald said. "Carl has paid his dues, twice over. It's just so nice he finally got an opportunity and gets to prove he belongs there.

“When you get a point in your NHL debut it kind of relaxes you. Hopefully, this will give Carl more confidence. I just see great things from Carl down the road."

Archibald believes Sneep's promotion gives Brainerd players something to aspire to.

“I hope that kids within our association have observed the hard work it takes in order to get to that level," Archibald said. "We can just hope we have some other athletes that have dreams and want to achieve the same thing Carl has done and follow in his footsteps."

Ty Eigner, now an assistant coach at Bowling Green, was the Warriors’ head coach when Sneep manned the blue line.

“To be perfectly honest I thought Carl had a chance to play pro hockey, with his skill level and his size," Eigner said Sunday while on a recruiting trip in Canada. "I seem to remember having a conversation with Carl that if he doesn't play in the NHL it won't be because he doesn't have the ability. He's a big kid who works hard. There was really a good foundation with Carl.

“Carl got an opportunity to show them he can play at that level. Granted, it's only one game but certainly it's an accomplishment for him to make it with the team that picked him and he's only in his second year as a pro.

“I couldn't be more proud of Carl.”

Buffalo 1 0 2 — 3

Pittsburgh 4 2 2 — 8

First Period: 1, Pittsburgh, Williams 1 (Picard, Adams), 2:17. 2, Pittsburgh, Despres 1 (Kennedy, Williams), 6:07 (pp). 3, Pittsburgh, Malkin 13 (Kunitz, Orpik), 9:43. 4, Buffalo, Vanek 17 (Regehr, Pominville), 12:55. 5, Pittsburgh, Malkin 14 (Sneep, Picard), 17:30.

Second Period: 6, Pittsburgh, Neal 18 (Malkin, Niskanen), :53 (pp). 7, Pittsburgh, Engelland 2 (Asham, Dupuis), 17:54.

Third Period: 8, Buffalo, Adam 10, 8:49. 9, Buffalo, Gaustad 2 (Stafford, Sekera), 10:13. 10, Pittsburgh, Malkin 15 (Neal, Niskanen), 11:43 (pp). 11, Pittsburgh, Kunitz 11 (Malkin, Engelland), 13:39.

Shots on Goal: Buffalo 9-6-4_19. Pittsburgh 13-8-5_26.

Goalies: Buffalo, Miller, Enroth, Miller, Enroth. Pittsburgh, Fleury. A_18,584 (18,387). T_2:26.