For Noah Cates, the 23-year-old winger who signed with the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, the timing couldn’t be better.
Cates, who had who had 24 points, including 11 goals, in 37 games for powerful Minnesota-Duluth this season, will make his NHL debut Tuesday against his hometown team, the host Minnesota Wild, at Xcel Energy Center.
“I’ve had a ton of support,” Cates, a Stillwater, Minn., native said after practice Monday. “A number of people have texted me and said they’re coming to the game,. I can’t even put a number on how many people are going to be here for me, but it’s a lot, and it’s really special to have all this great support.”
As a teenager, Cates’s best friend’s dad had tickets on the glass for the Wild’s home games.
“So I was very fortunate to go to a lot games because of my friends, and we’d go as teams and whatnot,” he said. “I’ve been here a ton, and about a week ago I was playing in the NCHC championship (at Xcel Energy Center). So I’m really really comfortable with this rink, and really looking forward to playing my first NHL game here.”
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Cates said he never dreamed his debut would be in Minnesota, “but it all came together so well, and it’s kind of picture-perfect,” he said.
His family and his 24-year-old brother, Jackson, who played 11 games with the Flyers this season and is now injured, will be among fans at the game. “I wish he could be playing,” he said of his brother, “but it’s really special he could make it out. In his debut, I made it out at the last minute and it was one of the best days of my life. … He’s given me a lot of advice and I’ve learned so much through him.”
Cates said Sean Couturier, the Flyers veteran center who is sidelined for the rest of the season following back surgery, reached out to him Sunday.
“Obviously, it was pretty cool,” he said. “Some of the older guys welcomed me, and I kind of got a little skate in today, and I’ll feel more comfortable as the days go by.”
A heady player who was a fifth-round selection in 2017, Cates said he “won’t try to do anything too flashy” in his first game. “Just play hard and have a ton of fun.”
Playing for the U.S. Olympic team this year, he said “was one of the best experiences of my life. I think it’s made me more comfortable with this transition, playing with those older guys. And knowing what a pro locker room feels like from being around those guys. A lot of those guys had signed and had already started their pro career.”
Cates, who won a national NCAA title as a freshman and helped Minnesota-Duluth reach the Elite Eight this season, was asked how he will approach the final month of the season.
“I’m a young player but I think I play a pretty mature game,” he said, adding his goal was to be a responsible player and get the trust from his coaches and teammates. “Just have to take it one shift at a time and play my game and be smart.”
Added Cates: “Just try to help this team win. I’ve been in good cultures, I’ve been on good teams, and bringing that mindset I think is important.”
When he was 15, he played hockey with Mike Yeo’s son, Kyler, when Yeo coached the Wild. Yeo, of course, is now the Philadelphia Flyers’ interim coach.
“I obviously thought he was one of the coolest dads out there,” Cates said, smiling. “He coached the Wild, and when you’re that young, it’s pretty cool. To know him from that age and now to be playing for him is pretty cool to have that relationship and be a little more comfortable with him.”