It was the night of November 16th, a night that Noah Hanifin will never forget.
The Carolina Hurricanes first round pick of the 2015 National Hockey League draft, fifth overall, trailed a rush into the offensive zone in a game against the Anaheim Ducks. Hanifin took a drop pass from Joakim Nordstrom, and drilled a well-placed wrist shot near side past Ducks' goalie Anton Khudobin.
It was the 18-year-old Hanifin's first NHL goal.
Hard to believe it was less than four years ago that Hanifin, a Norwood, Mass native and a bona fide blue-chip defenseman, was patrolling the blue line for the Valley Warriors Bantam Majors.
Hanifin, who was widely considered to be the top defenseman available in the 2015 NHL draft, played and developed for three seasons in the Valley Warriors organization, playing at the Pee Wee Major level in the 2009-10 season, and the Bantam Minor level in the 2010-11 year.
It was the start of a meteoric rise to stardom for Hanifin, who now stands an imposing 6'3' and weighs 203 lbs.
Hanifin's road to the pros also included a three-year stint with St. Sebastian's, a prep school in Needham, MA that plays in the Keller Division of the Independent School League, one of the top prep leagues in the country.
The blue liner took a regular shift as an eighth-grader with the Arrows in the 2010-11 season, compiling 11 points while playing in many instances against kids four and five years older. He followed that first prep school campaign with a line of 5-24-29 as a freshman, and then a very impressive 10-24-34 in 2012-2013. It was about that time that Hanifin's name was being mentioned as a potential first round NHL pick.
Hanifin, who some have likened to Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, left St. Sebastian's following his sophomore season and went to Ann Arbor, Michigan to play for the USA National U-17 team. His play continued to wow the scouts. The Valley Warriors alum had 8 goals and 24 assists in 45 games with team USA, and added five points in the World U-18 Tournament.
During that year with Team USA, Hanifin opted to accelerate his studies and head to Boston College, who he had already committed to, a year early for the 2014-15 year. Again, he continued to excel skating against players many years older. As one of the three youngest players in college hockey, Hanifin played in 37 games for the Eagles last winter and picked up a gaudy scoring line of 5-18-23. He played a good portion of the season as a 17-year-old.
The question quickly became, not if Hanifin would be a first rounder, but how high? Many felt he could go as high as #3, just behind the duo of Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid. Draft day came, and when Hanifin was available, the Hurricanes pounced with the fifth pick.
And then the next question, would the potential franchise rearguard sign with the Hurricanes, or return to Boston College for his sophomore season?
In July, during a Hurricanes development camp, Hanifin signed an entry level contract with Carolina. It was a bold move. If the defenseman didn't make the big club out of training camp, he could not return to BC.
Hanifin not only made the team, he took a regular shift on opening night and looks a fixture for years to come in the Hurricanes' blue line rotation. He recorded an assist in his second NHL game. His goal against Anaheim made him the youngest defenseman in Carolina franchise history to score a goal.
"It's special. It's nice that it finally happened," Hanifin told reporters after the game. "I will remember it forever. But it's tough because we didn't get the win."
Heading into the Hurricanes' game on November 25th against Edmonton, Hanifin, who won't turn 19 until January, had played in 18 of Carolina's first 21 games and had a goal and three assists with a -4 +/-
- Gary Demopoulos, Hockey Night in Boston