It’s been nearly two decades since Matt Zultek scored the goal that would define his hockey career.
It comes up whenever he talks about his hockey career or when he’s invited back to his old rink by his former team, as the Ottawa 67’s will do this week when 50th Anniversary celebrations continue with a focus on the 1997-2007 era.
For the record, he’s not sick of talking about it. Doesn’t think he ever will be.
And it’s hard to blame him.
“It always brings back great memories when I talk about it,” said Zultek, who will be on hand as the 67’s host the Kingston Frontenacs, alongside a number of former teammates. “It was a great experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
On that day – May 23, 1999 – the 67’s, who were hosting the Memorial Cup at the then-Civic Centre, were taking on the Calgary Hitmen in the tournament’s championship game.
If you were a hockey fan in Ottawa at the time, we shouldn’t have to recap this one for you. But we will, because it was awesome.
With the score tied 6-6, Justin Davis got the puck behind the Calgary net and slipped it out front to Zultek, who got between the two players covering the front of the net, shifted to his backhand and fired it past Calgary goalie Alexandre Fomitchev. That goal would have been huge anywhere, but the fact the 67’s had just won the Memorial Cup – the club’s second – in front of a packed house at home made it so much sweeter.
The play remains fresh in Zultek’s mind.
“When I got the puck, I was cutting across and I sent the backhand on net and I hit (the goalie) in the mask,” he recalls. “I was a bit worried about where I was putting it, but it hit his mask and went in. It was just surreal.”
The time between scoring the goal and eventually making it down the hallway to the locker room remains blurrier than the goal itself.
“The first thing I remember was all the guys skating at me … I think Bryan Campbell tackled me first,” Zultek said. “You’re trying to take it all in but there’s so much emotion going through you that it’s overwhelming.”
Though he knew he had scored the biggest goal of his hockey career, the rest of it – what it meant to the organization, the city, the fans that got to see it at home – didn’t start to sink in right away.
“You don’t really realize it until you finally sit down and have calmed down,” he said. “I remember just sitting in the room going ‘oh wow, this is something else’.
Zultek also doesn’t look at himself as the hero, either.
“I was just fortunate enough to be in the right place on the ice,” he said. “The big thing for me was realizing that we had just won the Memorial Cup, not that I had scored the goal. It was more that we had faced adversity and won as a team.”
Saturday won’t be his first visit back to his old barn since his playing days, but Zultek excited to catch up with old friends.
“Over the years, you don’t talk to people nearly as much as you’d like, but when you meet up with them, it just continues like it was yesterday,” he said. “When you go through something like that together, you have that in common for the rest of your lives.”
Tickets – Saturday, January 27 vs. Kingston