Ray Sawada couldn't think of a better way to celebrate his 24th birthday.
It all started when the Manitoba Moose right-winger got the call that he'd been recalled by the Dallas Stars.
So he jumped on a plane to Edmonton, where the Stars were set to take on the Oilers at Rexall Place.
The good news continued when he found out he would be in the lineup. Nerves were apparent, but they turned into sheer joy when Sawada scored his first NHL goal.
"I can't compare it to anything, it was so exciting," said Sawada, who returned to the Moose after five games with the Stars. "Obviously, it's your dream to play in the NHL. Going up there on my birthday, playing that game, getting that goal on top of it and getting a win, it was a whirlwind of things.
"I still have a grin on my face thinking about that day."
That smile was evident on replays when Sawada slid a backhand under Oilers goalie Dwayne Roloson.
"(The Oilers) were making a change and Mike Ribeiro was going down the wing, so I skated as fast as I could in the slot," said Sawada, who has five goals and 19 points in 48 games with the Moose this season. "I got the puck on my backhand and didn't really look where the goalie was. I just threw it on net and when I looked up, I saw he was struggling to get across and it went between his legs.
"After that, I threw my hands up and started celebrating. Getting that goal right off the bat, you feel so much better. I didn't feel out of place out there and that made a big difference."
Sawada, a second round pick (52nd overall) by the Stars in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, is gearing up for a strong finish to the regular season.
"I know the way I have to play to get to the next level, it's pretty much the same way I've been playing here," said Sawada, who turned 24 last month. "It's being hard on the puck, finishing my checks, keeping things simple and just being gritty."
Head coach Scott Arniel is expecting Sawada to carry that confidence into his return when the Moose face the Providence Bruins tonight at the MTS Centre.
"Coming back here, he has to make sure he keeps his game at a high level. Ray has been a guy we look at to create energy and to chip in where he can offensively," said Arniel.
Moose captain Mike Keane -- who wore No. 12 with the Stars when they won the Stanley Cup in 1999 -- was happy to see Sawada wearing his number during the recall.
"He went up there and played very well ... Scoring his first goal is a big confidence booster for every player. He got the taste and as soon as you get a taste of the NHL, you want more."