When the puck ticked off his stick and into the net, Grant Arnold leapt into the air and landed in the arms of teammate Nolan LaPorte.
It wasn't a championship-winning goal, it didn't even win the game, but Arnold's reaction was fitting for the first career goal scored by the Quad-City Mallards rookie forward last week.
"It was just pure emotion coming out," Arnold said. "I don't really want to act like that after you score a goal, but I play the game with passion and I was just super emotional after I scored. It's been a goal my whole life to play pro hockey and to get that first goal was huge."
Arnold isn't going to fill up the stat sheet this season for the Mallards — he has just one goal and four assists in 25 games — but his contributions hold just as much importance to the team's success.
He has been a key part of the penalty kill that ranks seventh in the league and has shown the willingness to block shots, get in fights and do whatever it takes to help the team win.
"Don’t look at stats, just watch how he plays," head coach Terry Ruskowski said. "Watch how smart he is, watch how physical he is, how he positions himself, intercepts passes, wins the one-on-one battles, goes hard to the net ... you throw stats out with him."
It's been that way for most of Arnold's career. Statistically he underwhelms, but he wins wherever he goes. He was a part of two Clark Cup-winning teams in juniors with the Green Bay Gamblers, and helped the University of Denver to four straight NCAA tournament appearances, including a Frozen Four appearance this April. In those seven combined years he only scored 31 goals but his contributions as a leader were crucial to the team success, and he was a captain in both Green Bay and in his last two seasons at Denver.
"That’s what I do and I take a lot of pride in doing all the little things right," the 25-year-old Arnold said. "I wasn’t blessed with the scoring touch, the fast skating and the great hands so I take a lot of pride in all the other stuff. That’s really how I’ve gotten here, doing all that other stuff and hopefully it can get me to the next level as well.
"I got the taste of winning and I know how to win and that’s how it’s gotten me to this position now. I’ve become addicted to it and I’ve become addicted to people around me who love winning and that’s just who I am."
Arnold's arrival to the Mallards this offseason came about in part thanks to current Iowa Wild head coach Derek Lalonde. Lalonde coached Arnold in Green Bay and was involved in recruiting him to Denver while an assistant with the Pioneers.
"Coach Lalonde told me, 'He’s not going to be offensive-minded but when the game is on the line or you need something done, he’s the first one you want out there,'" Ruskowski said. "You look at his game and how he plays it and you realize what kind of kid and what kind of player he is."
Those characteristics were on full display in last week's game against Tulsa. After the Oilers pulled their goalie with over two minutes left, Ruskowski put Arnold out on the ice, asking a lot from his rookie forward.
He didn't disappoint, and the Mallards hung on for the win.
"I just have trust and faith he’ll do anything he can to prevent a goal, to block a shot, to make that good play," Ruskowski said. "As a rookie, that’s incredible."
In his first professional season, Arnold doesn't have a letter on his chest, but Ruskowski recognizes his play is having a positive effect on the team. All the little things Arnold does can hopefully become infectious and lead to more team success.
"You don’t have to have a letter on your chest to be a leader. If you do the right things over and over again, people are going to follow you," Arnold said. "That’s always been my mindset, take care of what I can do and what I can control and be the best at it and be a good teammate."
LaPorte was teammates with Arnold for two seasons in Green Bay and is roommates with him now. The reaction a week ago to Arnold's first goal perhaps shows just how good a teammate he is.
"He's just an awesome guy, a guy everyone wants to score, he works as hard as he can every practice, every game," LaPorte said. "He knows his role and when he's on the ice, he does it well."