It’s one of the most bizarre things about playing in the AHL, ECHL, CHL and lower: sometimes you have multiple teammates who aren’t going to be teammates for long.
What I mean by that is, a minor pro roster is rarely the same for many consecutive nights, as it falls apart and reconstitutes itself with every roster move made at every level. An AHL team can get shaken up from so many different directions it’s mind-boggling. They’re affected by NHL trades, under-performing NHL players coming down, conditioning stints from NHL players, signings, waiver pick-ups, under-performing players on their own team getting sent down, overachieving players getting called up, overachieving ECHL players getting sent up, INJURIES and I’m sure plenty more.
With the speed of pro hockey today “injuries” gets the all-caps treatment because it’s the most frequent reason the deck gets shuffled.
So when you’re a regular on a minor league team – say a 2nd or 3rd liner who plays on the second powerplay, kills the odd penalty, is in his mid-20s, and ain’t getting sent up or called down anytime soon, you’re a part of a very small thing: your team’s core.
In the NHL, your core is your nucleus of your best players, those guys who are usually rewarded with longer contracts. As I mentioned: that’s not the case here.
As a core guy in the A, it’s not unusual to find yourself with a rotating stallmate.
During my time in Bridgeport I played with a number of those up-and-down Islanders whose priority wasn’t winning games in the A, it was making sure that the next call-up was permanent. And hey, no disrespect to them on that – I’d have been doing the exact same thing. Then there are the guys playing on your team on two-game conditioning stints – Wade Dubliewicz and Aaron Johnson both had cups of coffee with us while I was in the “A,” and it’s weird, because you know they could care less about winning or losing.
Really, until you make playoffs, your team isn’t formed. The season, while important to a good number of players, is just one long tryout to those on the fringe of going up or down.
I remember being in Utah when Trevor Smith (now with Norfolk in the A) got sent down. He had just left college after signing a three year deal with the Islanders, and man, could that kid shoot. They gave him a legit look in Bridgeport for a couple months, then decided he needed to go get some confidence, and sent him down to us.
What do you think his priorities were? Us? ….No. (Again, not a shot at a friend, a reality.)
Still, he had to play his bag off to get back to where he wanted to be, so he did. He knocked out a point a game with us down there (before scoring 30 in the AHL the next season), and guys were clamouring to get on his line. I was lucky enough to get on with him for a bit, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he was what turned my season around after a slow (awful) start. Still – I always knew his presence as a true “teammate” wasn’t permanent.
The minors just aren’t like college (four year commitments from everyone equals a crazy-strong team bond), and it’s not like the NHL where wins and losses are (almost) everything to a team. It’s bizarre suiting up with a guy who you know will at some point leave your team for another, who wants to leave your team for another, and would take two goals and a loss over one goal and a win.
As I watch decks continue to get shuffled all around the league, I can’t help but think about how different the life of a minor pro hockey player can be from one day to the next. Nazem Kadri is heading up to the Toronto Maple Leafs, which means the Marlies need a player from the ECHL, which means someone else is getting their shot on an AHL 1st line, which means….which means….
It’s an interesting time of year to be a hockey player, and one of the reasons I’m glad to still be involved in the game from the media side. You never know who’s gonna get their shot next, and you never know who’s gonna cash in on one when they get one.