Brandon Hynes is shown as a member of the QMJHL's Val-d'Or Foreurs during his final QMJHL season. — Andy Klink photo
GREENVILLE, S.C. — In his first few weeks of professional hockey, Brandon Hynes has been getting a crash course in the business side of the sport.
As he watched roommate Andrew Johnston, a Philadelphia Flyers prospect signed to an entry-level deal with the National Hockey League team, pack his bags and walk out the door, he knew he wasn’t in junior anymore.
“His agent called him and said he was re-assigned to a different team in the ECHL,” Hynes said earlier this week. “It happens that quick. He moved in two days ago and he’s gone already.
“I was kind of shocked.”
Hynes is currently engaged in training camp with the ECHL’s Greenville Road Warriors. He had a short stint trying out for the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League, but was eventually released and sent to Greenville.
Gone are the days of the long-lasting friendships forged throughout a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season, or sometimes, an entire career. In the pros, teammates can come and go like ships passing in the night.
And now, even business decisions made at the NHL level can also indirectly impact Hynes.
The Road Warriors starting goalie this season, for example, was supposed to be Jeff Malcolm. That is, until the New York Rangers waived veteran Martin Biron, eventually sending him down to the Wolf Pack and calling up Cam Talbot — and then Jason Missiaen — to back up superstar starter Henrik Lundqvist in the Big Apple. That meant Malcolm had to be recalled by the Wolf Pack.
“So here goes Malcolm back to Hartford,” Hynes said. “And we haven’t even played a season game yet.”
Despite having to adjust to those off-ice distractions, Hynes has done well for himself since beginning his pro career after wrapping up his five years of junior eligibility in the Q last season. The Road Warriors signed him to an ECHL deal, with the promise of giving him the chance to try out for their AHL affiliate, the Wolf Pack.
Even though he scored twice in his AHL pre-season debut, including the game-winner, the team opted to send him back to the Road Warriors.
Hynes admitted he was a little “mind-blown” at the decision at the time, thinking he might have done enough to earn a 30-day pro try-out contract. But again, he understands the business side of it. He had signed an ECHL contract and was a long shot to make Hartford as a walk-on in camp. Unlike most rejections, however, this one came with a confidence boost.
“It was probably the most positive meeting I’ve had that I’ve ever been cut in, if you want to call it being cut,” he said.
“They said, ‘You pleased us, you opened our eyes.’ I came in as an invite, so what else can you ask for than to leave a good impression?”
In his first pre-season contest with the Road Warriors, Hynes sniped a power-play goal in a winning effort.
The 20-year-old Hynes has been skating on the team’s top line with veterans Jordie Johnston, a 26-year-old who put up 45 points in 56 games with Greenville last season, and 27-year-old Ryan Garlock, a 2004 second-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, who has bounced around both the AHL and ECHL before suiting up with Vålerenga IF of the Norwegian GET-ligaen last year.
“It’s a different game playing with guys that have that experience, that played at the pro level that consistently,” Hynes said.
Hockey intelligence is the biggest difference he’s noticed between his cup of coffee at the AHL level and his time now in the ECHL.
He said the AHL is the fastest league he’s ever played in — “Fast decisions are made, and made well,” — while the ECHL is just a step below that.
“You get a tiny bit more time, not a whole lot,” he said. “At the same time, it doesn’t compare to junior. It is a pro game.”
He’s also getting an idea of what all those critics were talking about, those who dismissed him as a bona fide prospect because of his five-foot-nine frame, no matter how many goals he scored at every level of the game.
“I get pushed around quite a bit,” he said. “But as long as you can keep the puck, you can play.”
Undaunted, he pushes back, looking to make his mark with the Road Warriors and maybe, just maybe, get another crack at playing in the AHL.
“Everybody’s here to be called up,” he said. “Yes, we’re here to win, we’re here to play hockey ... but you’re that close.”
Because he’s only signed to an ECHL deal, any of the 30 AHL clubs could conceivably pluck him from Greenville during the season, not just the Wolf Pack.
“I feel like, with a lot of hard work, it could be a great possibility,” said Hynes.
With the training camp roster whittled down to 25 players this week, the Road Warriors are almost ready to begin their regular season in Georgia against the Gwinnett Gladiators.