Greenville Road Warriors' Brandon Hynes works during practice at The Pavilion in Taylors on Oct. 22. — Mykal McEldowney/The Greenville News photo
GREENVILLE, S.C. — Brandon Hynes was in the middle of a team-high five-game point streak when he decided he was finished.
“I’m not leaving on a low,” he said. “This was done while I was playing well.”
The 21-year-old kid with the innate scoring touch left the ECHL’s Greenville Road Warriors on Monday and will enrol at St. Francis Xavier (St. FX) University in Antigonish, N.S. after Christmas.
In the end, the rush of being a Road Warrior couldn’t outweigh the power of forward thinking.
“It’s not something that a lot of people would have expected, I guess,” said Hynes, who was still in Greenville Tuesday night, with plans to depart on Saturday.
It was hardly a decision that came out of nowhere, he said. He began picking the brains of various confidants six weeks ago, his future firmly on his mind, wondering which route he should take and what he should do.
“Pretty much every person I talked to, it came back to ‘You’re going to be a person longer than you’re going to be a hockey player,’” he said. “If you have no education, it’s going to be a tough job to get yourself a decent living.”
As a professional hockey player in the ECHL, Hynes was making the minimum for a rookie — which, according to the league’s website, is $400 per week.
With nothing to fall back on, his gig with the Road Warriors became a stress-filled occupation. He experienced constant anxiety over whether he was playing well enough, if he was going to be sent down to the Central Hockey League, or if he was ever going to get another chance in the American Hockey League.
“It’s so much easier to see here, when you play with a lot of guys over 25, they have their degrees,” said Hynes. “They’re playing stress-free, they have nothing to worry about. They just keep playing hockey because they love to play.”
Road Warriors coach Dean Stork heard rumblings of Hynes’s desire to leave and met with the Norris Point native. The meeting was emotional, but not unpleasant, Hynes said.
“I threw it all out there,” he said. “I wasn’t going to lie to him.
“I can’t say anything bad about the way he treated me,” added Hynes. “He gave me a lot of opportunity, but obviously school won.”
Hynes’s last game with Greenville was Sunday, a 5-3 win over the Gwinnett Gladiators in which he had an assist and was +1. He departs as the team’s leading scorer, with 14 points (7G-7A) in 20 games. He was a -5 overall, with 49 shots on goal and eight penalty minutes. Among his professional highlights were his first goal — a game-winner — on Oct. 30, the aforementioned point streak, and being a runner-up for ECHL player of the week honours in late November.
The Road Warriors are currently 8-12-1-1 for 18 points and 10th place in the Eastern Conference.
His contract has now been terminated and he has been suspended by the club, a necessary piece of protocol so Hynes — or anyone else in a similar position — couldn’t simply decide to sign with another ECHL team after orchestrating an exit from a struggling franchise.
“I enjoyed my time here, but I realized it was coming down to decision time,” he said. “That’s when I got my head away from the game a little bit, started having a little bit of fun with it ... and that’s when I started to play well.
“It’s a competitive, tough league to play in,” he added. “Definitely a good taste of the pro game, but obviously not where you want to be. It’s a starting point.”
Another substantial factor in his decision was the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s education program to support former players who start full-time studies by the second fall session following the end of their junior career. The player’s success in school during his junior career determines their eligibility for the program.
“I have four years of bursaries I can access once I go to school,” said Hynes, adding he has to achieve scholastic success in order to actually receive the money.
He also has an athletic scholarship on the table from St. FX for lacing up the skates with the X-Men.
The second half of the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) hockey season starts on Jan. 3. On break at the moment, the team sports a 7-6-10 record for 15 points and third place in the AUS standings and, as an added bonus, will be hosting next season’s Canadian Interuniversity Sport University Cup hockey championship in March 2015.
“That’s where you want to be,” Hynes said. “That’s going to be against some high-quality opponents.”
Academically, he’ll wade in with four courses of general studies in an effort to find something that grabs him. And instead of hockey being a stress inducer, Hynes believes the game he loves will once again serve as the exact opposite for him.
“Going to the rink for practice is the fun in your day,” he said. “The getaway from school and the books.”
Once he earns his degree — and there’s little doubt in his mind of anything otherwise — Hynes said he’ll take another hard look at being paid to play hockey, whether it be back in the ECHL or somewhere overseas.
“When I come back to this lifestyle, this pro game, it’s going to be with a degree in my pocket,” he said.