ANTIGONISH, N.S. — Brandon Hynes can see more than a few parallels between the ECHL and Atlantic University Sport (AUS) hockey.
There is a difference, however, in the urgency in which players of the respective leagues approach the game.
In the ECHL, players are skating for their very livelihoods, while the AUS level is filled with those looking to earn a degree first and win a hockey game second.
“There’s two different mindsets,” the Norris Point native said.
That being said, the condensed AUS schedule — a 28-game regular season — makes each and every game mean more than they ordinarily might in a longer campaign.
“Home-ice advantage is easy to lose and also easy to gain back,” he said. “So every weekend is like a dogfight.”
The 20-year-old Hynes is about a month in to his AUS career with the St. Francis Xavier X-Men, after making the decision just before Christmas to leave the ECHL’s Greenville Road Warriors to pursue his education. He was the Road Warriors leading scorer at the time, but felt he needed something to fall back on before he tried to make it as a professional hockey player.
As if joining a team in a new league midway through the season wasn’t enough of an adjustment, Hynes has also had to reprogram himself into student mode. Taking notes is now just as much of a priority as scoring goals. The days of shooting pucks well into the evening hours have been replaced by nights of having his nose buried in a textbook.
It’s quite a change for a kid who left home while in Grade 10 and had completed most of his courses through correspondence ever since.
“I wasn’t familiar with this university setup,” he said. “But if you go to class, take the notes, listen to the profs — what else is there to do besides study?”
Compared to that, the hockey side of things has been relatively easy.
“Being traded in the (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) helped with that situation,” he said of walking into a new locker room. “I had a good idea of what I should and shouldn’t be doing ... stay humble, do what the coach asks and try to help your team win.”
Hynes has scored consistently at every level he’s ever played the game at — a big reason why X-Men coach Brad Peddle jumped at the chance to bring him in — and, so far, the AUS is no exception.
He has 11 points (4G-7A) in eight games. The X-Men are 10-10-2, tied for fifth in the eight-team setup with 22 points. They are 3-5 in games with Hynes in the lineup, excluding a pair of exhibition matches he skated in along the way.
“Overall, I can’t say I’m disappointed,” he said of his own performance. “But I’m disappointed in the fact that we’ve been losing a lot of (close) games.
“Whatever (points) you get in a game that you’re going to lose doesn’t really mean much.”
Coach pleased with progress
Coach Peddle is pleased with what he’s seen of his newest recruit so far. In an article published in the Dec. 23 edition of The Western Star, Peddle predicted it would take Hynes a little time to find his legs in the AUS.
Now he believes Hynes is just about ready to reach his full potential.
“I think, at first, it was a little bit of an eye-opener,” he said. “But he’s settling in.”
Peddle was hoping Hynes could give an anemic power-play a boost, which he said he’s done, despite not actually scoring with the man advantage yet.
“He shoots the puck very well,” said Peddle. “If teams are keying on his shot, it’ll open up a Michael Kirkpatrick or a Jason Bast (Hynes’ teammates) for plays.
“The biggest thing for him is not being afraid to use that shot,” he added. “He’s got a real heavy, heavy shot and we’re encouraging him to use it more.”
The coach is also sympathetic to Hynes’s status as a new student and has surrounded him with veteran players experienced in the juggling act of academics and athletics.
“It’s a lot to throw on a kid coming in at Christmas,” Peddle said. “But he’s showing some good improvements and coming on real well. It’s been good for him.”
For his part, Hynes has already found one subject that’s grabbed him — a Human Kinetics course in coach leadership and planning, which gives an accreditation in the National Certification Coaching Program upon completion. Featuring many guest speakers who have coached the game at high levels running on-ice practices and training sessions, the course — one he concedes isn’t typical university fare — has come almost second nature to Hynes.
“It’s kind of a hands-on, you being the coach and making your decisions as a coach,” he said. “A lot of situations we go over in class you see as a hockey player because you go through it.”
Hynes and the X-Men hit the ice again this weekend for games Friday at the University of New Brunswick and Saturday at the University of Moncton.