Some players who bounce between the ECHL and American Hockey League levels have a difficult time with doing just that – playing in a place like Wheeling one night and Rochester the next.
But if you ask Stockton Thunder defenseman Brad Farynuk, such is life for minor-league hockey players. The road to the NHL isn’t always paved with gold.
“That comes with the territory,” Farynuk said. “I said to myself that I would be willing to do it again this year. You don’t know from hour to hour what can happen. I learned that last year. One night I was playing in Cincinnati, and the next morning I’m on a plane to Syracuse. You don’t even know how much to pack. You’ve got to be a trooper to go through situations like that. But that’s the life of a pro hockey player. I can think of a lot worse situations to be in. It’s better than working under the hot sun on a roof. I learned that when I was 16.”
The 2006-07 season was Farynuk’s first as a professional and the 25-year-old spent the majority of the campaign with the Dayton Bombers. He did, however, make 16 appearances with AHL Syracuse, notching one assist and eight penalty minutes. His work with the Bombers (4-19-23 in 47 games), especially during their magical run to the Kelly Cup Finals (16 points in 22 contests), earned him a two-way deal with the AHL’s Springfield Falcons.
Farynuk got off to a slow start in Springfield’s training camp, mainly due to the fact that he underwent knee surgery the day after the Bombers lost in the finals to the Idaho Steelheads. With less time to recover and get into proper shape than his competition in camp, Farynuk was ultimately reassigned by the Falcons to Stockton. The offensive defenseman says he will use his time with the Thunder to work on his foot speed, which will certainly help him as he aims for another shot in the AHL.
“It was kind of frustrating this year, like I didn’t feel where I should have been in Springfield,” Farynuk said. “I even talked to the coaches about that when they sent me down. I had knee surgery the day after our season ended in Dayton, and our season didn’t end until June 1. It was a little bit slower of a summer and it was kind of frustrating in that sense. They were honest and told me to just go to Stockton and work hard. My parents have taught me to work hard and keep quiet and let people recognize your attributes. Hopefully I’ll get a shot up in Springfield.”
Stockton head coach Chris Cichocki is certain that Farynuk will get a chance to play in Springfield this season. In the meantime, though, he’s going to be relying on the 210-pound defenseman to help lead what is expected to be a relatively young squad.
Stockton opens its season on Friday night at Bakersfield.
“We’re going to be young and we’re going to lean on him for his leadership,” Cichocki said. “He’s got great character. That was something that led me to recruiting him heavily. I think that playoff experience only helps.”
Farynuk agrees. While his 16 postseason points tied him for the ECHL lead among defensemen, it’s the journey through the playoffs that will be invaluable as his career progresses.
“You learn a lot of little things,” Farynuk said. “We played under some pretty harsh circumstances. We had some ice problems in Dayton and some flights going back and forth to Florida. A lot of people ruled us out. We kind of used it as motivation. We were the only team to win two seven-game series’ in (ECHL) history. It’s a learning experience.
“I think it definitely had a huge impact as far as this season,” he added. “I think having that experience goes a little bit extra as far as compared to a player that didn’t make the playoffs. Every team wants players who know how to win and have had the experience of getting to the championship. Unfortunately we didn’t win, but that’s kind of been my motivation this year. But having a good run in the playoffs definitely had a huge impact.”
One would have to believe that a fast start in Stockton would earn Farynuk an opportunity in Springfield relatively quickly. Unlike his time in Syracuse, Farynuk will know what to expect from the AHL game if/when he gets the call from Springfield, which signed him to a two-way deal over the summer.
“It was definitely a great experience,” Farynuk said of his brief AHL stint last season. “You’ve got to try and learn something every day. Just the players you go up against, the game’s just a bit quicker. The biggest difference was the puck moved quicker, and guys didn’t necessarily hold on to the puck as long, especially from a defenseman’s standpoint. Anytime that I held the puck too long, they wanted me to get it up ice to the forwards. I wasn’t there to be a Ray Bourque or anything. The guys there are just quicker and stronger in the corners. But it was an awesome experience.”
Farynuk has been blown away by the fan support in the Stockton. The Thunder averaged the most fans in the ECHL last season with 6,780 per game, just over 3,000 more than his former club in Dayton. Almost 3,000 fans flocked to the Stockton Arena Saturday night to watch the Thunder take on the Fresno Falcons in a preseason game.
“I’m definitely excited,” Farynuk said. “If it’s any indication even just with our preseason games this weekend here in Stockton, we had awesome fan support. I don’t know if you’re going to be able to find anything better in this league. We had a fan fest where people come and meet the players and get autographs. There had to have been 2,000 people. It was awesome. It’s a beautiful facility here. The organization is just top notch.”
Hopefully, though, it’s another stepping stone for Farynuk as he attempts to climb the professional ladder. Cichocki made it sound as if it’s inevitable.
“Often times, I think guys kind of get out of their element and try to do too much,” Cichocki said. “For Brad, I think he just keeps it simple. He plays real smart. I think, in time, he’ll get that opportunity to go up and play in Springfield.”