NORFOLK, VA - Dana Tyrell looks downright tiny when he skates into American Hockey League action with the Norfolk Admirals these days. But despite being listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, the 18-year-old is making a sizable contribution to his new team.
Signed to an amateur tryout contract last month after his Canadian major junior team, the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League, failed to reach the playoffs, Tyrell has three assists in eight Norfolk games. He's also made a positive impression on the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning, the Admirals' parent club and the organization that made him its first draft pick last year, 47th overall.
“For a kid just out of junior, he's done pretty well,” said Admirals coach Steve Stirling, whose team concludes a disappointing season of its own with three road games this week. “He's a powerful and quick skater, he's got pretty good stick skills and he's better on the wall than I thought he would be.”
Tyrell has used his acceleration to jump on loose pucks and zip through defensive seams to pressure opposing defensemen on the forecheck, but he's also taken some big hits while adjusting to the AHL level.
“There's a lot of strength out there that I'm not used to and the guys bounce me around pretty good,” the suburban Calgary native said with a chuckle. “I'm really going to have to focus this summer on building my lower body and my core strength for hitting and stability and for winning battles in front of the net.
“I think it's a learning experience for me. This is the level of hockey I have to change my game towards and I need to develop going towards Tampa Bay's training camp next year.”
Ah yes, training camp. It's there that Tyrell will face a rather unique situation. Because of age-related rules, he can either remain with the Lighting to start next season or be returned to Prince George in the early going, but he can't play in the AHL during the 2008-09 campaign.
Such an either-or challenge would seem to put pressure on the youngster, but he doesn't seem fazed.
“I'm going to try and make the team but if I do have to go back to junior, I'm going to be happy anyways,” said Tyrell, who had 25 goals and 65 points for Prince George this season and whose younger brother also plays for the Cougars. “I'm probably going to be the captain for my junior team, which has been a big goal of mine, and I'll try to help it make the playoffs.”
Tyrell would also presumably play for Canada in the World Junior Championships, an honor he narrowly missed this season when he was one of that team's last cuts. Regardless, he's impressed Admirals veteran forward Norm Milley during his short time in Norfolk.
“You can trust him in any aspect of the game and that gets recognized by the players,” said Milley, who has been voted the Admirals' player of the year by his teammates. “He goes into the corners and he usually comes out with the puck because he mucks it up. He's proved himself to be a good skater who reads the ice real well and his future looks bright if he keeps working hard.”
But will Tampa Bay fans get to see Tyrell sooner or later?“A lot of things would have to happen for him in training camp next season, but you never know,” Milley said. “If there are a couple spots available and he has a great camp, being a young guy, he's going to get a longer look because he's part of Tampa's future.”