It doesn't matter, Dana Tyrell says, the names of NHL stars that often draw casual comparisons responsible for determining who the Tampa Bay Lightning prospect closely mirrors his game after.
For Tyrell, the similarities are not easy to avoid, yet not difficult to quickly dismiss. True, his speed and sharp skating ability is reminiscent of Steven Stamkos, his hard-hitting style channels Steve Downie on each and every shift and his method of scoring by way of crashing the net can be likened to Detroit's Johan Franzen. But the comparisons, while flattering and believed to provide insight into the type of player he is, barely reveal anything about the 21-year-old Airdrie, Alberta native who is proudly taking his own path to the NHL.
"I look at every different player, but I can't say that I play just like one certain guy," Tyrell said. "I might model certain aspects of my game after some, but the bottom line is I like my own style."
His style is unique. Tyrell possesses a rare combination of sheer speed, agility and power that has helped him appreciate, and others recognize, his ability to become a two-way player at hockey's elite level. In fact, he proved he could be the set-up man and score goals in his junior career, as he tallied 121 points with Prince George during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons.
Furthermore, as a testament to his skills set, Tyrell was poised to put his talent on display as a representative of Team Canada at the World Junior Championships in 2008. With the world watching, the stage was set, the spotlight was bright, but Tyrell was forced to bow out before the first act.
During a warm-up exhibition game against Sweden, the Lightning prospect raced towards a loose puck and collided with opposing defenseman Victor Hedman, resulting in a huge open-ice hit that doubled as cause on the next shift for reconstructive surgery to repair a fully torn ACL and partially torn MCL in his knee. Tyrell missed the tournament and received a World Junior Championship gold medal encased in glass instead of around his neck.
That is when he began to mirror the lives of certain individuals off the ice, rather than the usual suspects of NHL stars on it.
"It was really tough, especially mentally. That was the first time I had missed playing hockey in 15 years," Tyrell added. "I had to battle through it, but I think a lot of it had to do with the way I was raised. I had to stay motivated and a lot of that came from my parents and the people I surrounded myself with. It took months for me to get my confidence back, but the most important thing was that I had a good attitude about it."
Not much has changed since then. Tyrell's work ethic is still apparent even when he is at full strength, signaling not a continuous and maintained routine stemming from his injury, but his own formula for success.
Each morning, Tyrell wakes up at 8 a.m. and hits the gym for approximately two hours before taking over 100 shots on net, specifically placing the puck in tight corners to improve his accuracy. Afterwards, he puts his shot to the test in a pick-up game with other NHL hopefuls, which is just one of about three or four during a single week.
"Even though I was injured, I feel like I am faster and stronger than I was before. I'm growing into more of a man now," he added. "My main goal is to make the Lightning roster out of camp. I know everyone will be starting on a clean slate and we'll all have to prove our toughness, but it's a challenge that I'm looking forward to."
Making Tampa Bay's NHL roster is something Tyrell says he has "never been more ready for." Tyrell is a regular client at the aptly named Crash Conditioning gym in Alberta where he trains alongside NHL blue liners Duncan Keith, Mike Green and prospect Jordan Eberle. And, his experience alongside NHL stars is not limited to just the training room.
Tyrell has played on lines at various levels of hockey most notably with John Tavares, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. Just this past season, he doubled up on a dose of exposure playing alongside former NHL players Ryan Craig and Adam Hall with the Norfolk. Admirals. The learning experience, Tyrell says, was one that helped him learn how to alter his game to adapt to the faster and more physical style of NHL play.
"I don't think you necessarily get any better by literally playing with those guys because they kind of dictate the pace of the play on your line, but you do improve just through exposure to the faster game and by them teaching you along the way. I think all of that contributes to the improvement of a player who is trying to make it to the next level."
"I'm not the biggest guy out there on the ice," Tyrell added. "I just play big."