Darryl Boyce’s career changed when he became tired of doing as he was told.
Boyce, a rookie with the 11-2-0-2 Toronto Marlies, is enjoying a strong season with five goals and 12 points in his first 15 American Hockey League games.
Over four years of major junior with the St. Mike’s Majors, he had been a stopper, a penalty killer and situational player.
He was as dependable as sunrise but he chafed under the constraints of a defensive role.
“You want to play hockey because you love it,” he was saying Tuesday, “not because your job was to shut down the other team’s number one centre.”
Boyce was born in Brampton. He moved with his family to New Brunswick when he was a year old and then moved again to Summerside, Prince Edward Island when he turned 10.
Maritimers had the options of opting into either one of the three major junior leagues. Boyce heard good things about the Ontario Hockey League and ended up with the St. Mike’s Majors.
Blessed with neither overwhelming size (he is listed at five-foot-11), nor blinding speed, Boyce was a player with an uncommon understanding of the game. That meant steady work against the most gifted stars the OHL could offer. He scored an average of 13.5 goals a season but without gaudy offensive numbers, no NHL team spent a draft choice on him.
“I was never on the radar,” he said. “I never did anything wrong but I didn’t do a lot of things right, either. I wasn’t a big point scorer, I had a good plus minus but all my stats were always average.”
After wrapping up his junior career, he went to a few NHL camps but found no takers.
So Darryl Boyce went home. Not to quit, but to start again.
The University of New Brunswick was icing a superior lineup. Boyce agreed to go, but with a caveat. He wanted time on the offensive side of the puck as well.
“I got to shoot the puck,” he said. And shoot and shoot. Boyce was scoring as much as he did in junior in half as many games. Last year, UNB won the national championship. Boyce recorded 33 points in 25 regular season games and shone in the University Cup playoffs.
The Marlies were interested after Boyce’s first year at UNB. When he followed that up with a championship, the way was cleared for his first stab into pro hockey.
And here is the delicious element of the story.
Now that he has proved himself a better than passable pro scorer, Boyce knows where his bread is buttered. The defensive game, the one he would come to chafe under as a junior, is his meal ticket in the pros.
“He’s a very smart, very cerebral player,” said Marlies coach Greg Gilbert. “When you ask him something, he grasps it immediately. He has a great work ethic and he can play with or without the puck.”
Gilbert has used Boyce beside Simon Gamache, Kris Newbury and Jeremy Williams. His understanding of the game is so pronounced, Boyce can play all three forward positions. “He could play defence if he had to,” said Gilbert.
“Defense is one of the things I’m not going to change,” he said. “I have got to accept the fact I am not going to be a go-to-scorer. What I am trying to show is that I can make all the right plays, do all the little things - from finishing my check to waiting to the zone is clear before leaving - that win hockey games.