Mark Pysyk isn’t your typical hockey player. When he’s not at the rink, you won’t find him rushing home to watch the NHL Network all night long. In fact it’s just the opposite. The 21-year-old defenseman prefers to stay away from the game during his off hours. So much so, that it caused him some problems when he attended the NHL Draft Combine in 2010.
In addition to the strenuous physical testing, the top draft prospects are put through the wringer by potential employers, sometimes being asked the strangest questions imaginable. The problem for Pysyk – who ended up being selected 23rd overall by the Sabres in that draft – was that he was struggling with the easiest question of all: tell us about yourself.
“I’m not a huge hockey guy outside the rink; I don’t watch too much hockey. At the Combine, they kept asking me (who I modeled my game after),” Pysyk explains. “I said (Brent) Seabrook from Chicago the one day. That night I got on the phone with my buddy who’s a pretty big hockey fan and I asked him ‘who do I play like? I need some help here because I’m sounding like an idiot.’ He said I was maybe more like Duncan Keith. I know that may be high expectations. But he’s just a simple, puck moving defenseman. He may be a little more offensive, but that’s where I see my game going. He’s a great guy to watch, an elite player in the league.”
It wasn’t the prettiest of goals; it went off their defenseman. But just that feeling. We were losing that game as well, but it’s just that feeling inside. I don’t know if it’ll be matched. - Mark Pysyk on his first NHL goal
If Pysyk (pronounced Pessick) is looking to avoid high expectations from Sabres fans, he didn’t do himself any favors during a 19-game recall last season. He finished with five points (1+4) in those 19 games with Buffalo, adding to the 18 (4+14) he collected in 57 games with Rochester. Despite it being his first pro season, Pysyk impressed many observers by playing with the calm and poise of a 15-year-veteran.
“It was awesome. The NHL experience, I don’t think there’s that anything you can compare that to. It was awesome getting a little taste. And you’ve got that taste so you want to do anything to get back there.”
Before making his professional debut in Western New York, Pysyk had the unique opportunity of spending his entire minor and junior hockey career back home in Alberta. Born in Edmonton, Pysyk moved slightly east in the province to Sherwood Park in third grade. Pysyk played his minor hockey in the Sherwood Park program before graduating to the Western Hockey League’s Edmonton Oil Kings for four seasons.
Pysyk - who has a 15 handicap in golf - captained the Oil Kings for his final two seasons, and led them to a Memorial Cup appearance in 2012. His junior career also included a bronze medal with Team Canada at the 2012 World Junior Championship, which ironically also took place in Edmonton and Calgary.
Despite his junior achievements, it was an under-the-radar moment that took place last April 19 in Buffalo that Pysyk lists as his career highlight.
The Sabres were hosting the Rangers in a late season tilt with serious playoff implications. But the night turned ugly in a hurry when New York scored three quick goals late in the first period, and added three more to start the second. As time ticked down in the game, with the Rangers holding an 8-3 lead, Pysyk one-timed a slapshot from the top of the faceoff circle that changed direction off Steve Eminger and into the Rangers net for his first NHL goal.
While it was a meaningless goal to many, Pysyk says it’s a moment he’ll never forget.
“It wasn’t the prettiest of goals; it went off their defenseman. But just that feeling. We were losing that game as well, but it’s just that feeling inside. I don’t know if it’ll be matched.”
Making the night even more special for Pysyk was that his mother was in attendance. It was the only one of his 19 NHL games that either of his parents saw in person. And it almost didn’t happen.
“I didn’t want them to come. I figured as soon as I booked their flight I’d be sent down. They were totally understanding with that. She came to see her friend in Toronto. She said that was the purpose of her trip, instead of saying she was coming here, so we wouldn’t jinx it.”