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(Lindsay A. Mogle / Utica Comets)

#AHLOTB: Gaunce’s NHL evolution

by Don Laible | AHL On The Beat

Brendan Gaunce knows the advantages of playing in the National Hockey League.

Already, after skating in his first four games for the Utica Comets this season since being re-assigned by the Vancouver Canucks, Gaunce has made an immediate impact. Tallying three points (two goals, one assist), the 22-year-old forward is making a statement. He’ll be ready for a recall, at any time. (Ed. note: Gaunce was recalled by Vancouver on Tuesday morning.)

“I’m taking it day by day,” says Gaunce, on a timetable he may have on returning to the Pacific Northwest. “This isn’t an easy league. Right now, my job is to help this team.”

Having logged more than a half of season (47 games) this NHL campaign with the Canucks, add in 20 from last season and Gaunce has ample motivation to return to Vancouver’s Rogers Arena. The amenities available to those fortunate to play on the NHL level can be addicting.

Charter flights, four-star hotels, international exposure and fine dining in city restaurants where most patrons are dealing with waiting lists, such go the spoils of the victors. But Gaunce shrugs off being special, from any level of hockey he plays.

“The NHL is the best league in the world, on and off the ice. Playing (in the NHL) is a dream come true. I’m not concentrating much on what’s going on away from the rink.”

The hockey fan in Gaunce has entered into his stays with the Canucks. Although all business when the puck drops, Gaunce admits there are some opponents who he has given a longer stare to. Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby first come to mind as players who have brought out the fan in Gaunce. “Obviously, they (Ovechkin and Crosby) dominate. Jarome Iginla and Joe Thornton were guys who were top stars when I was between 5-10 years old. Seeing them is special.”

When pressed for a city or arena that has been more meaningful to compete in on the NHL circuit, Gaunce doesn’t need time to search for his answers. The Air Canada Centre in Toronto and Chicago’s United Center top the list. Growing up in suburban Toronto, Gaunce’s family in Markham, Ontario, were less than a 30- minute drive down Kings Highway 404 to catch a Maple Leafs game.

“With all the history in Chicago, that’s a place I wanted to experience,” Gaunce tells.

With television exposure, and competing before crowds as high as 21,000-plus, there comes a trade-off which Gaunce, and every player on NHL rosters concede – privacy. Autograph and photograph requests by energized fans are a regular occurrence, at hotels, in airports, and while walking NHL city streets. Gaunce understands the hockey’s public’s value, and welcomes any obligations that come with being in the league.

“It comes with the territory,” explains Gaunce of sacrificing a bit of privacy. “If I can make some person’s day, well, that’s my job, too, as a pro hockey player.”

Since returning to the Comets, where during the 2014-15 season he turned pro, Gaunce has done his best to be just “one of the guys” – to contribute. And to his credit (and with little surprise), Gaunce remains successful. He tells of coming down to Utica, to work hard, and get his confidence back.

Saying and doing all the right things has been Gaunce’s method of operation, since landing in Utica during the Calder Cup Finals season. It’s his outlook that causes applause.

“I started this year with the mindset to be an NHL player. I’ve learned that I don’t have to score to be there.”

Well, Gaunce has done a pretty good job with the Comets doing just that.