by Lindsay Czarnecki | AHL On The Beat
As the calendar turned to 2017 the Ontario Reign found themselves in first place in the Pacific Division after a start to the season that wasn’t living up to expectations the team established a season ago.
The turnaround has centered around the arrival and production of one player — veteran forward Teddy Purcell.
Since the 31-year-old was placed on waivers and passed through and was assigned to Ontario by the Kings in early December, the Reign have gone 13-6-3-0.
In the AHL and in Ontario isn’t where Purcell wants to be but he’s certainly making the most of his stay.
“I’ve definitely had better moments than that. I definitely didn’t expect it, when I went to free agency this summer to be down there before Christmas,” recalled Purcell, who first broke into the NHL in the 2007-08 season with the Kings and was re-acquired by the organization this past offseason. “It’s tough in this business, it happens fast. It can change quick, for good, and bad. But from learning from guys that I’ve seen play and played with and just what I’ve learned, too.
“If you go down with a bad attitude this hockey world is small and that travels fast. You go down with a good attitude, do the best you can, try to help the team win, it’s only going to help yourself out. So that’s the mindset I’ve been in. You look around the world, there could be a lot less fortunate things to be doing so I still feel very luckily and I’m just trying to enjoy my time and hopefully get back up soon.”
Purcell’s immediate impact came in the form of him scoring on a breakaway in overtime in his first game on Dec. 7 against Tucson. He’s been a point per game player from there, registering 22 points in 22 games (7 goals, 15 assists). It’s been a chance to bring life to his game after finding points tough to come by (0 goals, 2 assists) in 12 games with the Kings earlier this season.
“I don’t think you can put enough importance on what Teddy’s brought to our team,” head coach Mike Stothers said. “Here’s a guy that’s had a real solid NHL career and he comes down and you might think maybe he’s just gonna go through the motions but he’s brought a real energy to our team. He’s a real character, funny guy. He’s really embraced himself with his teammates.
“And you can see his skill level. He’s too good for this league and maybe this is what he needs to get back up to the NHL but it’s almost like he’s a tweener. He’s too good for the American League, maybe he’s getting a little longer in the tooth in the NHL, I don’t know. But what he’s brought, it’s what everybody’s looking for. It’s a skill set. The way he hangs onto pucks. The way he makes plays. And, the thing again I go to is he’s been real good with everybody and he’s fit in real nicely. I don’t think as good as other guys have played and as good as maybe the record has been as of late, a lot of it is because of what Teddy’s brought to us.”
Purcell’s arrival also coincided with the resurgence of player like Michael Mersch, who recently went down with an injury. With Mersch out, the veteran’s skill level has posed a challenge for Stothers, who said it’s almost intimidating for his younger players to work with a player of his caliber. Stothers has settled in now on an all-veteran top line of Purcell, Sean Backman and T.J. Hensick.
“He’s a big part of the reason we’ve gone of this streak here,” Mersch said. “When you get an older guy who’s coming down you never know how things are gonna go, if he’s gonna be upset or how to approach it so you just wait. Teddy’s been a really good teammate and he’s been a leader. Especially for us younger guys or whoever. You really look at the way he practices, the way he approaches the game and I don’t know if it gives a calming effect but you’re just a little more settled with everything. That’s the way I feel at least. And you know he’s going to make good plays out there.”
It’s also been a different time for Purcell, who admitted he isn’t quite used to having the role be reversed where he’s now being looked up to by his teammates and being a role model. For him, it was Stanley Cup winner Jon Klemm and goalie Dan Cloutier during the 2007-08 season with Manchester who he had the chance to learn from.
“I was coming out of college and never played a full schedule and I was getting yelled at a lot in pro that I was in junior and college hockey. … Just learning the ins and the outs of it and not really talking a whole lot until I was spoken to and just gaining their trust and gaining their friendship. I’ll always remember those days,” he said.
Now, it’s his turn.
“When I came down I think being able to contribute right away that makes me feel that I’m helping them out,” he said. “I know when I was in the AHL and a guy that’s been in the NHL [comes down] those guys try to learn from them. I’m not a big talker and stuff but it’s just the little things that they ask you questions. They’re very inquisitive and want to know little things. That’s a fun thing for me, too, because in the NHL I’m kind of always the guy that’s looking up to other guys and been fortunate to play with a lot of good players. It’s a different position for me but … they want to learn and they’ve got a good attitude about them. There’s a reason why they’ve been having success the past couple years.”
The truth of the matter is that this gift of Purcell, who’s on-ice talent makes him a man amongst boys in this league, may certainly have an expiration date, but for now the Reign will embrace it for as long as they can.
“If you look at it, he’s been involved in some way shape or form either on the scoresheet or maybe that third assist or if there was a play made earlier and maybe he didn’t actually get a point on it, the play was made because of him,” Stothers said. “I know Teddy wants to get back in the NHL and we certainly hope that he can and do so in rapid fashion but we’re enjoying his presence right now.”