by Dave Ahlers || AHL On The Beat
As a second year team in the American Hockey League, the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights are still building their history. It just may be than in a few years time, center Dustin Boyd will be remembered as the team’s first rookie sensation.
Boyd has made a smooth transition from unproven youngster to promising professional. Through the first month and a half of the 2006-07 season, the native of Winnipeg is the Knights’ top scorer. That’s not bad for the team’s youngest player, a kid who spent all four years of his junior hockey career playing in the small town of Moose Jaw, Sask.
“The town was great. It was small, but it was a hockey town,” remembers Boyd. “The town pretty much ran through our hockey team. I was fortunate to be there for my whole WHL career, to have the same billet family and to know the same people in town. It all helped me.”
Indeed, the consistency of his surroundings nurtured Boyd from a player who had just 28 points in his first season to a player who was the fourth leading scorer in the Western Hockey League in his final year. With 90 points, Boyd led the Moose Jaw Warriors to the WHL finals — lofty heights for a team that had been a perennial also-ran.
“Moose Jaw had never had a team go past the second round of the playoffs, so when we went to the third round, the town kind of went bananas,” said Boyd. “Along Main Street, it was Warriors everywhere. Even though we lost in the finals, the town was so proud of us.”
It was one of several highlights for Boyd that season. None however could match a stretch of hockey in late December and early January when he and more than 20 other young Canadian hockey players captured the World Junior Championship.
“Anytime you get to play for your country, it’s something special. That tournament definitely gets you ready for the next level. For me, I was unfortunate to get cut the year before. I had that second opportunity to play for Team Canada, and we were very successful. When you get that gold medal, it’s just unbelievable.”
Boyd’s determination and dedication to the game came as no surprise to the people he played with growing up outside Winnipeg. His is the classic story that seemingly so many Canadian youngsters can tell, about the formative years of days spent outdoors on the ice.
“When I was younger, I was living out in the country, and we had the river in our backyard,” Boyd recalled. “I remember my dad used to shovel the river off, and the cousins would always come over and play. When I moved to the city, there were a lot of outdoor rinks so my buddies and I were always out playing.”
That hardiness made him a natural pick for the Calgary Flames, who selected him in the third round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. After all, if you can play outdoors in Manitoba in the winter, you’ve got the right stuff to wear a Flames jersey.
“The wind chill is pretty bad and there are some days that you go out there, and it’s almost unbearable. But you find a way to play through it.”
Boyd has been a natural addition to the Ak-Sar-Ben Knights’ roster. In addition to leading the team in points, he has a team-best three game-winning goals and posted the Knights’ first hat trick of the season with two power-play goals and one shorthanded goal in Toronto on Nov. 9. He knows he’s only as good as his last game and that a full-time NHL job will only come about when he’s a well-rounded player.
“It’s been going pretty well offensively, and the team is winning and playing so well. You kind of feed off that and it helps your game. For me, I’ve got to work on my defensive game if I want to play in the NHL some day.”
Boyd has already had his first taste of the NHL life. He was recalled by the Flames at the end of October and played in two games.
“When I got the call, I was overwhelmed, knowing that you’re getting called up to the NHL and play in your first NHL game.” Boyd made his NHL debut against the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 1. In his first shift of the game, he was drilled by Kirk Maltby, a check that made all the highlight reels in the United States and Canada. Boyd said that’s one legacy he’ll leave behind.
“In both my first exhibition game and my first regular season game, I got rocked, but it gets you in the game. I think it was the hit of the night. It was a great hit.” And when asked if he’d look for retribution if the situation presented itself again, Boyd joking said, “I got his number. I know who it was.”
More important than payback for a big hit, Dustin Boyd has had a taste of life in the NHL, and he won’t forget it anytime soon.
“You’re living your dream right there. I was excited, and I can’t wait to do it again.”