by Jessica Bohince & Keith Phillips || AHL On The Beat Archive
The puck is waiting for him. He stares it down, standing a few feet away, visualizing his next move. Daryl Boyle knows this is a big moment. If his shot finds its mark, his team wins. It all rests on the rookie’s shoulders.
He takes a few strides, winds up and sends a blistering shot that gets past everyone and dents the twine in the back of the net. He is instantly mobbed by his teammates in a scene that could draw comparisons to a Stanley Cup championship celebration.
Boyle hasn’t won the Cup – at least not yet. Instead, Boyle and three of his fellow young Norfolk Admirals teammates had just beaten four of the veteran Admirals in a pickup game after a recent practice. Boyle has quickly become a regular participant in the friendly – but ultra-competitive – post-practice games.
From pickup games to the real games in his first full professional season, Boyle has made an impact for Norfolk.
The 21-year-old Boyle has been one of Norfolk’s most consistent defensemen in the first quarter of the 2008-09 campaign. He is tied for the team lead and ranks among the top-25 in the AHL with a plus-8 rating. He also has eight points in 11 games, ranking him near the top ten of AHL rookie defenders.
He has done all of this despite being the Admirals’ smallest blueliner and the only undrafted player on a defense corps that has touted seven former first- or second-round draft picks this season.
Prior to joining Norfolk, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound native of Lethbridge, Alberta, played four seasons with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, scoring 31 goals and 131 points in a 262-game junior career. Last season, the Brandon team captain was also named team MVP and the club’s top defenseman.
Boyle was the first player signed by Norfolk in a busy offseason, earning a contract following a six-game tryout at the end of 2007-08. Making the transition from the Wheat Kings to the Admirals was anything but easy, but Boyle’s six-game stint with Norfolk last April gave him a good gauge of how he might fit in.
“I learned that the game is a lot different than junior hockey,” said Boyle. “The game is quicker, giving you less time to make decisions. You have to move the puck a lot quicker. The guys are a lot bigger and stronger, too. You’ve got to work hard, try to win your battles in the corners and get the puck to your teammates.”
On Nov. 7, Boyle scored his first pro goal at Norfolk Scope Arena against the Rockford IceHogs. The tally ended up being the game-winner in the first victory of a four-game winning streak.
“I remember the puck came to me and I just wanted to get it on net as quick as I could,” said Boyle. “Then I heard it hit the post and everyone was cheering. It was kind of a surprise. For it to be the game winner was even better. It was nice to get the win and get the goal, too. It is something I’ll always remember.”
When Boyle steps onto the ice at Scope, he is not met with camera flashes or the crowd chanting his name. He merely takes the ice, works hard and wins the battles in the corners.
Norfolk head coach and 15-year pro defenseman Darren Rumble likes what he has seen with Boyle.
“Daryl has a high level of hockey sense,” said Rumble. “He makes up for a lack of high-end speed because he’s able to anticipate where he needs to be and get there before he needs to get there.”
Rumble, who saw Boyle during his tryout last April and in September at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament, recognizes Boyle’s potential to take the next step in his hockey journey.
“He’s done everything I have expected him to do – nothing has surprised me at all. Now the question is can he become a great player at this level and challenge for an NHL job. I think he certainly can.”
Someday Boyle will be involved in another raucous celebration on the ice. This time, perhaps it will be after scoring his first NHL goal. Or perhaps it will be while realizing the dream of raising hockey’s most coveted prize high over his head.