When their countries called, Hunt, Tynan answered

Photo: Jari Pestelacci/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

📝 by Patrick Williams

Brad Hunt was not ready to call it a season. Neither was T.J. Tynan.

The two captains are among a deep group of AHL names past and present in roles as players, coaches and management at the men’s IIHF World Championship, taking place in Tampere, Finland, and Riga, Latvia.

Tynan, the two-time AHL MVP, had another strong campaign with the Ontario Reign in 2022-23, leading the league with 73 assists and placing third with 81 points in 72 games. Hunt, a versatile defenseman, played 47 games with the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche this season. He was also relied on to guide the Avalanche’s prospects with the Colorado Eagles, where he delivered 21 points in 24  games with the AHL club.

After both the Avalanche and Eagles saw their seasons end, the 11-year pro got the phone call that he had long hoped for – but never expected. It was Team Canada with an offer to head to Europe, don the Canadian jersey, and compete in the 16-team tournament.

“Goodness gracious,” said Hunt, a native of Maple Ridge, B.C. “Being an older guy I never would have expected it. To get that chance to do this and put the jersey on, it’s something you dream of as a kid.

“When I got the call, it was a yes-before-I-even-answered-the-call kind of thing.”

For Tynan, a native of Orland Park, Ill., this year’s World Championship is his third time representing the United States in international competition, following the 2022 Worlds and the 2012 World Juniors. The elite playmaker finished the round-robin portion of this year’s tournament tied for second in scoring with 10 points (one goal, nine assists) in seven games as Team USA put up a 7-0-0 record in Group A. Next up for the United States is Thursday’s quarterfinal clash with Czechia.

Last year, Tynan and the Americans finished fourth in the tournament.

“That’s on my mind a little bit coming here and trying to do a lot better,” Tynan said.

Unlike the six-month grind of the AHL’s regular season, this two-week tournament has a much different rhythm and flow to it. There is little time to feel things out.

“You’ve got to find chemistry and find your groove in the team as quickly as you can,” Tynan explained.

Photo: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva / AFP via Getty Images

And he has done that, as the leading scorer on a team that also includes Alex Tuch, Rocco Grimaldi, Scott Perunovich and 2023 AHL All-Star Ronnie Attard.

For Hunt, the past month has been a whirlwind. He wrapped up his NHL season on Apr. 30, when he was in the lineup for the Avalanche’s Game 7 loss to Seattle. Five days later, his AHL season ended with the Eagles’ loss to Coachella Valley. By May 8, he was on Canada’s roster and attending training camp in Budapest, Hungary, before the tournament opened on May 12. Hunt dressed for six of Canada’s seven preliminary-round games, notching two assists. He is joined on Canada’s roster by Michael Carcone, the AHL’s leading scorer in 2022-23, as well as Second Team AHL All-Star Joel Hofer along with a slew of AHL alumni. Canada, second in Group B, will meet Finland in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

Since turning pro in 2012, Hunt has played for four AHL teams and seven NHL clubs. That has meant finding different niches, occupying a variety of roles, whatever it takes and whatever is needed.

“No matter what team you’re on,” Hunt said, “every time you get a chance to put an NHL sweater on, it’s a dream come true. It’s something I’ve been blessed with. It’s one of those things where you just stay true to yourself and when it works out in the end — if it does or if it doesn’t — you can still look in the mirror and say that you gave it your all.”

So coming to Europe on short notice, meeting new teammates and adapting to a new style of hockey has not fazed Hunt after his years fighting for roster spots and contracts.

“You’re just trying to be the same person that you always are,” Hunt explained. “That’s something I’ve had to deal with my whole career, always bouncing around different spots. I think that’s something I can help teach as well. Never change who you are for anything. You always have to be the person that you want to be, that you believe in, and everything will work out in the end.

“No matter where you are, no matter what team you’re on, you’ve got 26 new friends. It’s such an incredible sport, and I owe a lot to the game.”

The reward for those attitudes has been an opportunity to play high-level hockey while representing their countries on the world stage.

“Everyone’s playing their heart out every night for their country,” Tynan said.

Said Hunt of putting on the Team Canada sweater: “It’s goose bumps.”