Zinger’s road to 500

by Adam Kaufman || AHL On The Beat Archive

Co-captain of his college hockey team, an All-American honorable mention and even an acknowledgement from his league’s All-Academic Team. But none of it was enough for Providence Bruins defenseman Dwayne Zinger to hear his name called on draft day.

Now, in his eighth professional season, with National Hockey League experience under his belt and a hefty milestone on the horizon, the blueliner is able to look back and see that his perseverance is all that ever mattered.

Entering this week’s American Hockey League action, Zinger finds himself just five games shy of 500 played since turning pro, a mark that the Coronation, Alta., native found somewhat surprising when it recently was brought to his attention.

“It’s kind of snuck up on me,” said the 31-year-old Zinger before taking a moment to reflect. “It’s a neat thing. I never imagined what it’d be like playing a game you love for this long. I look at the stats sometimes and see guys who have played a thousand games and wonder how they did it. It’s a really neat thing. I’m proud of it.”

Following a stellar collegiate career at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks where Zinger tallied 16 goals and 42 points while piling up 214 penalty minutes in 131 contests for the Nanooks, he signed his first NHL contract with the Detroit Red Wings on Mar. 13, 2000. Among several along the way, that was just one of many personal highlights for the veteran.

“To get to walk into the locker room in Detroit that year I signed with a team that had 14 Hall of Famers,” Zinger paused, “and getting to meet Steve Yzerman and some of those guys is something I’ll never forget.”

After only a few years of hard work in the AHL with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, and another pair in the Washington Capitals’ system with the Portland Pirates, Zinger would get to experience what he craved from that first time stepping into the Red Wings dressing room. An NHL call-up.

In his second year with Portland in 2003-04, Zinger found the back of the net six times to tie a personal high achieved twice in Ohio and added 10 assists in only 68 games to get the attention of Washington. And, midway through that season, on Dec. 11, Zinger made his NHL debut, ironically at this point against the Boston Bruins. The defenseman enjoyed a seven-game trip to “The Show”, earning an assist on Dec. 23 against the Montreal Canadiens for what stands as his only career NHL point.

Zinger spent another season in Portland before splitting time between the Hershey Bears and San Antonio Rampage on the long hockey road to Providence, where he signed on Sept. 27, 2006. That was just in time for a career year, as the durable defensive-defenseman played in a personal-best 78 games while dishing out a career-high 15 assists.

Now, in 2007-08, it’s hard not to wonder where the time went.

“Every year seems to go a little bit quicker,” said Zinger. “The summers go by a little faster. It’s definitely been a good road for me. I never imagined I’d be playing this long coming out of college. I thought I’d be in the workforce a little sooner. But hockey’s been good to me. I love the game and I still love playing.”

He says he would like to play until around the age of 35, only a few more years, as long as he’s still feeling good. Zinger isn’t thinking about life after hockey right now but he could not help but chuckle when asked how life has changed since hockey became his full-time job.

“Getting married would be the big one. And last year we were blessed with a little baby girl,” boasted Zinger. “The family’s grown, I’ve met a lot of great people over the years and I’ve seen a lot of great cities.”

So if not for hockey?

“I think I was asked what I’d be doing in 10 years back when I was in midgets playing in the Air Canada Cup. I think I said farming,” Zinger said with a laugh. “I think now with a college degree, I have some options and hockey opens up a lot of doors with some things. But I still feel I’m a few years away from that point. I’ll give it some more serious thought when that time comes.”

One time is near. The time for his historic game. If all goes as planned, Zinger will take the ice for the 500th time as a professional in front of the home crowd at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Nov. 16 against the Worcester Sharks. His 500th AHL game would come later in the month.

Almost 500 games. Nearly 100 points. And a few penalty minutes shy of 800. For the man who thought he’d be planting crops in Canada right now, Dwayne Zinger will soon be planting himself in hockey history.