It had been a while since Patrick Dwyer last suited up in the American Hockey League. Seven years, to be exact.
That was the 2009-10 campaign, one that saw Dwyer split his season between the Carolina Hurricanes and their former affiliate Albany River Rats. From that point on the forward would make the jump full time, spending the next several years establishing himself as a fan favorite grinder for the Hurricanes.
A lot can change in seven years.
“The kids these days are so good,” said the 33-year-old after wrapping up his first season with the Charlotte Checkers. “They’re so fast and skilled. It’s different from when I was here before and every team had a fourth line that had some fighters on it, that stuff is gone from the game. You look at the teams that aren’t even making the playoffs have four good lines of players and the kids are fascinating.”
After the Hurricanes let Dwyer walk in free agency after the 2014-15 season, the veteran spent last year in Sweden before getting the call this summer to come aboard the Checkers via the first AHL contract of his career.
“When I signed I knew they wanted an older guy to come in for leadership and stuff like that,” said Dwyer. “You don’t know what you’re going to get with playing time, there were no promises or anything like that. So you just come in and see how things go.”
Dwyer ended up doing just that, filling a much-need role on a young team that went through more than its fair share of ups and downs.
“I just tried to be a good guy in the room and work for my playing time and that’s exactly what happened,” said Dwyer. “It was everything I expected coming in, to fit in and help these kids along the way with whatever I could and be a guy that led in the down times.”
While it was a huge plus to have a player with Dwyer’s experience to act as the glue in your locker room, that was by no means the end of the forward’s contributions.
It took some time to get things rolling – he recorded just three points through his first 24 games – but once his game clicked Dwyer became a key piece of the Checkers’ all-around attack, racking up 12 goals and 23 points in the last 34 games to wind up fifth on the team in goals.
“I think I got more comfortable with the situation,” said Dwyer of what clicked for him. “Stuff had happened within the lineup where I moved up and was playing with skill guys on the top two lines and that always helps. You can put up points on the fourth line but it’s tough. This is a power-play league, so when you get an opportunity to play on the power play you’re going to put up more points. That contributed to it. And when the team plays better, the players play better. The second half of the season the team started playing better so naturally guys are going to put up more points.”
Dwyer admittedly plays a different role in this league as opposed to the NHL, but regardless, the forward was able to put up some of his best offensive numbers in years with the Checkers this season, proving that he remains a viable weapon in the AHL even as he racks up the mileage.
Two questions then remain – will Dwyer play next season and where? The first answer was an easy one, while the second is much more uncertain.
“I’m definitely going to play again, that’s for sure,” said Dwyer.
“Whether it’s over here or in Europe will be determined by where there is opportunity. I would definitely come back and play in this league for sure and I’d definitely come back to Charlotte 100 percent if things worked out that way. We’ll see where it goes.”
So goes the offseason of veteran players, something Dwyer is coming to terms with.
“That’s the situation now with guys at this point,” he said. “You don’t know what tomorrow brings but we’ll play it by ear and see. At my age and with the number of kids that are coming out I think an NHL deal is probably not likely in the cards, which is fine. I had my time when I was young.”
But regardless of where he laces up his skates next season, there’s one bottom line that will keep Dwyer coming back to hockey.
“It’s still fun to me,” said Dwyer. “I still enjoy it and I can still make an impact. I definitely want to keep playing.”