Dave Dziurzynski figured it was time to quit hockey and get a real job.
He had just finished up his overage season with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs of the BCHL in 2009-10, and he heard the sound of a door closing.
It wasn’t that Dziurzynski had had a poor season. With 21 goals and 53 assists in 57 regular season games – plus 19 points in 13 playoff games – Dziurzynski was coming off a career year. He hoped, at age 20, to have attracted interest from Division I schools in the U.S., and he did. But those schools balked when they saw Dziurzynski’s grades in school.
So, Dziurzynksi made the long drive home to Lloydminster, Alta., to sort out his future. He’d played in the AJHL with the Lloydminster Bobcats, but when two seasons in the Alberta Tier II league didn’t get him anywhere, he asked for a trade to the BCHL. Now, it was time to figure out something else – until the phone rang. It was Jeff Halperl, a family friend and advisor (now Dziurzynksi’s agent), telling him there was pro hockey interest.
One of those interested clubs was the Ottawa Senators.
Assistant general manager Tim Murray had heard about Dziurzynski from a friend, and had the organization’s western scout George Fargher, check him out. The Senators liked Dziurzynski’s size (6-3) and toughness, thought he’d be a good fit in Binghamton.
Though the leap from Tier II hockey to the AHL is enormous, Dziurzynski made the B-Sens club right out of his first development camp.
His timing could not have been better. That Baby Sens team won a Calder Cup championship, with Dziurzynksi playing a small but significant role in 14 playoff games.
He spent another year in Binghamton, improved his numbers to 11 goals, 17 assists and 92 penalty minutes in 72 games, but this undrafted find wasn’t about to get a sniff at NHL work. Not when he was behind esteemed prospects like Mika Zibanejad, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman etc.
Several injuries away from a callup, wouldn’t you know - several injuries hit the Senators, not just the big club, but also at the AHL level.
Stone broke a bone in his hand and Hoffman fractured a collarbone. By the time Ottawa’s injury toll included forwards Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, Peter Regin and Guillaume Latendresse, Dziurzynski got his break.
And what a stage for a 23-year-old’s NHL debut. The Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Hockey Night In Canada On a Saturday night (Feb. 16).
“I was shaking pretty good,” Dziurzynksi recalls. “But after the first couple of shifts, I calmed down. I was really nervous at the start.”
It didn’t help that his line was scored on during his first NHL shift, but Dziurzynski settled in to play a robust nine minutes, eight seconds and recorded a couple of shots in a 3-0 loss to the Maple Leafs.
All the Senators – including Dziurzynski and his band of fellow callups – have done is win. Five straight, including the last four at home. He scored his first NHL goal against the New York Islanders Feb. 19 and added a huge goal versus the Montreal Canadiens Monday night – the goal that stemmed a 45-shot Habs barrage and carried the Senators into overtime, where they won in a shootout.
If this keeps up, NHL writers are going to have to learn how to spell Dziurzynski’s name. “Just call me Dizzy,” he told Montreal reporters, helpfully.
Well, Ol ‘Diz, as reporters knew the great Dizzy Dean of the St. Louis Cardinals, has impressed his bosses. Head coach Paul MacLean has Dizzy playing significant minutes (16 in his past two games), on an effective crash line with Chris Neil and Zack Smith. (They combined for 15 of Ottawa’s 34 hits versus Montreal).
Following last Thursday’s 3-2 shootout victory over the New York Rangers, Senators general manager Bryan Murray was bursting with unsolicited opinion on the Senators No. 59.
“David Dziurzynski -- could a left winger have played a better game (versus the Rangers) than him in our organization?” Murray asked, rhetorically.
“He was solid, he drove the net . . . He’s skating real well. But don’t tell him that right now, because he may not do it again. But he’s big and strong, he’s involved, he follows the system.”
MacLean has simple directions for the eight players now with the Senators after starting the lockout season in Binghamton: “Just be you. You can’t be somebody else.”
Diamonds in the rough require polish. Dziurzynski admits skating is his biggest improvement, thanks to extra work he did with club instructor Marc Power. Now look at this organizational revelation, ready to embark on a five-game road trip, having scored twice in six games, after scoring three in 44 AHL contests.
“I think the main thing is coaches want us to put pucks to the net and crash,” Dizzy says. “They just happen to be going in.”
Ol Diz is “having lots of fun, just trying to take in the experience,” which could be a lasting one.
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