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Toronto Maple Leafs left winger Fraser McLaren (38) knocks Ottawa Senators left winger Dave Dziurzynski out during a fight in first period NHL action in Toronto on Wednesday March 6, 2013. (FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Toronto Maple Leafs left winger Fraser McLaren (38) knocks Ottawa Senators left winger Dave Dziurzynski out during a fight in first period NHL action in Toronto on Wednesday March 6, 2013. (FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

hockey

The NHL’s line of duty and the story of David Dziurzynski Add to ...

The demotion to Binghamton must have hurt, but a grinder who intends to be successful has to learn to compartmentalize the many frustrations that come with the job.

“Obviously it’s disappointing,” David says, “But you can’t look at it that way. You’ve got to listen to the things they’re saying to you, what you need to work on to stay up the next time, so that’s what I’m doing – working on all the little things that will help us win.”

He got in the 2010 Dodge Ram truck he bought when he signed his big contract – a ride designed to blend in back home in Lloydminster – and began the solitary return-trip to Bingo. He called his mother at work one, two, three times but she didn’t answer. When she finally returned to her desk and noticed the missed calls, her hockey-parent worries resurfaced yet again.

“I called him back and said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘Just driving.’ I said, ‘Where are you going?’ He said, ‘Oh, to Binghamton. They sent me down today.’”

Long drives are nothing to him – he did 26 hours straight from Saskatoon to Kitchener before training camp last summer so he could get in two weeks’ skating with his former Binghamton roommate, Mike Hoffman. If nothing else, he could tell himself he was looking forward to cooking homemade pasta dinners after a month-and-a-half of Ottawa hotel living.

And if he felt despair on the AHL-bound Interstate, he wasn’t about to acknowledge any hard feelings once he made it back to Binghamton and played out the end of his three-year contract.

“No it wasn’t bad,” he says. “You just relax and think about what you’ve got to do to get up there again. I wasn’t expecting to stay up there as long as I did. I ended up playing very well and scoring a few goals. It was very exciting, trying to stay up there as long as I could and take every shift as my last.”

‘You’re not guaranteed anything’

And now he’ll get another chance. With training camp opening, David and his girlfriend, a student at the University of Saskatchewan, made the cross-country drive to Ottawa in his trusty truck. His one-year deal will pay him $640,000 if he can make the big club.

The Binghamton Senators were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs last spring, but that surprise loss gave David the opportunity to revisit Ottawa and watch the Senators’ playoff games as one of the team’s “Black Aces” – reserve players who could be called to the lineup in the event of injuries. He was impressed by the intensity and physicality of playoff hockey, not least because those qualities are the hallmarks of his game.

There’s some dispute over the message he was given at his exit interview with the Senators. His mother maintains that his chances of cracking the lineup seem to be good, that “it’s his spot to lose.” David scoffs at this interpretation.

“I don’t know what she was thinking,” he says. “It must have been a long day at work. How many kids do they have going into camp? Yeah, there’s a chance of making it, but you’ve got to prove yourself. You’re not guaranteed anything.”

His summer was pretty typical of a young NHL hopeful: gym work in the morning, golf in the afternoon, some skating in the evening, weekends with friends and family at the lake. He cooked dinners for his grateful mother, acquired a dog (a French bulldog/Boston terrier cross named Lewis) and tended to his well-worn body with massages and visits to the chiropractor.

The fight in Toronto has undoubtedly raised his profile in his home province. David was asked to take part in a couple of charity golf tournaments, and at the Hartnell, MacArthur, Holtby Celebrity Golf Classic in Lloydminster, he finally met his fellow NHL celebrity, Frazer McLaren.

“We had a few beers together,” he says. “It was good. It was normal.”

The fight that once transfixed the hockey world and brought home the horrors of bare-knuckle brawling for a day or two didn’t figure much in their discussions. The Senators like David’s stoic qualities, and they are much in evidence as he lets the subject drop.

“We just put it behind us,” he says. “It is what it is.”

Some day, if David Diurzynski’s career proceeds according to plan and against all the odds, he will be back in an Ottawa Senators jersey, lining up against his beer-drinking buddy in the ongoing Battle of Ontario. And what will happen then?

“I’m not sure,” says the anonymity-seeking grinder in as few words as he can muster. “We’ll see when it comes.”

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