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NHL Hockey: Great Falls skater Patrick Dwyer reflects on solid season

NHL Hockey: Great Falls skater Patrick Dwyer reflects on solid season

By Steve Schreck Tribune Sports Writer

From playing for the Great Falls Americans, to his college days at Western Michigan, to the minors, to now the National Hockey League, Patrick Dwyer hasn’t taken the road less traveled – he has taken the road never traveled.

Patrick Dwyer, 30, who was born in Spokane, Wash., but spent the majority of his childhood in Great Falls, is currently playing for the Carolina Hurricanes in the NHL. He is the only player to make the league from Great Falls, and is believed to be the only Montanan to play most of his junior hockey in Big Sky country and make it in the NHL.

Patrick, a 2001 C.M. Russell High graduate, played junior hockey here in the Electric City after his dad, John, who was stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base at the time of Patrick’s birth, picked Patrick up after a week in Washington and brought him to Great Falls.

“It was amazing, the journey and path that I took to (the NHL) is something the makes it that much sweeter, I guess you could say,” Dwyer said on his first game back in 2008-09 and his route to the league.

Said his father, John, on his son playing in the NHL: “Everybody is proud and content when their kid succeeds …And some of it is just totally surreal.”

The most impressive thing, however, may not be that Dwyer made it to the league but more so that he has stayed in it. It’s one thing to play a game in the league; it’s a whole other to stay there. Dwyer just finished his fifth full season with the Hurricanes.

“Getting there, that’s the kids’ goal,” said John Dwyer, who watches most of his son’s games on the computer and links it to his television from his home in Wisconsin. “Once they get there, staying there is hard. Some of it is being blessed with not many injuries or anything like that and (the) other is being able to do something well. Pat is a really fast, really good skater, and he’s a very good penalty killer. Those are kind of the things that help you carve out a niche where you have a skill that the team wants.”

Dwyer, a right-winger, played on a line with Jordan Staal and Nathan Gerbe most of the year, a line that served as the second or third line, depending on matchups. The organization, which just fired its head coach and hasn’t made the playoffs in the last five seasons, went 36-35-11.

“It was a good year personally for me,” Dwyer said. “I felt I had a pretty good year. Saying that, it’s never easy sitting here in May and June watching the rest of the league battle in the playoffs.”

The right-winger just concluded his best season statistically in the league: eight goals and 14 assists in 75 games for a career-best total of 22 points. He scored two shorthanded goals and two game-winning goals.

“I think my role to stay in the NHL is to be a quick, speed guy that brings energy and on the forecheck, bumping guys, a good penalty kill guy, that’s kind of my bread and butter,” Dwyer said. “A guy that can shut down team’s top lines and make it a tough night on those guys, and make teams beat us with their second and third line.

“Depending on the night and what matchup our coach wanted, maybe we would be a third line, a shutdown line against the other team’s top line that night or on other night’s we’d be the second line. I was just trying to fill a spot on the line that needed some speed and some energy, and that’s what I tried to bring every night.”

Dwyer’s first appearance in the NHL was during the 2008-09 season, when he was on a call-up basis, playing most of his hockey in the AHL. The players called up from the minors in case of an injury are called the “black aces.” After playing 10 or so games during the regular season, he got the call to play in the Eastern Conference Finals, where the Hurricanes eventually got swept by Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. He played in two games and had an assist. The Penguins went on to hoist the Stanley Cup.

“When we played them, they were running on full cylinders,” Dwyer said. “Just playing in those games, the intensity level and the (competitiveness) and the game, it’s just another game in the playoffs, and I think those games helped me develop myself as a full-time player in the league. It’s something I want to get back to and play in a full-time role, rather than just a fill-in for injuries.”

His first-ever game in the NHL was an afternoon game, so he didn’t have too much time to think about it when he was called up, though, he said, he was nervous. Since then, Dwyer has played five full seasons and has established himself in the NHL, though there are still times he has to admire some of the greats of the game.

“You come into the league and you’re a little star struck with awe,” Dwyer said, “but I think a lot of times, you sit back during games and you’ll be on the bench, and you know, those guys will be out there playing and you’ll be like, ‘Wow! Did you see that? Or ‘Wow, what a play!’ and stuff like that. I think at the same time we are fans of the game, too.”

His dad stressed at an early age that you have to play defense as well as offense. Though penalty-killing and defense are what he prides himself in, Dwyer hasn’t forgotten about putting the puck in the back of the net, an area he would like to improve.

“You look at the teams that do well,” he said, “not only do their first lines score, but their second and third lines score, too. It’s something that I want to continue to develop, my offensive game. But the main thing, my defensive game is where I fit within the team and to continue doing that well.”

He and his wife Ashley, son Ian, 5, and daughter Lillian, 3, are currently spending the offseason in Wisconsin, where Dwyer took a brief break to let his body recuperate from the inevitable aches and pains of an NHL season, but is just starting to begin summer workouts again. When the month of June starts, he will be full-go in his preparation for next season.

Dwyer has one year remaining on his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent for the 2015-16 season.

“We’ll reassess from there,” Dwyer said. “There are some changes going on in the organization and stuff right now, so we haven’t really touched base with Carolina yet on …where they feel things are and stuff. So we’ll play out next year and hopefully it’s a good year. If we can both agree that Carolina is a place that is a good fit for both of us, hopefully going forward we can work something out. It’s a place my kids love, my family loves and my wife loves. So it’s a place we would be interested in staying.”

Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune (May 18, 2014)