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    Hockey by the book

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    Hockey by the book

    Post by Admin on Mon Feb 16, 2009 1:00 pm

    Michael Traikos, National Post
    Published: Saturday, September 08, 2007

    KITCHENER - When the Toronto Maple Leafs offered Darryl Boyce a one-year contract to play in the minors last summer, the University of New Brunswick freshman did not have to think long before coming up with an answer.
    'I told them no,' the 23-year-old said yesterday.
    For someone who boasts a 3.50 grade-point average, it seemed like a dumb decision.
    But Boyce said playing professional hockey paled in comparison to meeting girls, hosting dorm parties and representing his country at the World University Games in Italy.
    'I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything,' the Summerside, P.E.I, native said of his two years at UNB, where he won a national championship with the Varsity Reds last season.
    'That's something every player should experience.'
    It turned out to be the smart move. A day after he helped Canada defeat Russia in the gold medal game at the World University Games, the Leafs came back with a two-year offer.
    This time Boyce accepted while promising himself he would return to school to finish his business administration degree.
    'There's more to life than playing hockey,' said Boyce, who scored in last night's 6-5 overtime shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Prospects Tournament at Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. 'For what it's worth, a degree is more valuable than a year of playing pro.'
    While there is obvious value in getting a post-secondary education, few players have gone from the Canadian university ranks to the National Hockey League. Thrashers forward Steve Rucchin was drafted out of the University of Western Ontario, but a majority of Canadian university rosters are filled with players whose chances of playing high-level hockey are long but over.
    That seemed to be the case with Boyce, who was ignored in the NHL draft during his four seasons in the Ontario Hockey League. It turns out the former St. Michael's Majors centre, who set a modern-day franchise record by playing in 262 games, was just a late bloomer.
    'There are a lot of players who slip through the cracks,' said Toronto Marlies head coach Greg Gilbert. 'Boyce just took longer to hit his stride.'
    In the OHL, Boyce was known as a 'pest' who made it his job to get under his opponent's skin. Gilbert remembers the hard-nosed centre as the sole reason his No. 1-ranked Mississauga Ice Dogs were upset by the eighth-seeded Majors in the first round of the 2005 playoffs. Tyler Doig has fond memories of being sucker-punched in the face by the guy who is now his teammate.
    'You won't win without players like him,' Gilbert said of Boyce, whom he recommended to the Leafs. 'It's the guys in the background who aren't in the limelight that every team needs.'
    After being cut from the Carolina Hurricanes' and Columbus Blue Jackets' training camps, Boyce came to the conclusion that the NHL did not need him. So he enrolled in university, where he rediscovered his scoring touch and passion for the game.
    At UNB, Boyce said he experienced the kind of freedom that was foreign to someone who had lived with a billet family during his four years in the OHL. He roomed with four of his teammates, cooked for himself and met his girlfriend, an engineering student, at a New Year's Eve party that he threw at his house.
    On the ice, he was just as unfettered.
    In his freshman season, Boyce scored 15 goals in 28 games and was named rookie of the year. A year later he helped UNB win its first national title in nine years.
    'In the OHL, it didn't matter what I did offensively,' said Boyce, who never scored more than 16 goals in a 68-game season. 'I was locked into a checking line role. In the last two years, I've been able play a role that I haven't played since I was 16 years old.'
    With the Marlies, he may have to accept his defensive role. But after seeing that there is more to life than hockey, Boyce has a new perspective on his playing career.
    'I think it was a very smart and mature choice,' Gilbert said of Boyce's two years at UNB. 'If hockey doesn't work out for him, then he's got something to fall back on.'

    mtraikos@nationalpost.com
    ©️ National Post 2007

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