There's no denying a bulldog has bite.
But when you're spending a winter in northern Manitoba, a blizzard might find a way to sink its teeth in even further.
That's the hope for Whistler defenceman Taylor Derynck, who was recently dealt from the British Columbia Hockey League's Alberni Valley Bulldogs to the Manitoba Junior Hockey League Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN) Blizzard. It's a deal that should benefit both clubs, as the 18-year-old Derynck is taking on an increased role on the Blizzard blue line and was acquired for goaltender Brody Claeys, who is in his last year of eligibility and helps alleviate a clogged crease in The Pas, Man.
"OCN saw me play and wanted me, so they offered a goalie. Alberni Valley was looking for a goalie, so they traded me," he recalled.
Blizzard head coach and general manager Jason Smith expected a lot out of Derynck when he pulled the trigger on the trade, and has not been disappointed at all with the return thus far.
"We were looking for a good skater and he fit the bill with what we were looking for," he said. "It was a good trade for us. He's going to be an impact player for us — steady on the blue line, makes good decisions with the puck. He's the type of player that can skate it out if he gets into trouble and is on our power play and penalty kill."
The six-foot-tall defenceman got off to a hot start in his new home, matching his 11-game BCHL output with a goal and two assists in his first two contests. However, with the entire team struggling to score, he has not picked up any points since then.
After an 8-5-2 start to the year, the Blizzard offence has cooled considerably as they've dropped six straight games, tallying just five goals in those contests. Still, Derynck is confident that he and his teammates are just suffering a hiccup as part of a long season.
"There's the potential to do well," he said. "We're just trying to get back on track. We have to bear down and start finding some ways to put the puck in the net.
"We have to create some more opportunities and be more creative."
Derynck also noted the MJHL, home to the defending national champion Portage Terriers, has a different feel than what he's used to, but he's on an OCN team that's built for it — though small, his teammates have grit in spades.
"There's a little different style of play. It's a little bit more rough," he said. "Not everyone is as skilled or as well-rounded as B.C.
"There are lots of skilled players but there are a lot of fighters and grinders here."
In a league that's relatively far-flung, the Blizzard are the northern outpost, located 625 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg. Many of the league's southern teams can complete the bulk of their trips in two to three hours, but the Blizzard usually find themselves on packed weekend road trips with three games in three nights. By comparison, with the Bulldogs, Derynck only left Vancouver Island twice this season for standalone games in Salmon Arm and Powell River.
"In B.C., the travel was pretty easy," he said, noting major 17-hour sojourns to Prince George were the exception and not the rule. "(In Manitoba), our closest game is two-and-a-half hours and our furthest is seven."
And when he's at home, Derynck enjoys the atmosphere at the Gordon Lathlin Memorial Complex, as the Blizzard faithful are notoriously rambunctious — and are known to kick it up a few notches further come playoff time.
"It's early in the season, but we still get quite a few fans," he said. "They have these paddles and they hit the walls with the paddles and it's surprising how loud they are."
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