February 15, 2014

New England trio savors 'the call'

By Mike Miccoli

Two ex-BC Eagles — Brian Dumoulin, left, and Brian Gibbons, right, have aided the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. Former BU standout David Warsofsky, center, scored his first NHL goal for the hometown Bruins in December. (Getty Images)

Imagine getting the call.

Try to think about what it’s like to feel any and every type of emotion, feeling and sensation you would get. Is it a blur? Would you be able to remember exactly how it happened? Who would you tell first?

In a way, none of that matters. It’s all pretty instantaneous, and it comes so fast that you wouldn’t be able to think about it twice. But here you are, getting the call to play in the NHL.

For the 84 AHLers who have been called up to play in their first NHL game this season, it’s a dream come true. It’s the goal that they drew up when they laced up the skates for the first time as a kid. What did they want to be when they grew up? An NHL hockey player. This one call is why you play the game. It’s a chance to become something great, an opportunity to show that all of your hard work and sacrifice paid off. But throughout all of this excitement, there’s one important question that the players have: “When do I leave?”

“We had just got done with practice and (Bruins assistant GM) Don Sweeney just pulled me aside off the ice and said I had to be on the plane by 2 o’clock because they were leaving for Buffalo that day,” said Providence Bruins defenseman David Warsofsky, reflecting on his first call-up to Boston in December. “I rushed out of practice, went home, grabbed some clothes and had to meet them at the airport.”

Originally from Marshfield, Mass., and a former Boston University player, Warsofsky was part of the mass call-ups for the Boston Bruins during an injury-riddled December and is one of six Providence Bruins to make their NHL debut this season.  He also was one of three New Englanders, along with Brian Dumoulin and Brian Gibbons of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, to get the call. Dumoulin had a similar rushed experience in getting his call-up to a Pittsburgh team also depleted with injuries.

“We were actually on the road in St. John’s,” said Dumoulin, a Biddeford, Maine, native and Boston College product. “I was told right after my game that I would be getting called up. Obviously it was really exciting for me and my family when I got the news.”

The next night, he was on the ice in Detroit in a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey. Two days later, in his first home game, he recorded his first career point, an assist 39 seconds into Pittsburgh’s 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Dumoulin wasn’t the only New Englander who got the call from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Gibbons, his teammate in the AHL and a former BC player himself, made his NHL debut with Pittsburgh one month earlier. Gibbons made his impact almost immediately, scoring a goal and an assist in his debut game with the Penguins, less than 24 hours after he got the call. The native of Braintree, Mass., was named first star of the game, a 3-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks.

“I think I am just taking it all in right now,” Gibbons told a Penguins reporter following the Nov. 18 game. “I don’t usually show a lot of emotion, but on the inside I am really happy.”

Out of the three New Englanders, Gibbons stuck with the NHL squad the longest, playing in 13 games and registering two goals and four assists for six points before getting injured in a mid-January game against the Calgary Flames. Another similarity? All three New Englanders made offensive contributions in their short time with the club.

In Warsofsky’s fourth and final game up with Bruins, he ripped a rocket of a shot from the top of the circle for his first career NHL goal and point, tying the game for Boston against the Ottawa Senators.

“It’s one of those things that we practice,” said Warsofsky, a defenseman who took the puck laterally through the neutral zone after a feed from fellow defenseman and former AHLer Johnny Boychuk. “I was trying to get the puck into the zone and I didn’t really see anything open from there. “It’s obviously not a bad play to try to get the puck on net, and luckily that one went in for me.”

For the younger players getting their first taste of NHL action, the veteran leadership present in said locker rooms can’t be overlooked. “I think that locker room up there is very welcoming to younger guys, especially for players that haven’t gotten that opportunity just yet,” said Warsofsky. “Especially guys like (Zdeno) Chara, (Dennis) Seidenberg and Boychuk. They’re all definitely there to give their own little input here and there, and you try to take all of that in, but play your game for the most part.”

“Everyone was really supportive,” said Dumoulin, who was called up in December to aid the depleted Penguins blue line. “That’s kind of an area where there were quite a number of defensemen that were out, so I was able to get time on the power play and penalty kill. The coaching staff and all of the players really helped me learn the system as quickly as possible.”

It helps when some of the guys on the club were their teammates in the AHL, too.

“When I got up there, I talked to (Matt) Bartkowski and (Torey) Krug, and at the time (Ryan) Spooner, (Matt) Fraser and (Nick) Johnson were up there too, so it’s always good when you go up there and there are familiar faces,” said Warsofsky. “You’re able to get players’ advice, and even with guys you’re familiar with, it makes the transition that much easier.”

With replacements needed in Pittsburgh from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Dumoulin, too, had plenty of familiar allies in the Penguins’ NHL locker room.

“Fortunately for me, there were a lot of players I was familiar with up in Pittsburgh because of the injury situation,” said Dumoulin. “I was able to talk with them a lot. They all said the most important thing is to have fun and still play the same way and don’t try to do anything different.”

The trio’s solid play in the AHL was what got them called up in the first place. Warsofsky has three goals and 18 assists in 36 games, while Dumoulin has three goals and seven assists in 31 games. Gibbons, who is still with Pittsburgh — albeit injured — had nine goals and 18 assists in 23 games. 

Going forward, Dumoulin and Warsofsky know what they need to do to get the call again. The defensemen need to stay focused and continue to get better as hockey players while helping their AHL teams be successful. They have to just keep plugging away.

“I think just continuing to work hard,” Dumoulin said. “Obviously getting better defensively and moving the puck, because no matter how good you are at it, you can always get better. Once you get up to the NHL, and now that I’ve experienced it, the play happens so quickly and decisions need to be made really fast. The quicker you can get, the better you will be.”

Keeping your head in the right place helps, too. Neither player discounted the attribute of thinking positively, a characteristic they both credited with getting them to the NHL in the first place. Now, it’s all about getting back.

“I got a taste of what it’s like to play up there,” said Warsofsky. “It’s always a goal of mine and every other player in the AHL to be a regular (in the NHL), so the most important thing is to play well.

“When the opportunity does present itself, I want to be the one they call up again.”