During two years away from hockey, Dana Tyrell felt time passing much more quickly than it actually was.
When Tyrell was ready to play hockey again this season, he discovered that he wasn’t too old or too rusty to try again. He is, at 28, still in his prime and prepared to assume the challenge of returning to the NHL.
His journey will begin in Wichita, as Tyrell, a forward who played for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning and the Columbus Blue Jackets, turned a tryout agreement with the Thunder into a contract.
The Thunder begins its season on Friday night against Indy at Intrust Bank Arena, the start of a two-game weekend series.
“When I was taking the years off I was telling myself, ‘God, I’m getting old. Maybe I should retire,’ ” said Tyrell, who said his hiatus was due to personal reasons. “But I am still young. Looking around the (ECHL) and the American (Hockey) League and the NHL, even guys here – I’m not that old.
“I’m definitely a veteran player and I’m experienced, and I definitely want to help this team win hockey games and help the young guys get better.”
Tyrell has played for teams in six cities – one in Slovakia – during seven years as a professional, none more memorable than the 132 games he played with Tampa Bay. As a rookie in 2010-11, Tyrell scored six of his seven career goals and reached the Eastern Conference Finals on a team that included stars such as Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier.
Tyrell made the highlight reel for a shifty goal against the Rangers and their goalie, Henrik Lundqvist. His debut was the payoff to the fast track he was on as a 2007 second-round pick and 85 games in the Triple-A AHL.
“That’s where I dreamed of being, definitely,” Tyrell said. “That was my goal. That’s still my goal, to get back to the NHL. That dream still hasn’t left me, and I’m just very happy and grateful that I’ve already had my experience in the NHL.”
Tyrell played three early-season games for Columbus in 2014 before finishing that season in the AHL, his last game action until he takes the ice for the Thunder for the first time.
Thunder coach Malcolm Cameron built a young roster without many proven scorers, but Tyrell can change the look. At 5-foot-10, he’s not powerful, but his playmaking ability can bring out the best in his teammates. He has 28 goals and 31 assists in his last three AHL stops.
With a roster Cameron says possesses quality depth, Tyrell can ease back into the game after his time away.
“I’m just kind of taking it a day at a time,” Tyrell said. “That’s just kind of been my mindset over the last couple years. I’m just really happy that Malcolm has given me the opportunity to play for the Thunder. I couldn’t be more happy or grateful to him and this organization.”
Tyrell is suddenly an elder statesman, even though he was 25 when he last played in the NHL. He is embracing his new veteran status and a chance to achieve his dream of playing in the NHL for the second time, even though it probably feels like the first.
“It’s definitely a new beginning for me, it’s definitely a new chance,” Tyrell said. “It’s kind of like starting over again for me. I’m just really looking forward to it. I still don’t have my timing and my hands are coming along every single day, but they’re still not where I want them to be. I’m sure they’ll be where I want them again real soon.”