RALEIGH — The kids on the bubble all had their say, taking runs at veterans, making their case for preseason action this week in Sunday’s Red-White Game. Patrick Dwyer was out there with them, and it wasn’t too long ago he was one of them.
A scrimmage like this would have been a critical training-camp moment for Dwyer earlier in his career, a chance to sway the opinions of the Carolina Hurricanes front office watching in the stands along with the thousands of fans attending the annual Caniac Carnival.
Sunday, Dwyer was one of the foundation pieces all those moving parts will fit around. His role may change, but at 30, his job status is finally assured – even if that isn’t something he would ever take for granted, not as far as he has come.
“You’re kind of on the other side of the table now,” Dwyer said. “You know how those guys felt when guys were out there pushing for spots. And you may be a veteran now, but you’re still fighting for ice time when there’s ice time available. You still want to make an impression before the season starts.”
It’s a strange transition. You spend your entire career scraping for respect, fighting for a roster spot, and then wake up one morning and you’re a veteran. Not a star, but an important part of the roster.
“Patty’s low-maintenance,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. “I can put him on the fourth line at center, second-line right winger, tell him to kill penalties – he’s perfect. He’s great for a coach.”
Which is why Dwyer has spent all of the past three seasons with the Hurricanes. They signed him largely for minor-league depth in 2006 when the Atlanta Thrashers cut him loose after one season in the AHL, but he has been part of the organization ever since, making his NHL debut in 2008, even getting a two-year extension last fall when his contract had a year to run.
That was a gesture of uncommon respect, as was Dwyer’s selection by the Carolina chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association to receive the Josef Vasicek Award, which recognizes cooperation with the media. That’s more attention than a player with 29 goals in 270 career NHL games typically gets.
Regardless of production, on a team that’s generally lacking in veteran role players at forward, Dwyer is even more valuable to Muller than he would be otherwise, the “safety-valve guy,” as Muller put it.
“He skates well, he’s consistent and he’s smart,” Muller said. “You put those three things together, you can become a pretty important player as a role guy.”
Dwyer has never felt secure enough to buy a home here – “In my position, I don’t think I ever feel safe,” Dwyer said – but his family has put down roots by renting homes in the same north Raleigh neighborhood. His 5-year-old son is playing hockey now and his 3-year-old daughter is in preschool. They spend their summers in Wisconsin, but they have grown up here.
So has Dwyer, who was 23 in his first camp with the Hurricanes. Now only 10 players on the roster have played more NHL games, and all of Dwyer’s have come with this franchise.
“I don’t think I envisioned it when I signed here,” Dwyer said. “It was an opportunity and I wanted to make the most of it, and it’s an opportunity that has gone well. I’m still here and I’ve got a couple more years here.”
The youngsters ran around Sunday and made their case for a roster spot. Dwyer watched, all too aware it wasn’t too long ago he was in that position, before he played his way into a different one.
DeCock: email@example.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947