Above the Glass
by Samantha on 10/15/11 at 08:21 PM ET
I hear that the Rochester Americans are back on track for a successful season, and I have a personal reason for being happy for all y’all who live there. His name is Riley Boychuk, one of the newest additions to the Amerks roster. He’s a former Portland Winterhawk who traded his overage year in junior for a 3-year entry level deal with the Buffalo Sabres and their AHL team. Riley is a bit of a diamond in the rough, but I can assure you that with a little time and patience, he will shine. Because behind the young man who likes to start the business is a really nice guy who is really good at scoring really pretty goals.
First, the basics: Riley was probably better known ‘round these parts as a power forward who spent most of his time punching something smaller than him, hanging 10 in the box for more than an occasional bad penalty and generally getting in the opponents’ faces. He will be 21 in February, he’s bigger than a Christmas tree, and he’s a top notch, Grade A safe driver (more on that in a minute). But behind the sometimes hotheaded play is a very levelheaded player and unfailingly polite young man who will answer any question you care to ask. Oh, and there’s this:
Never judge a honkin’ huge player who could take your head off and decorate his safely driven car with it by his cover: Because he also does things like score insurance marker goals by going five-hole on himself with his back to the net. You can see his handiwork here, about 1 minute and change into the highlights. In short, it went like this: with his back to the Vancouver net, he dug the puck out of a pile, barely looked behind him and proceeded to score with a backhanded shot between his legs.
Good things come to hockey players who wait: Most of Riley’s rookie season and the one after was derailed by surgery to repair his hips, but in the two seasons that followed he roared back with a ferocious style of play that you couldn’t help but notice. Because when he scored, he was the proprietor of goals like the one mentioned above. And those fights he was so well known for? He started many of them in defense of his teammates. They weren’t always the right choice at the right time, but they were for the right reason. He wasn’t drafted in his 18-year old year, but in 2010 the Buffalo Sabres drafted him 208th overall. Because the Winterhawks also had players taken early in the draft and everywhere in between (starting with the number four overall pick Ryan Johansen and number five, Nino Niederreiter), Riley helped the Hawks bookend the 2010 Entry Draft. Some people here wondered whether he would ever be signed by Buffalo, but after I saw him at training camp this year, I knew they would. He was realistic about his goal of making the AHL club, and he has his sights set on being more consistent, something most of us would agree he needs to do. As Portland fans have heard me say many times, behind the great plays is a great player and person.
Now, about that driving: At training camp this year, as I left the rink I got behind a car that clearly belonged to one of the players. I must say, he was a way more courteous driver than I am. He waited for a pedestrian in the crosswalk instead of inching into it to cut him off, he signaled before he turned (a rarity here in Portland, just ask Taylor Peters), went the speed limit and stopped well back from the crosswalk when he came to a stoplight. I looked over, and the driver of said car was Riley.
He is 6’5” after all: At a Winterhawks Booster Club pizza night this year, Riley’s former roommate Ty Rattie revealed that whenever dinner was served at their house, he’d come downstairs, only to discover that there would be maybe one or two small scoops of mashed potatoes left because Riley had already helped himself to the rest of it. Live and learn, boys. If you room with someone who’s taller than a Christmas tree, that will tend to happen.
Carbs and all, he’s still physically fitter than thou: In 2011, for the third year in a row, Riley again won the Paul Gaustad Fitness Award. You can read all about it here. The photo that goes with that story is one of my favorites because it’s a good representation of who Riley is off the ice: polite, smart, well-spoken, confident and friendly.
So Rochester, here’s my advice to you: Portland has dispatched to you a gift that may take a bit to start giving, but I promise you he will. One of my very favorite things about Riley’s story is that his path to your door didn’t come easy and it took time. He definitely took the road less traveled to find his way to you, and it may take time for him to show you what he’s worth. But I hope that you will give him the chance to do so. Because I assure you, he will be worth the wait. And if you would like to watch him score one of those “did that just go in there?” goals, may I suggest feeding him a healthy serving of mashed potatoes now and again. It seems to do the trick every time.
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About Above the Glass
Welcome to Above the Glass, a definitive anti-expert’s guide to hockey. I started blogging in 2009 as part of an effort to learn all 87 rules in the NHL Rulebook in 107 days before the 2010 Olympics, 30 years after I discovered the sport. You can peruse the archival results here. Growing up in Arizona, I didn’t even know hockey existed until February 22, 1980, when the USA played Russia in the Olympics. And just like that, the game of the century changed my life. I still don’t quite understand the icing rule or which faceoff circle goes with what offense, but I do know that every aspect of hockey has something to teach us about life. That’s what you’ll find here, along with my unadulterated passion for the game.
I live in Portland, Oregon, home of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. I invite anyone who wants to know more about hockey in the Rose City to visit here, where I blog exclusively about the Winterhawks. I’ll post an occasional musing about the Hawks, the WHL and junior hockey here as well.
Follow me on Twitter: @AbovetheGlass