RALEIGH—When Jussi Jokinen did not return to the Hurricanes bench for the second period of Tuesday's 3-2 loss to Boston, Zach Boychuk was probably looking around his Charlotte digs for his keys.
“I ended up buying a car this year with that exact reasoning in my head. That there could be a chance that I’d be going back and forth. So I stepped up, bought a car, and I’ve been driving back and forth," Boychuk laughed after a Jan. 24 win over the Maple Leafs.
Carolina's coaching staff has a lot of faith in Boychuk. In the Toronto game, he played on Eric Staal's wing on the Canes' top line. And why not? He'd tallied a hat trick for the Checkers the night before.
"We were actually on the road this past call-up. We were in Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) on a nine-day road trip. So I’ve got one suit… I had to get on a limo taxi to Philadelphia, and then I took a plane from Philadelphia here late last night. I’m kind of getting used to all the traveling. Always have a bag packed, I guess.”
Perhaps a reversible Canes-Checkers jersey would be a good idea, too. Though with Jokinen out for a week or two with a lower-body injury, Boychuk might be able to unpack his bag for a change.
Players trying to stick on an NHL roster don't get days off. While his Hurricanes teammates were enjoying the spotlight of the All-Star Fantasy Draft last Friday night in Raleigh, Boychuk was playing the front end of a back-to-back against the Adirondack Phantoms in Glens Falls, N.Y. As rookie sensation Jeff Skinner was lending his jersey to Montreal's P. K. Subban for breakaway luck in the SuperSkills competition the next night, Boychuk was skating in Hershey, Penn., against the defending AHL-champion Bears.
Tied for third on the Checkers in scoring with 15 goals and 39 points in just 33 games, Boychuk has played at least ten fewer games than the other top-line Charlotte forwards. At the NHL level, Boychuk has 7 points in 18 games in limited ice time. Not bad for a guy who probably has to look down at his own chest to remind himself what team he's playing for on any given night.
Boychuk, however, feels that switching teams is not so difficult. It's even kind of fun to be a part of playoff races in two leagues.
“I think the systems are very similar and that’s a credit to the way that these guys talk with each other, you know, back and forth. The power play breakout’s exactly the same, the forecheck is very similar, and basically we just try to keep it simple.
"For me, I like to try to watch all the games. I watched the Pittsburgh game the other night when I was in Wilkes-Barre, so I like to keep track of the boys and see how they’re doing. Obviously we’re in a tight playoff race so I’m cheering them on just in case I get that call-up back. It’s nice to get the win tonight and contribute a little bit. You have to watch what the other teams and doing and how our guys are playing. It’s fun kind of to be a fan and a player at the same time.”