Dryden Hunt had just finished playing a game for the Springfield Thunderbirds last Wednesday when he was called into his coach’s office.
That’s when he got the news — Hunt was on his way to the NHL.
“For them it was just a little bit nonchalant. For me it was the biggest news, the best news, I’ve ever gotten,” Hunt told the Star on Monday.
“I’m sitting there trying to act normal amongst my coaches and general manager, and inside it’s just like wow, this is a dream come true.”
The Nelson native and new Florida Panther flew to Buffalo, N.Y., on Thursday for a practice. He made his debut Friday against the Sabres, against whom he started on the Panthers’ fourth line before moving up to the second line and finishing with 10 minutes on the ice.
He said the jitters of making his NHL debut faded as the game went on.
“You definitely catch yourself looking around, saying to yourself, wow, you’re really here. I was nervous but I got the first couple shifts out of the way and [then] it’s just another game I guess.”
Hunt then travelled with the Panthers for another road game against the New Jersey Devils. Florida lost, but Hunt played the entire game on the second line, had his first recorded shot on goal and played nearly four more minutes than he did Friday.
“I think I had a little bit more confidence,” he said. “Obviously it helps playing with top-six forwards in the NHL. It’s definitely fast but it’s a lot easier when you’re playing with two skilled guys.”
The 21-year-old was signed by the Panthers in March 2016 after an electrifying season with the Moose Jaw Warriors in which he led all Canadian Hockey League players in goals and was named the Western Hockey League’s MVP.
He played all last season with the Thunderbirds in the AHL, and had five goals and three assists in 13 games this season before his call-up.
Hunt was still a little starstruck Monday, but said he hoped to keep his NHL dream going for as long as he could. He was still with the team ahead of the Panthers’ home game Tuesday against the Dallas Stars.
“It’s something I could get used to for sure and I’m going to try to make the most of this opportunity I have,” he said.