Comet Tales: Prust Off and Running in Utica
by Don LaibleFeb 22, 2016
For Brandon Prust, the road back to the National Hockey League detours through Utica, and that is fine with him.
Prior to making his debut this past Wednesday at The AUD as a member of the Utica Comets, Brandon Prust hadn't seen game action in nearly a full month. An ankle injury had limited the nine-year NHL veteran to just 35 games this season, his first with the Vancouver Canucks, after spending the past three with the Montreal Canadiens.
A total of seven points, six of them being assists, and 59 penalty minutes are what the 31-year old vet mustered up this season with the Canucks. With a youth movement in full swing in Vancouver implemented by Canucks' general manager Jim Benning, Prust was dispatched to his professional roots - the AHL.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a hard time for me," Prust said last Wednesday, after skating against the Portland Pirates. "I'm going to stay positive, help this team, and get back to the NHL."
There were no pulling any punches by the Canucks' General Manager, when he stated why Prust was placed on waivers. "Providing opportunity for our younger players" is what he told Yahoo1 Sports. And so, 13 days later, after going unclaimed by the 29 other NHL organizations on February 2, Prust packed up for Utica.
Officially, on February 4, Prust became a member of the Comets. Still playing under an NHL contract, Prust became a Comet.
"I've never been more focused in my life,” Prust explained. “This (being waived) happened for a reason. It's the kick in the butt that I needed.”
In The AUD for Prust's Comets' debut against Portland, in scouts row were representatives from the Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, even two members of a Swiss league team. Less than eight minutes into the mid-week visit by the Pirates to Utica, Prust made his presence felt.
"I thought he (Prust) was really good tonight," Green told the media following Tuesday's Comets 5-2 win. "I liked his game. Early on, he made some good plays."
Returning to the AHL for an athlete that has performed at the game's highest level since making his NHL debut on Nov. 1, 2006, is humbling.
Much has changed for Prust over the past decade, yet there are some familiarities for him in Utica. Gone are the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights, the Calgary AHL affiliate in 2005'06, which served as Prust's first pro team. Selected in the third round by Calgary in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, that first team still remains important to Prust. During the recent NHL all-star break, Prust caught up with his Omaha coach of a decade back.
"We (Ryan McGill) chatted,” told Prust. “A lot of people have reached out to me, telling me to just stay positive. That this (being waived) is just a bump in the road."
Prust's timing in Utica for his first game, and Portland being the Comets' opponent, also, could be construed by the left winger as a positive sign of things to come. Pirates' coach Scott Allen was part of McGill's staff, on that Omaha team in 2005-06.
With more than a week's practice with his Comets' teammates under his belt, comfort is starting to form. While the uniform colors are familiar to Prust, the faces in them are different. Except for one familiar face that shares a boat with Prust.
Last month, Chris Higgins, an NHL vet was also sent to Utica by Vancouver, another result of the youth movement. The two have much in common. Having been previous teammates with the New York Rangers, prior to them both coming on board in Vancouver, who better to lean on for support at this time than each other.
"We (Higgins) are staying at the same hotel, eating dinner together, and riding to the rink together," Prust told.
When asked about his assessment of his first pro game in a month, Prust held nothing back.
"I thought my conditioning was good, my tempo was up. I faded a little as the game went on. The ankle felt the best since the injury. Tonight was pretty exciting for me,"Prust said after his first game with the Comets.
Three days later in Syracuse, his second game with Utica, Prust again registered a point. At 10:26 in the third period at the OnCenter, Prust scored a short-handed goal. With an assist from Brendan Gaunce, Prust put the puck past Crunch netminder Kristers Gudlevskis after he faked a shot to draw the goaltender out of position.
With an NHL atmosphere in The AUD, and as rabid fan base as hockey knows, Prust is already aware of what to expect at home games.
"It's a great building with lots of energy. It's fun; a good place to come and play."
Comets' fans may hardly get to know Brandon Prust, but the welcome mat has been put out.
by, Don Laible