There is a place in Penticton where Emerson Hrynyk can stand on the bluff of a cliff and look out at the picturesque scene that is Skaha Lake.
From eighty-five feet up, the view is tremendous — blue water below, surrounded by arid desert hills — the type of thing great post-cards are made of.
Ah, but Hrynuk doesn’t stand 85 feet up a mountainside because he likes the scenery.
He stands there because it is the perfect place to jump, to get clearance from the cliff-face as he hurtles down into the water below.
To the curious on-looker, Hrynyk’s descent might look like fool-hardy madness. Even his own mother can’t stand to think about her baby boy falling like a rock into the frigid depths.
“My mom was totally against it until I assured her there were no rocks down there (verified with a swim beforehand),” the Chilliwack Bruins defenceman said. “The highest is 110 feet, but I don’t want to do that one. It’s pretty high and I have my limits.”
For Hrynyk, the experience is an unmatched feeling, a compelling mixture of fear, anticipation and adrenaline.
“It doesn’t look that tall when you’re up there, but when you’re in the water afterwards, looking up at it it’s like, ‘Whoa! I just did that?’” he said with a smile. “Once you do it, you want to keep going and keep going. I just love the feeling of falling.”
There may be no rocks in the lake, but the 18-year-old blueliner has been a rock on defence for Chilliwack this season.
Hrynyk has been unnoticeable, and that’s a good thing for a player whose primary task is to keep things tidy in the Bruins end of the ice.
Every one in a while a fire drill will break out around the Chilliwack net, with Bruins running here, there and everywere frantically trying to get the puck out of their zone.
Rarely do you see No. 4 involved.
Hrynyk seems to excel at those little passes and chips up the boards that get the puck out of danger, and he appears to have a certain calmness when things get hectic.
“I try to make the simple plays and passes,” he said. “Pucks in and pucks out. Get to the red line and get the puck in deep.”
Not always easy in the Western Hockey League, where the forecheckers are fast and systems are set up to thwart the best of intentions.
“A lot of times, you’re making that pass knowing you’re going to get hammered afterwards,” Hrynyk conceded. “You’ve got to take a lot of hits to make plays. It doesn’t bother me though. The fighting and the hitting, it’s all part of hockey and that’s why you play the game.”
Measures of success are easy for forwards, and for offensive-minded defencemen. Goals and assists set the bar.
Hrynyk doesn’t have a goal this season, and he only has two in a major junior career spanning 72 games to date. If he judged himself on offensive output, he’d be one depressed D-man.
“My D partner Jesse (Zgraggen) got one last week, and I was looking across the ice at him thinking, ‘Geez. This rookie’s beating me in goals,’” Hrynyk laughed. “It would be nice to get one, to get that one off my back. But I was never a big gun at any level, so it doesn’t bother me much.”
Born in Edmonton (he confesses to being an Oilers fan) but raised in Penticton, Hrynyk grew up watching junior A hockey in historic Memorial Arena, fostering dreams of becoming a BCHL Panther/Vee.
Big, but slow and awkward on his skates, he was bypassed in the WHL bantam draft, and ended up playing a year of junior B in the KIJHL.
Last year, a vastly improved player showed up at training camp and played his way onto the Prince Albert Raiders, where he suited up for 42 regular season games.
Earlier this year, he was traded to Chilliwack in return for 17-year-old goaltender Cole Holowenko, giving him a chance to compare career trajectories with someone who has followed a remarkably similar path.
20-year-old veteran Jeff Einhorn showed up for Chilliwack’s training camp at the start of the 2007-08 season, surprised everyone by making the team as an undrafted walk-on, and now stands as the franchise’s all-time leader in games played (241).
Every shift in the WHL is a chance for Einhorn and Hrynyk to show they belong.
“I definitely take extra pride being where I am,” Hrynyk agreed. “A lot of work got me here. I think I wanted it really bad and I was willing to do whatever it took to get on the ice. I play with a chip on my shoulder out there, and I think a lot of undrafted guys are the same.”
Hrynyk’s on-ice goals are modest enough. He wants to get that one goal out of the way.
He also wants to make sure he finishes the season on the right side of the plus-minus ledger.
If those two things occur and the Bruins have some regular and post-season success, he’ll be a happy camper.
“I want to keep building, keep building and getting better every shift and every game,” he said. “I would love to play top-four, and stay a plus for the rest of the year.”