photo by Bridget Samuels/bridgetds
T.J. Syner, a free agent attending UMass-Amherst, is an interesting player in this year's development camp. He possesses staggering speed and is built like a football player, with one exception: he's 5'6".
Looking up to smaller players who succeed in the NHL like Martin St. Louis has given Syner the motivation to make himself the best hockey player he can. "The guy's done unbelievable as a career, especially for his size," Syner says of St. Louis. "Going out there and being able to battle like he does every night just amazes me. I definitely look up to him and the style he plays."
Syner has explosive speed, and works hard to keep it that way. Before coming to camp, he says he "did a few power skating lessons just to get back on the ice." He worked with a coach near his hometown who also coaches figure skating, which might explain Syner's smooth stride. He's also very strong, which is important for a smaller player, as it makes him that much more difficult to knock off the puck.
His speed is also valuable on special teams, and UMass head coach Don Cahoon feels comfortable putting him on the ice in all situations. Last year, Syner scored four power play goals and one shorthanded goal.
The one area where he's been trying to improve is his scoring. While his point total has increased each year at UMass-Amherst (27 points last season), Syner is looking for his upcoming senior year to be the best yet in a big way. His coach has urged him to shoot more so the scoring will come.
"I've been trying to make steps, hopefully a bigger step next year, [my scoring] only increased a little bit each year," Syner said. "I played a lot last year and hopefully I'm going to get that same opportunity this year. It will play a big factor, a little bit more confidence, and definitely shooting the puck more, and hopefully produce points."
Syner is also looking to remain a mentor for younger players coming into the UMass program. A co-captain last season, Syner hopes to have a captaincy role again. Even if not, he's happy to play the role of an older player leading by example.
"We had 13, 14 freshmen last year so I kind of played that [leadership] role all last year," Syner said. "Every freshman looks up to a senior coming in, so you definitely gotta play the role and hopefully being a captain again, they'll look up to you and you just got to set the example for them."
Syner will be heading into his senior year with an NHL development camp under his belt - another learning experience to impart on younger players. Not to mention a boost of confidence that may just help him score the goals he's looking for. With one day left to go, Syner has found camp difficult but rewarding.
"It's been awesome; it's tough. I'm going to be honest, it's a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be. The skating's been really hard and challenging, but it's a great way to get in shape," Syner said. "This overall experience has been unbelievable."