Brinson Pasichnuk is still waiting for his ‘Welcome to the NHL’ moment, but it should be arriving soon.
The Bonnyville-born defenceman signed a pro contract with the San Jose Sharks in March of 2020 as his collegiate days with Arizona State came to an end unceremoniously with the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the NHL players and owners came to terms to move forward on the 2020-21 season, training camp quickly began in January, which for the Sharks, took place at their new home in Arizona.
The Sharks are the lone team unable to play in their home building and community, as Santa Clara County has a ban in place on indoor athletics.
For Pasichnuk, that meant he didn’t have to move. It also meant some of the hardest on-ice work he’s ever done.
“I came into camp in the best shape of my life, but I had never been to practices that were so hard. They were just incredibly like the pace was so fast, where every single drill is completely out of breath.
“I felt comfortable out there for sure. I mean, I don’t think people understand how much there is to learn making the jump into pro hockey. It almost felt like I was a kid trying to learn algebra. You know what I mean? With the little details that are so important at this level, from stick positioning to gap control, D zone coverage, just there’s so much to learn.
“I think I’ve definitely improved so much even just since three weeks ago. I’m starting to feel way more comfortable defending guys at this level. But yeah, it’s awesome. So cool being able to be part of this team.”
While it felt like a return to the classroom out of the gates, Pasichnuk did enough to make the Sharks’ “taxi squad,” a group of players that practice and travel with the team and able to step into the lineup on short notice.
However, the league’s COVID protocols are quite strict. Players get tested every morning, stay in their own hotel rooms, and there’s less social interaction allowed with teammates, as the Washington Capitals found out on Wednesday when fined $100,000 for having four players meet up in a hotel room without masks.
Pasichnuk joins a defensive core with two of the league’s best, Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns, who have both earned the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenceman during their careers–and so far he’s learning a lot from the veteran rearguards.
“Those guys are incredible hockey players. And what I found was so cool about them is they’re two of the best players in the world, but they’re two of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet,” said Pasichnuk.
“That was just so awesome how welcoming them and everyone was to the new guys and just showing us the ropes of what being a pro hockey player looks like, and how it’s supposed to look with the work ethic and just the way you treat others.”
The Sharks have been one of the league’s most successful franchises in the past 15 years, only missing the playoffs twice since 2003-04, but have never hoisted the Stanley Cup.
Pasichnuk said the team’s culture is one of the main reasons he chose to sign in San Jose as the organization treats the players as more than players and a family atmosphere.
Perhaps that’s why Brinson’s brother Steenn signed with the Sharks’ AHL affiliate the Barracuda, who got into his first pro game earlier this week and got in a scrap.
The Sharks will only play teams in the western half of the United States this regular season in a condensed 56-game schedule.
So far, they are 2-2 after a split against the St. Louis Blues, and will continue on the road to play the Minnesota Wild tonight and Sunday, which means Pasichnuk could make his NHL debut any time.
“That’s the exciting part about being on the taxi squad is with a condensed schedule, and you’re playing every second night, you’re gonna get an opportunity,” said Pasichnuk.
“Whether that’s just the injury or fatigue and stuff from other guys, you’re here for a reason. You’re not here to just go through the motions. You’re here to help your NHL team win and yeah, I’m super excited for that first NHL game. It’s gonna be a night I don’t forget.”