A man can only keep trying out for the same team for so long before he must move on with his life.
It was an odd sight last October, watching Brandon Prust — an NHL veteran of 539 games (if you include his five playoff runs) — routinely skating with the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ black aces at the club’s Etobicoke practice facility.
The 2016-17 season was well underway, but the experienced winger with a nasty edge was still clinging on, hoping to earn a spot with what would’ve been his sixth big-league team.
“They weren’t really sure. They didn’t have room. They kept a lot of rookies, but I think I made a good impression where they wanted me to stick around and see what happens,” Prust explained of his extended Leafs tryout in an interview. “I was waiting for a couple of months.”
Ultimately, NHL purgatory wasn’t cutting it. Paying gigs from overseas called, and Prust signed with the Nuremberg’s Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers of the German elite league.
“I really appreciated what they did for me, but I had to make a decision,” Prust said. “If I passed up on offers from Europe, it would’ve been too late for me to go over there. I had to make that decision.”
More known for his fists than his mitts, Prust registered three goals, five assists and 67 penalty minutes during his 29-game regular-season stint as an Ice Tiger. He made even more of an impact in the post-season, registering six points and 51 PIMs in just 11 contests.
“It was really good hockey,” Prust said. “Obviously the ice is bigger and the game is different that way — just knowing you have a little more time with the puck. The way of living in Europe is different, the travel is different, but I had a lot of fun.”
Burn! See @maripiermorin and @BrandonPrust8 take Germany on a new #HockeyWives tomorrow 10pm e/p! pic.twitter.com/HtHRHsmp20
— W Network (@w_network) June 6, 2017
Hockey Wives cameras tracked the 33-year-old reality TV star’s detour from North America, and though Prust appreciates his European “vacation,” he’s even more determined to work his way back to the NHL.
“You have a point to prove. It makes you hungrier,” Prust said.
“I’m trying to do what I did last year: get a tryout, have a good camp.”
We caught up with the London, Ont., native Monday at Jose Bautista’s celebrity golf tournament.
An avid golfer with a 12 handicap, Prust vacationed in Pebble Beach to play a series of premier courses after the Ice Tigers’ season wrapped.
Having skated for the Flames, Rangers, Canadiens, Canucks, and Coyotes, the enforcer has peers from around the league offering encouragement, but he admits the transient nature of his job can be take a toll.
“That’s sports, right?” Prust said. “You’re moving around all the time. You start getting a little older, things start getting a little tougher.”
As evidenced by his Twitter feed, Prust paid keen attention to the playoffs and didn’t hesitate to chime in on the NHL’s controversial Olympic decision:
But now he’s right back in the gym training with an eye on September. Prust would welcome another tryout with the Leafs.
“If they asked me, obviously I would, but that’s stuff we’ll figure out in the next month or so,” he said.
“I’ve always worked hard in the summers and went to camp in really good shape. Always trying to turn heads.”
As borderline NHLers like Cory Conacher have noted, the introduction of a 31st franchise will expand the job market for players.
Work hard enough, get a little lucky, and there’s opportunity to extend a career that — in the teasing words of Prust’s better half, Maripier Morin — appears to be going downhill.
Also worth noting: 2016-17 marked the first time in four NHL seasons that the frequency of fights (0.3 per game) went up. That’s good news for a scrapper like Prust.
“There’s teams that realize they need guys like me around still,” Prust said.
“If that doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to Europe.”