Brian Flynn either wouldn’t or couldn’t take off his equipment. He slumped in his stall near the corner of the dressing room long after most players had left. He stared ahead, slack-jawed, with a bitter truth to face.
His first professional season was over.
It’s easy to see why he was bummed. Flynn’s debut year with the Sabres’ organization was notable. He earned an important role in Rochester, then worked his way into an even better spot in Buffalo.
The ride from college graduate to NHL regular was quick and surprising.
“I have the belief that I can play here,” Flynn said. “This is where I belong. I know how hard you have to work to stay up here. It took a long time, a lot of hard work, a lot of hours to get here.
“This is where I really want to play. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to stay here.”
Flynn led Buffalo’s rookies in goals, scoring six times while totaling 11 points in 26 games after a midseason call-up. Ron Rolston got to know Flynn while coaching in Rochester during the lockout, and he liked the right winger enough to summon him to Buffalo after replacing Lindy Ruff as the Sabres’ coach.
“It was awesome for me,” Flynn said. “It was a big learning experience from the second I got to Rochester. Playing those 45 games and then coming up here was obviously another jump, too.”
Flynn and fellow Rolston favorite Kevin Porter started with third-line minutes in Buffalo. But after showing consistent effort on a team that lived and died with inconsistency, they earned power-play time and minutes that befit first-line players.
Flynn averaged 14:40 per game in Buffalo, but he topped 16 minutes in 11 of the last 13 games. The restricted free agent topped out at 19:35 in the season finale.
“Hopefully, my work ethic will help out a lot,” the 24-year-old said. “You need a lot of guys who can consistently show up every night and work hard. I think if you can do that you can separate yourself from some other guys.”
Flynn’s speed and defensive awareness also set him apart on the Sabres. He chipped in goals while not allowing many.
Of all the five-on-goals scored while Flynn was on the ice, Buffalo put in 63.6 percent of them, according to Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com. That was the best percentage for the Sabres.
“I got a little confidence out of it, too,” said Flynn, who hopes the Sabres learned they have a solid two-way player, “a guy they know they can depend upon defensively in our own zone and on the penalty kill, too.”
Flynn went back to Rochester for the playoffs when the Sabres wrapped up their season. He didn’t record a point, but he tied for the team lead with 10 shots in three games. He had 16 goals and 32 points in his opening 45 games with the Amerks.
The Massachusetts native and University of Maine product will spend much of the summer eating and working out, which he hopes will make his second NHL season even more memorable than the first.
“It’s tough to play at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds,” Flynn said. “I need to fill out my frame a little more, I think. Hopefully, I can just get stronger and more powerful this summer, which should help me a lot.”