Dryden Hunt’s first Avalanche goal is just the beginning
When Dryden Hunt and Anton Blidh were linemates for the first time in Colorado, Hunt told Blidh, “I used to call you a bunch of different things.” He needed a friendlier nickname.
Dryden Hunt had a revolving door of monikers for Anton Blidh during their four years as minor league hockey combatants. When they united for the first time on the Avalanche roster this November, they cleared the air about it with a shared laugh.
“From the past, I’d call you a bunch of different things,” Hunt told Blidh when Blidh was called up from Colorado’s AHL affiliate.
“He said, ‘I used to call you ‘beep beep.’ I can’t say the words,” Blidh said. “That’s why I ‘beep’ it.”
At any rate, Hunt needed a friendlier term now. “What do the guys call you here?” he asked.
Now Hunt uses Blidh’s standard-issue teammate designation, “Blidher.” Being on nickname terms is the true hockey player’s symbol of an evolving relationship. It’s also a sign of an acclimating newcomer.
In the last month since the Avalanche claimed Hunt off waivers from the Rangers, he has managed to become an everyday fourth-line winger in a back-six that has otherwise remained in constant flux.
“He’s a trusted guy,” coach Jared Bednar said. “Doesn’t show up on the scoresheet with a lot of scoring chances for or against.”
He arrived with plenty of connections on the roster. Hunt and Avalanche goalie Alexandar Georgiev were teammates in New York last season. He shares a hometown (Cranbrook, British Columbia) with defenseman Bo Byram, who played hockey with Hunt’s sister growing up. When news spread that Colorado had claimed Hunt, he already had enough of a reputation that Byram told teammates Hunt has a “(beep)-missile” of a shot.
Then there’s the amusing plot twist with Blidh. He’s one of those rotating linemates, up and down from Loveland. Blidh spent the past seven years in the
Bruins’ organization, playing mostly for their AHL affiliate.
From 2016-20, his career and Hunt’s overlapped on rival New England minor league teams: Blidh played for Providence, Hunt for the Springfield Thunderbirds.
“We hated each other,” Blidh said, smiling. “We never fought each other, but we were just all over each other. Slashing, crosschecks and all that fun stuff.”
They were opponents in 28 AHL games spanning four seasons, during which Hunt says Blidh “rattled me a little bit” with his pesky physicality. “Seemed like every Sunday we played Providence,” Hunt reminisced.
He quickly earned Blidh’s respect, though, as Blidh witnessed his rival’s potential first-hand: Hunt compiled 20 points (eight goals) in those 28 games.
That scoring production has been difficult to come by since Hunt joined Colorado, where he knows well that “top guys here do a lot of the heavy lifting.” Bednar was never particularly worried about it — “limited ice time; I think he’s doing the right things in his ice time, though,” he said — but a growing drought was on Hunt’s mind throughout his first month.
After he missed a pair of rebound opportunities on near-empty nets against St. Louis, he made a point to avoid highlights of the 3-2 loss. He couldn’t bear to watch either replay.
“You miss one like that, it keeps you up at night,” Hunt said. “Sometimes it can drag on a bit. Gets a little dark.”
He finally broke through last Saturday in a 4-1 win against Dallas, shoveling a similar rebound into the net. It was his first point for the Avalanche in his 16th game.
“Lot of weight off the chest,” he said. “… Obviously we’re not paid to score goals, but anytime you can score goals, it helps.”
Most importantly: “You’re not scared to see the highlights.”
Blidh had been called up for that game. What he saw from the bench was familiar.
“We play a kind of similar game. We try to go on the forecheck and work together down low,” Blidh said. “But I think (Hunt) can score more goals than he’s done so far here.”
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that when Bednar was asked about Hunt’s breakthrough, he deflected his answer toward Hunt’s impressive defensive effort and the fourth line’s forechecking — the qualities that have made Hunt reliable enough to stick so far, and the characteristics that have helped endear him to his new teammates.
Even to his nemesisturned-linemate.
“That’s the awesome part of hockey, you know? One day you’re battling and hate each other, and the next day you go to work together,” Blidh said. “I think that’s a good start of a friendship. You’ve got to fight with your best friends sometimes.”