It’s a cliche in sports and life, but when the 2019-20 season came to a close, North Dakota defenseman Jonny Tychonick found himself searching for a new lease on life.
A 2018 second-round draft pick of the Ottawa Senators, Tychonick saw a limited role his first two seasons at North Dakota. He played 28 games as a freshman and was in the lineup for 24 of UND’s 35 games as a sophomore. However, he found himself as the seventh defenseman in most of those, if not sitting in the stands as a healthy scratch.
It became frustrating for the Calgary native to find himself at the bottom of the UND depth chart and on the outside looking in. Especially for someone who has aspirations of playing at the next level. In search of more playing time and a change of scenery, Tychonick entered his name in the transfer portal on April 1.
“It was a new chapter in my life that was about to start, so I was just excited,” Tychonick said. “I was going to put a learning curve behind me, so I was more excited about an opportunity for change. Obviously, it was stressful from the standpoint of wondering if it would pan out, or if it was the right decision. You always have that little bit of doubt, but those are just lies that you put in your head.
“Just going back to the conversations I had with the Omaha coaching staff from the start though, they’ve all been completely true with everything they said. It was just exciting that I was able to turn the page on personal adversity that happened and learn from that and move forward.”
On April 14, Tychonick made it official that he was heading to Omaha. The defenseman heard from between 20 and 25 schools throughout the transfer process, ranging from a quick phone call to see if there was any interest, to others wanting a more in-depth answer of what he was looking for. His main objective was to find somewhere he could play.
That’s where Omaha came into the picture. After losing seniors Ryan Jones and Dean Stewart, the Mavericks had a void to fill on the blueline and were looking for somebody to take on those minutes. Tychonick said one of the first phone calls he received was from Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet and the initial gist was simply to hear why he was transferring.
“He explained they were looking for a defenseman because they had lost two quality guys (Jones and Stewart) and he felt there was an opportunity for me to play,” Tychonick said. “I was excited to hear what they had to say, because they’re a good team, and Taylor (Ward) talked highly of their coaching staff.
“I couldn’t get on a plane and fly down for an official visit, but we had a long zoom call and that was the first face-to-face interaction I’d had with the staff. There were a lot of questions and information being thrown around, but I was really happy with how it went.”
That relationship with Taylor Ward played a big part in the process. The two spent two seasons together with the Penticton Vees (BCHL) and had remained in close contact since. Even with that relationship, it still wasn’t exactly Omaha from the start, but it helped to have someone he trusted within the Omaha program.
“I just talked to him a lot those first couple days after I put my name in (the transfer portal),” Tychonick said. “For me, it was really about making sure all of my boxes are checked. When I was a 15-year-old kid committing to North Dakota, it’s hard to say how it will all pan out. You go in there, buy three years later you don’t know who they’re adding or whatever. So going through the process a second time helped me realize the actually important stuff about picking a spot.
“I’ve told plenty of people this, but it really was all about playing time. It wasn’t about the nice rink or the facilities, because every team in college hockey has those. The rink, the nice dressing room, all of the new gear- that’s just a bonus. For me going through it a second time though, I wanted to know that I was going to play and I was going to develop. Because every player wants to play and get better, and that’s how you move on.”
A little over 10 months after making his decision, Tychonick is 17 games into his junior season in Omaha. He’s slotted into the Mavericks top defensive pairing, along with Brandon Scanlin, and quarterbacks one of the two power play units. Make no mistake, he’s a confident kid on and off the ice with dreams of playing in the NHL some day.
After getting off to a slow start this season numbers-wise, his game has started to grow as of late. Tychonick was an offensive-minded defenseman for most of his time in junior hockey, but he says the points haven’t been at the top of his priority list this season. Granted he still hopes the offensive side of his game will continue to grow in Omaha.
More importantly, he’s spent the early parts of this season trying to get back to his game once again, which he admits wasn’t always easy the past two years. Especially being in and out of the lineup and only getting limited minutes.
“I was just so excited to play in a new place,” he said of playing in the Pod. “I had a bunch of energy, I was sleeping well, eating well, drinking a lot of fluids, so my body was always recovered. I just felt like I had a ton of energy every game and was really starting to settle in.”
After the first 10 games, Tychonick felt he’d started to get into a routine and get comfortable on the ice. However, he’d face a minor setback, as Tychonick was one of several members of the Omaha program that dealt with COVID-19 following the Pod. The Mavericks had their first two series of the second half against North Dakota postponed and their series at Colorado College pushed back three days.
Tychonick missed the first three games of the second half, but he’s glad it’s behind him with what he experienced.
“I hadn’t played that much the last two years, so it was just getting back to myself, which isn’t an overnight thing,” he said. “It was a process, but by the end of the Pod, I really felt like I was slowly finding my game again and playing my type of way. Then I get sick. It sucked being out and missing games, but it hit me pretty hard.”
Since returning to the Omaha lineup on Jan. 24 against Denver, he’s started to play some of his best hockey of the season.
Six of his eight points this season have come in the last five games. He’s also even on plus/minus in that stretch. Two of those six points came in Omaha’s 5-4 victory over North Dakota late last month, as Tychonick had a goal and an assist against his old school.
“I just tried to prepare for it as a normal game,” he said. “Scoring the goal felt good obviously, but I didn’t want to think about an outcome, or let any talking or chirping affect me. I just tried to make sure I was playing my game and that ultimately led to my success on the ice. But who doesn’t love getting up for a game against your old school?”
This weekend will provide Tychonick another chance to take on some former teammates and his previous team. It’ll also be his first trip back to a place he became quite familiar with the past two seasons- Ralph Engelstad Arena. However, he doesn’t plan on approaching these games any differently.
“Playing at the Ralph will be cool on the other side, and I hope it’s a great weekend,” he said. “It’s going to be exciting, but for me, it’s just another weekend. Hopefully we get the six points that we’re going there for.”