Playing pro hockey for a living is, for the most part, a pretty great gig, but J.P. Testwuide would be quick to testify that it’s not always as glamorous as it looks.
Testwuide’s life took a topsy-turvy turn at the AHL transaction deadline, when the Chicago Wolves loaned him to the Abbotsford Heat in exchange for fellow blueliner Jordan Henry.
The 27-year-old Vail, Colo. native was informed of the deal in the late afternoon on Monday, March 5. The Heat had their inaugural school day game scheduled for 10:30 a.m. the following morning, so Testwuide (pronounced TEST-weed) hopped on the first available flight to Vancouver.
When he landed late in the evening, he spent a couple hours tracking down some misplaced luggage. When he arrived at customs, he expected that the Calgary Flames would have his work permit paperwork there waiting for him. It wasn’t.
By that time, it was 1 a.m., so Testwuide curled up on a bench outside a Tim Hortons at the airport and caught a few hours’ shut-eye. When the customs office re-opened in the morning, he was first in line.
Then he hopped in a taxi and made it to the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre with an hour to spare before the opening faceoff, and he suited up for the Heat’s wild 7-6 shootout loss to the Houston Aeros.
“I just wanted to play,” Testwuide explained with a shrug and a grin, reflecting on his own personal Planes, Trains and Automobiles-like adventure.
“I was excited to come here and help these guys out. It was a fast turnaround, but it was well worth it.”
Testwuide’s do-anything-to-play ethic extends to his positional flexibility. He’s listed as a defenceman, but with the Heat lacking depth up front when he arrived, he initially served as a fourth-line winger, and made an impact with his physical play.
As the Heat saw their depth at forward restored with the return of players like Greg Nemisz and Krys Kolanos from the Calgary Flames, Testwuide has returned to the blue line, where he’s been a steadying presence.
Heat head coach Troy Ward knew exactly what he was getting when the team pulled the trigger on the Testwuide-Henry swap. Testwuide began his pro career with the Houston Aeros in 2008, signing an AHL contract after his NCAA career at the University of Denver wrapped up. Ward was an Aeros assistant coach at the time.
While Henry boasts a flashy skill set, Ward felt that with offensive creators Clay Wilson and Brian Connelly also on the blueline, the Heat had enough players cut from that cloth.
What they needed was a steady, low-risk player, and that’s Testwuide to a T. He won’t wow anyone with offensive pyrotechnics – he’s got just one assist in 14 games with Abbotsford, and his season-high points total, dating back to his junior days with the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks, is 17. But Ward felt his toughness would be a perfect fit for the Heat at this stage of the season.
“What Jordan Henry brought to our team was also a needed value at certain times of the year,” Ward said. “But there’s only one puck, there’s only one power play. I wanted a different fit to our team.
“I knew J.P. would come in and add another level of glue to our team because of his character, his people skills, his ambition and his toughness. Most of J.P.’s characteristics involve other people – he’s an infectious guy. He doesn’t have one outstanding quality that you’d observe during a game and say, ‘Wow, no wonder they added this guy.’ But we like him because he’s the right fit for this particular group.”
J.P.’s younger brother Mike, 25, also plays pro hockey – he’s a right winger with the Adirondack Phantoms. The siblings have had the opportunity to play both with and against each other during their hockey careers.
During their NCAA days, Mike played at Colorado College – the arch-rival of J.P.’s Denver squad.
“Whenever those two teams play each other, it’s blood,” he said with a chuckle. “I think it was harder on my parents than it was on us two.”
Last season, J.P. and Mike played together for the Phantoms – an experience they savoured.
“That was a lot of fun,” J.P. said. “We even played on the same line for a little while. It’s something you look back on, and you realize you might not be able to play again with your brother. We loved it.”