Brian Flynn already has defied the odds he set for himself.
Before his freshman hockey season at Maine, Flynn and another Massachusetts native who was bound to be a Black Bear, Ryan Hegarty, were engaging in typical jock banter. The subject turned to their chances of making it to the NHL. Flynn estimated his at 10 percent, tops. Indeed, he was undrafted after high school.
Hegarty recalled that conversation with glee last week, as his friend Flynn wrapped up his first full season as a versatile forward for the Buffalo Sabres.
“After his first game I reminded him of that,” Hegarty said. “He laughed and said, ‘I can’t be cocky like that.’ ”
Flynn, two years removed from a Maine career in which he scored 156 points, has played in 105 games for the Sabres. It was a quick rise, predicated on his willingness to take on more of a defensive posture. He had 13 points in 79 games this season for the Sabres, whose season ended Sunday. A rather slight 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Flynn played all three forward positions, on most lines at one time or another, and was a key member of the team’s penalty-kill unit.
“If you want to play, you’ve got to figure out a way to stick,” Flynn said. “And for me, I guess being more of a defensive player and killing penalties was the way to do it.
“When I was at Maine, I was one of the stronger guys. Here, I’m one of the weaker guys. Every level you go up, the size and the speed of the game is so much faster, and you have to make decisions so much quicker. I play a pretty smart game, manage the puck well and don’t turn it over too much, because if you do it’s going to end up in the back of your net.”
Flynn, 25, hails from Lynnfield, Mass. In Orono he formed a bond with Hegarty, a defenseman from nearby Arlington.
Hegarty, two years younger than Flynn, said the forward was very softspoken and slow to open up to teammates. There were eight of them living in the same building, and gradually they found common ground off the ice through games of Nintendo and cribbage. They threw a putting mat down in the hallway and practiced chipping golf balls.
“He’s one of those guys who’s good at everything, which is annoying at some point,” Hegarty said.
On the ice, Hegarty noticed that Flynn always seemed to be a step ahead, possessing the ability to anticipate where to position himself to score. He recalled a play where Flynn held the puck below the goal line waiting for a teammate to break free for a pass. Finally he noticed that the goaltender had snuck forward in the crease, so Flynn fired the puck off his back and into the net.
“You almost felt sorry for the goalie,” Hegarty said, “but it was something to see.”
Flynn felt his aspirations grew once his attitude shifted at Maine.
“I was able to score right away,” he said. “My freshman year I was not good defensively. Even my sophomore year, I just thought if you scored enough points it was kind of OK to not care as much about protecting your own zone. My junior and senior year I started realizing I had a chance to play pro hockey.”
Flynn switched from the wing to center as a senior, put up 48 points with a plus-18 rating, then sat with his agent to evaluate the pro offers that were coming in.
He decided on the Sabres, who sent him to their AHL team in Rochester, N.Y. He was so impressive there, with 33 points in 50 games, that he got a call-up to Buffalo in March 2013. It was literally a wakeup call; Flynn was napping at 5:30 p.m. when he got the word.
He drove from Rochester to Buffalo for a matinee against the New Jersey Devils the following day.
“They put me in a good situation,” he said, “a lot of faceoffs in the offensive zone. They kept me off the ice against their top line, stuff like that.”
After two games the nerves subsided. His first goal came in his fourth game when he banged a rebound past Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg. He scored four more that year but Buffalo missed the playoffs.
This season, Flynn was a much bigger part of the team, but it was a very trying winter. Buffalo finished with just 52 points, by far the worst record in the league.
Flynn did manage a couple of historic moments. He played his first 52 NHL games without taking a penalty, the longest streak in league history. And his first goal of his second season, against the Minnesota Wild, happened to be the 11,000th scored in Sabres history.
“I had no idea until the end of the season,” Flynn said of the latter accomplishment. “That’s a weird little stat.
Hegarty, who spoke with Flynn once a week this season while playing for the Greenville Road Warriors of the ECHL, said he could sense his friend’s frustration building as the losses mounted.
The season ended one game early for Flynn. Playing against his hometown Boston Bruins at TD Garden on Saturday, Flynn pulled a groin muscle seven minutes into the second period, skated gingerly off the ice and went straight into the locker room.
He didn’t return and missed Sunday’s season finale.
The injury will delay his offseason conditioning by 4 to 6 weeks, Flynn said. It also will curtail his summertime golfing.
It symbolized a painful season for Flynn, but he’s got another year on his Sabres contract, due to make $650,000 next season. And he’s determined to help turn things around in Buffalo.
“At this level I think it’s more of who wants it more,” Flynn said.
“My biggest thing always will be just trying to put on those extra five pounds of muscle to help you out against the big defensemen in this league. Get a little stronger on my skates, maybe be able to get off the boards a little quicker and not get pinned there.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: