DULUTH - In July, Bryan Dobek was at the NHL Atlanta Thrashers' prospects camp.
In October, he was the last man cut from the ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators' training camp and contemplating options that included going to the Southern Professional Hockey League.
That's the kind of thing that can really mess with a player's head.
Dobek could have lost his confidence. He could have been resentful. He didn't. He wasn't.
Instead, the son of a former professional hockey player and U.S. Olympian, Dobek understood it was a numbers' game with too many forwards in Gwinnett. So the rookie bided his time and listened to the advice of Gladiators' head coach Jeff Pyle.
Pyle said Dobek could have gone to other leagues, the United or Central Hockey Leagues and bounced around. But the best thing, Pyle said, was to go to the SPHL where Dobek would be free to join the Gladiators at any point during the season.
"I said, 'We're going to be short at some point and if you're patient enough, I will get you back here,'" Pyle said. "He was one of the smartest kids and just said, 'I understand. It makes sense.'
"Some kids think, 'Oh, the SPHL' or whatever. But you're a free agent. I knew within a month or two we were going to be losing guys."
In November, Dobek was back with the Gladiators.
He's not only remained with Gwinnett since, but taken on a more pronounced role due to callups and injuries in recent weeks.
"Well, all sports, it's all a mental game," the 23-year-old said philosophically. "But yeah, definitely, you go from NHL prospect camps and rookie camps to going down to one of the lowest leagues in the United States, it does put you back in reality.
"It just shows you how much harder you have to work and that it's all about timing, being at the right place at the right time - no matter how good you are."
Dobek's hockey career got off to a late start, especially considering his dad's history with the sport. But he made up for it quickly, especially considering he was in Southern California.
"I didn't start playing hockey until I was 12," Dobek said.
It was expensive and, Dobek said, his mom was worried he would move away to play at a higher level before he finished high school.
The first year, Dobek just played in the San Diego area, where his father, Bob, settled down after retiring from a hockey career that included the 1976 U.S. Olympic team and ended with a season playing for the San Diego Mariners of the old World Hockey Association.
"The next year, I was like, 'I need to go to a better team,'" Dobek said. "And a better team was in L.A."
His parents resisted initially.
"Then it ended up we're driving to L.A. three times a week, which was like a two-hour drive both ways," Dobek said. "Then they were like, 'OK you're playing in L.A., but you're not moving away.'"
Dobek moved to Detroit when he was 16.
He lived with his aunt and uncle and played there for his final two years of high school.
"I wanted to play at the highest level I could - I still do - but that was a pretty important decision for my hockey career," Dobek said. "(Detroit) being in a hotbed of hockey - more than Southern California."
Dobek went on to play a season of juniors with the Chicago Freeze of the North American Hockey League and might have taken that road to the pros, but for an offer from Bowling Green State
His father's alma mater, Bowling Green, offered him a full-ride scholarship to play hockey where Bob Dobek's name is still at the top of the record books for goals (44) and assists (58) in a season.
"I could have stayed in juniors and played another year, probably would have gotten some different offers, but that was the big one," said Dobek, who earned his degree in finance.
Four years later, Dobek was playing golf with the Thrashers' assistant general manager Larry Simmons and Jeff Pyle.
"I just said, 'Bryan, I don't know what you're looking for, I can't promise you anything right now, but if you need anything, let me know, you can always have a tryout with us,'" Pyle said.
Dobek went to the Thrashers' prospect camp in July and ended up being coached by Pyle in the NHL's Traverse City Prospect Development Tournament in September.
Pyle was charged with guiding the Thrashers' young talent in the annual event and got a look at Dobek on the ice instead of the links.
"He played hard, he did the right things and he was coachable," Pyle said.
Pyle again told Dobek, who scored a couple of goals and helped the team make the tournament's championship game, he was welcome at the Gladiators' training camp.
"Then he went to (AHL) Chicago's camp and he looked OK there, too," Pyle said.
Dobek was released from the Wolves' training camp and took Pyle up on his offer to come to Gwinnett, which is the affiliate of both Atlanta and AHL Chicago. But the Gladiators had too many forwards and Dobek was the last player cut before the ECHL season started in late October.
"You hate giving up those guys," Pyle said.
But due to a glut of forwards and certain restrictions based on contracts signed here and with affiliates, Pyle had to let Dobek go.
"He gave me a couple of options," Dobek said. "At first it was maybe being on the 30-day IR and stick around here. Because he knew there were going to be callups (and injuries). Or I could go to another league.
"He said it was up to me. I was not real excited about going to the SPHL, just because you hear about it. But I decided I wanted to play."
Dobek played six games for the Fayetteville FireAntz, coached by John Marks, who guided both the Charlotte Checkers and Greenville Grrrowl to ECHL championships.
Dobek was putting up better than a point per game when Pyle called in November.
Last year's ECHL MVP Jeff Campbell was called up to the AHL and Pyle needed a forward.
Dobek was signed by the Gladiators on Nov. 17 and played two games. He was released - again - three days later when Joel Stepp came off injured reserve and Dobek went back to
Dobek played two more games and brought his point total up to 11 before his phone rang.
Gwinnett's captain, Paul Flache, went on the 30-day IR after fracturing three vertebrae in his lower back and Pyle wanted Dobek back. He signed with the Gladiators - again - on Nov. 24 and has been getting a regular shift since.
"It worked out well," Dobek said of his decision to go to the SPHL. "I enjoyed the guys there.
"Then, low and behold, Jeff calls me up a couple weeks later. So it was good advice."
Dobek's offensive numbers aren't what he would like (four points in 27 games), but that isn't the role Pyle needs him to play at the moment.
"From a personal standpoint, I'm not so happy offensively, how I've been producing," Dobek said. "But I believe I'm doing what I need to do for the team. Wherever I can help out the team, that's really the important thing for right now."
Which is exactly the kind of attitude that makes Pyle happy.
"He works his (tail) off," Pyle said. "Those are the kind of guys you need. Those guys don't get the credit they deserve, but from a coach's standpoint, you love having them.
"Dobber's a really good kid. He's got his head on straight."