The conversation in the training room after the Skipjacks' practice on Wednesday afternoon was a strange sight to behold.
There sat defenseman Rob Mendel, neatly dressed in street clothes, smiling as usual, sharing a laugh with left wing Bobby Reynolds, who was wrapped in a towel drenched with sweat.
It almost forced a double take.
"Kind of funny, huh?" Reynolds said. "Seeing us here together was probably the last thing you expected."
For the uninitiated, Mendel and Reynolds were traded for each other a month ago today, just minutes before the NHL's trading deadline. At that time the Jacks were wallowing in fourth place, seemingly headed even lower, riding a 1-6-2 streak and about to embark on a five-game road swing.
But all concerned with the Skipjacks raved about how Washington Capitals general manager David Poile robbed the Toronto Maple Leafs and their Newmarket affiliate for the fleet-footed winger.
Reynolds was a confirmed spark plug and Skipjack killer, scoring 24 goals in 65 games in Newmarket, including a hat trick against the Jacks. Mendel was usually coach Robbie Laird's first scratch, playing just 43 games with nary a goal.
It didn't take long for Reynolds to pay dividends.
He scored in his second game as the Jacks finished the trip with four wins and a tie. Thus far in the Jacks' Calder Cup march heading into tonight's first playoff game in Binghamton (7:30, WITH-AM 1230), Reynolds has 13 points in 14 games and the unquestioned respect of his new teammates.
"When I got here everybody was bitching about the trip and how the team was in a slump," Reynolds said. "Actually it really helped me to be on the road because I got to know the guys pretty well from the long bus rides. The guys helped me to adjust immediately. It also didn't hurt to get traded to a winner."
Not that winning has been unusual for Reynolds.
A rare American hockey player, Reynolds was born and raised just outside of Flint, Mich., and played his college hockey for the Spartans of Michigan State, considered by many the top hockey school in the United States. In his senior year of 1988-89, Reynolds had 36 goals and 41 assists in 47 games and was selected as a first-team All-America.
"It was the perfect place to go if you wanted to be a pro player," said Reynolds, as he rattles off a dozen or so ex-teammates who are in the NHL. "The exposure is there, the scouts are there and the enthusiasm is there. It's like the American junior hockey system."
Reynolds said it was his desire to play in the NHL that wrote his ticket out of Toronto. After playing in seven games for the Maple Leafs last season, he was told that the Leafs didn't have him in their plans. Besides, in Newmarket, there was a glut of almost 20 forwards and just four defensemen.
"On paper I guess it didn't look like a very good trade for Toronto," Reynolds said. "But they knew what they needed and they weren't planning on using me anyway. I asked them to trade me to an American team so I wouldn't get killed on the taxes and exchange rate with my money."
Not only did Leafs GM Floyd Smith grant his wish, Reynolds said he was sent to "the perfect place."
"My wife [Stacey] and I are planning to buy a house next year and we don't have to worry about whether I'll be in the AHL or the NHL," Reynolds said. "We'll just get one halfway between the Capital Centre and the Arena."
As for Mendel, he says he is very pleased to be with Toronto because he will get a ton of valuable ice time next season.
"I'm just here to pick up my clothes and say goodbye to the guys," Mendel said. "I didn't have time last month. I guess I'll see them next year, but I might stick around a while and cheer for them."