Dylan Samberg is on the line, a surprisingly clear phone connection considering he's standing in the middle of a frozen lake near Warroad, Minn.
"Caught a 17-inch walleye this morning. A couple other small ones," the 21-year-old told me Tuesday afternoon.
Of course, I haven't called the top prospect of the Winnipeg Jets to talk fishing. Unfortunately, this is the only real excitement Samberg is likely to see on the ice for the foreseeable future after the coronavirus pandemic turned his professional life upside-down last week.
Samberg was gearing up with his teammates at the University of Minnesota-Duluth to take a run at a third-straight national championship when the stunning news came their way, just over 24 hours before their playoffs were to begin.
"Last Wednesday, Thursday, everything kind of went downhill. I remember coming off the ice after practice Thursday and being told that our season was done. We were all like 'What?'" said Samberg, who was selected by the Jets in the second round (43rd overall) in the 2017 NHL draft.
The UMD Bulldogs had just finished up an impressive regular-season with a bang, rattling off five straight wins and outscoring opponents 22-6 in that span. They jumped to No. 4 in the NCAA Division 1 rankings with a 22-10-2 record.
For Samberg, his plan appeared to be working out perfectly. The 6-4, 215-pound defenceman resisted pressure from the Jets to turn pro last summer — general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff really wanted him in the fold — and opted to return to school for one more season with the goal of trying to grab a piece of history and become the first team since Michigan in the early 1950s to win the Frozen Four three straight times.
And now? Well, the fact he's grabbed his bait and tackle and socially distanced himself in the Lake of The Woods tells the rather sad sporting story.
"It obviously sucks. Not really getting that chance to compete for a championship," said Samberg. "We had a good team again this year. We had kinda caught fire at the right time. And it feels like it was kinda taken away from us."
Samberg's last regular-season contest was a memorable one, with Samberg recording four assists in a 6-2 victory over St. Cloud State. He finished the campaign with a career-best 21 points (1 goal, 20 assists) in 28 regular-season games, with 18 penalty minutes and a plus-17 rating. Samberg also had two assists in seven games with the United States world junior team over the holidays.
He's not sure where, or when, his next hockey game will take place.
One option is to put off turning pro once again and return to school next fall for his final season as a senior. While that is extremely unusual for prized prospects such as Samberg, could the idea of having some unfinished business lure him back for one more year?
"Obviously it's tough the way it ended. We wanted to go for another one. That's a big part of the reason I came back," he said.
Samberg told me last year, and again on Tuesday, that his biggest reason for staying in college was to get himself in prime position to play pro by honing his overall game. In that sense, he was willing to put off an immediate payday and play the long game. It's hard to imagine there's anything left to prove at this level.
"It obviously sucks. Not really getting that chance to compete for a championship. We had a good team again this year. We had kinda caught fire at the right time. And it feels like it was kinda taken away from us." — Dylan Samberg
Throughout his season, Samberg has been in regular contact with Jimmy Roy and Mike Keane from the club's player development department. They have seen several of his games in person.
"I'll talk with them, see what they're thinking, bounce some ideas off them," said Samberg. "They're a great organization and they've treated me well."
If the NHL were to resume at some point, in some form, Samberg could sign his entry-level contract with the team in the coming weeks and join them down the stretch drive, in whatever form that would entail. Even if he doesn't play right away, at least he would get acclimatized to his future hockey home.
"Right now it's just kind of a waiting game. Wait and see how it all pans out up there. Try to stay in shape as much as I can, kind of focus on that. When the time comes that they resume, we'll go from there and see," said Samberg.
Like all athletes right now, Samberg is going to face some challenges sticking to a normal workout routine. Many of the rinks in and around his home in Hermantown, Minn., are closed, along with gyms, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"There's some small youth rinks around the area that I'll probably contact and see if i can get out there, even if it's just by myself," said Samberg, who already has a strong connection to the Jets in fellow Hermantown resident Neal Pionk.
"Right now it's just kind of a waiting game. Wait and see how it all pans out up there. Try to stay in shape as much as I can, kind of focus on that. When the time comes that they resume, we'll go from there and see."
Yes, the community of approximately 10,000 could soon have two members patrolling the same blue-line. What's in the water down there?
"I played with his brother, Nate, in high school, and Joe Pionk, who's now a manager at Omaha in the USHL, he was our manager at the time in high school," said Samberg. "It's obviously pretty cool. If I get the chance it'll be cool to hang out with (Pionk) and get some pointers. It's nice to have someone there you know you can talk to."
Looking back at how this Jets season has played out, you wonder what might have been had Samberg signed last summer. With the departures of Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot and ultimately Dustin Byfuglien, he likely would have already played some NHL games at this point.
Samberg has been watching the Jets closely all winter but is happy with the path he took, even if it's come to an unexpected ending.
"I enjoyed my time at UMD and it's really where I wanted to go. Looking back on it I don't regret it at all. It's tough to say but I'm glad with the decision that I made," he said.
Now another decision is on the horizon, one I expect will soon bring Samberg to Manitoba where the fishing is good but the hockey is even better.
"It's exciting to see where this goes. Hopefully this all blows over soon enough and we can get everything back in order," he said.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.