Defenseman Madison Bowey (Washington, 2013 second round, 53rd overall) and forward Tyrell Goulbourne (Philadelphia, 2013 third round, 72nd overall) were best friends during their four years together with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League (WHL).
While they remain good friends off the ice at the professional level, the two rookies are on opposite sides of the AHL’s rivalry between the Hershey Bears and Lehigh Valley Phantoms on the ice this season as they begin their respective pro careers.
“It’s a little different for sure,” Bowey said of now playing against Goulbourne in the AHL. “[Tyrell] and I have been great friends the last four years playing in Kelowna.”
Bowey has plenty of warranted hype surrounding him as he turned pro this fall. After a second straight 60-point season in the WHL, including a point-per-game pace in the WHL playoffs and a league championship last spring, he is a dynamic talent entering the pro ranks with a bright future ahead of him.
He also played a pivotal role for Team Canada at the 2015 World Junior Championship, logging top-pairing minutes and helping that team win a gold medal. Bowey’s accolades at the junior level are almost unparalleled, but none of those things are on his mind much these days in Hershey.
“I was fortunate to play on some great teams coming up in junior,” Bowey said, adding, “Now it’s a whole different league, a whole different career. It was an awesome achievement that I did all that, but I think it’s time to put that behind me.”
Instead, Bowey has put his focus on acclimating himself to the pro game and continuing to improve.
“I think right now it’s just looking to get better every day,” Bowey said of his path toward the NHL.
Bowey has four points in 21 AHL games this season, and he has been playing in all situations for the Bears so far this season, gaining valuable pro experience.
“Obviously it’s a tough sport to play and my goal is the NHL,” Bowey said of his adjustment to the pro game. “Just [wanting to] be consistent every night and proving I could play the big minutes and play against other teams’ top lines,” he added of what he’s working on in the AHL. “I think if I do all that and the little things right it should be good for me.”
It is truly a case of when and not if Bowey becomes a staple of the Washington Capitals defensive core in the future.
Goulbourne, meanwhile, has been a welcome addition to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this season.
After an overage season in the WHL with the Kelowna Rockets that saw him tally 45 points (22 goals, 23 assists) in 62 regular season games, he turned pro this fall in the AHL with the Phantoms and has made an impact.
“He’s just a strong kid,” Phantoms’ head coach Scott Gordon said of Goulbourne. “He obviously has an element of toughness, but he can make plays and shoot the puck.”
The 6’0”, 200-pound left wing has found a role as a physical, forechecking forward who has embraced that role and seen nearly immediate results. In just his second pro game with the Phantoms in a game up in Springfield, Goulbourne applied pressure to a defender and forced a turnover, skating into the offensive zone and wristing a puck past Falcons’ netminder Louis Domingue for his first pro goal.
“I felt like I was forechecking well all night,” Goulbourne recalled after that October 16th game. “I saw that guy with his back turned towards me, so I decided to jump on it and I smacked his stick and got pretty lucky on it – bounced right in front of me. I was aiming low-blocker but I didn’t realize the goalie was a lefty so it was low-glove. But I’m glad it went in.”
Goulbourne has six goals and four assists through 27 games this season, while also recording three fighting majors – two of which were brutal knockouts of Providence’s Anthony Camara and Binghamton’s Zack Stortini.
“I feel more comfortable out here,” Goulbourne said after a 6-3 win over Binghamton. “Since the beginning of the season, I’ve gotten a lot of confidence which has helped me a lot.”
The confidence Goulbourne is gaining is being shown on the ice. He is relentless on the forecheck and has been rewarded the last few games by the turnovers he is creating and the chances he and his linemates are getting because of that hustle.
“What’s helping me is a lot of people have doubt against me,” Goulbourne said. “People believed I wasn’t going to do much in this league and I really wanted to prove them wrong. I knew I was a good player, and it’s nice to be rewarded for hard work. I want to keep it going.”
Goulbourne is still learning the subtleties of the pro game, but his style of play fits perfectly in the bottom-six as a player who can bring energy, toughness and the skill to play with the puck on his stick. It is an intriguing combination and something to keep an eye on this season.
“We’re happy with the way he’s playing,” Gordon said of the rookie Goulbourne. “He’s getting better and he’s going to be an important part of our team.”
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