Over the past four seasons, Canadiens prospect Cory Urquhart had spent the springtime in the QMJHL playoffs. This year, the Halifax native finds himself in the playoffs yet again, however, this spring has a different ring to it.
Far removed from the Maritimes, Urquhart is making his mark far out west. Playing his first professional season with the Long Beach Ice Dogs in the ECHL, the crafty centerman is in the second round of the league’s Kelly Cup playoffs.
With a rejuvenated roster and a youthful yet experienced coach in Malcolm Cameron, both Urquhart and the Ice Dogs have stayed alive in the Western Division. However, getting to Long Beach and establishing himself was a story in itself.
After his junior team, the Rocket, lost to Moncton in the second round quarterfinals in the 2003-04 playoffs, Urquhart had all of last summer to reflect where his career was headed. Finishing his fourth season in the “Q”, he still had a year of eligibility left to play with P.E.I., but did he really want to do it as an overager?
As spring would eventually turn to summer, there was no doubt that Urquhart wouldn’t balk at making the jump into the professional forum. There was a lot of speculation that the Montreal Canadiens, who had drafted him in the second round in 2003 would sign him to a contract. And after spending a successful tour in junior, it seemed like a perfect move.
In late August, early September of 2004, everything seemed to start falling in place. A week before the Habs opened up their rookie camp, the club inked Urquhart to a three-year entry-level contract.
“It was good for a while and then I realized that the real work was about to start,” Urquhart said about coming on board with the Canadiens. “This is what I want to do. I want to be a pro in the NHL. Hopefully, I’m moving in the right direction.”
Using all the positive tangibles, like signing a contract and working out with Montreal for almost the entire off-season last year, Urquhart went on to earn a roster spot with the Canadians AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs. He would stay with Hamilton for the first month of the 2004-05 season, seeing action in only one of the Bulldogs first nine contests.
Working with older and more seasoned players in Hamilton, Urquhart began to witness the quality in play. The only problem was, it became more and more apparent that he wasn’t going to be able to use that training in a lot of games for the Bulldogs. Aware that a reassignment to Long Beach might be an option the franchise would look into, he remained focused and absorbed as much information and guidance as possible.
“It was a great experience,” he explained. “It was good to see the more experienced guys do this because they have been at it a bit longer. It was great to see just how hard everyone works. I learned a lot of things.”
As October gave way to November, the organization would soon realize that keeping Urquhart on the shelf in the AHL was probably not the best move for the young center’s development. They decided to reassign him to the ECHL, with hopes that he would use the consistent opportunity to play and develop accordingly.
“You have to realize just how much of an investment that they are putting into you,” the jovial centerman explained. “It is not a matter of having it made. You have to prove yourself where ever you go whether it’s in the AHL, junior or down in the ECHL.
“As a player, you want to work hard as you can to get better and move up to the next level. Honestly, I would have loved to stay there (Hamilton) a while longer, but you have go to where you’re told and go where you can play.”
Instead of letting it bother him, Urquhart got to work and started adjusting to Cameron’s system and style of play.
Urquhart seems to have gained a handle of the game and its increased bruising style. He has also done a great job of expanding his game sense, even though his overall offensive numbers might contradict the fact, with just 31 points in 63 regular season games, and no points in five playoff games.
“I feel coming from junior, there were times where you could have gotten away with an average night because the atmosphere was different back there,” he explained about the transition to the pro game. “Here in pro, you’re always playing for a job. After a single game, you could be gone just like that.
“With that in mind, I’ve spent my time focusing on my consistency a lot. I know there’s going to be bumps along the way, but that’s all part of it. You have to find the positives out in everything you do as well as understand that not everyone has good games every night. It does however give a lot more to work with. You try to have a lot more good games than bad ones and focus on the positive either way. Taking that approach, I think will help me move along in my development.”
Home away from home
Having spent his entire life growing up and playing hockey in and around the Canadian Maritimes, coming to Southern California had seemed like a million miles away (roughly 3,000 to be a bit more accurate) from anything familiar to Urquhart. And though he admits it is tough on mind at times, it is something that he acknowledged he has gotten used to.
“Whether you’re four hours or what seems 24 hours away, you get used to it,” Urquhart explained. “Definitely the time change is a big difference. Especially when you want to call your parents after a game and it’s three o’clock in the morning. That’s just part of hockey though.”
Change is all not that bad according to Urquhart, who was one of the youngest players in the league this season, only turning 20 in October.
“You get to travel around and see different parts of the country,” he was happy to say. “If you look at it, hockey is hockey regardless of the place. The ice, the puck and the stick is all the same.”
To a Canadian, sunny and casually warm Southern California is not a typical hockey hotbed. It’s ironic that on the Ice Dogs roster, several players, including coach Cameron, are from the Quebec and Maritime provinces.
“That helps a lot,” Urquhart said of those from back home. “Coach is from back home, there are three or four guys here from back home and there are even guys that I played with me in the Quebec league and ended up in camp with me in Montreal. It’s not like I was walking into a group of complete strangers. It’s definitely a positive and it is fun having those guys around.”
Time well spent
Some young prospects may resent having to start their careers in the ECHL, but optimists like Urquhart understand that it is just a step along the way.
“I came down here with a positive attitude,” Urquhart stated. “I’ve been working on my game with the hopes that training camp lasts all year and I’m with them (Hamilton) for the whole season, next year.”
Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.