For young hockey players growing up, they have two basic goals—make it to the NHL and win the Stanley Cup. At the end of the 2010-2011 season, four members of the Robert Morris NCAA men’s hockey class of 2011 took the next step by earning contracts with East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) and American Hockey League (AHL) teams.
Defenseman Denny Urban was the first of the group to take the next step when just one day after the end of his college career, he signed an Amateur Tryout Contract with the ECHL Reading Royals.
After Urban signed with Reading, forward Nathan Longpre made his way to the AHL where he spent time on the Worcester Sharks roster, former captain, Chris Kushneriuk, signed an Amateur Tryout contract with the ECHL Wheeling Nailers, and defenseman Brock Meadows spent time with both the Royals and the Nailers.
Head coach Derek Schooley was proud of all four players for taking the leap to the professional level. “I’m very proud of all of the players that move on to go play at the next level so it’s great to see all of our players, all of our past alumni moving on to play at other places,” said Schooley. “It just gets the name of Robert Morris hockey out there to the hockey public.”
With the 2011-2012 season starting, all four have all signed with professional teams at various levels.
Kushneriuk is with the Wheeling Nailers for the entire season and had a great experience with them at the end of last year. “I was welcomed by the coaching staff, players and the community and had an amazing experience on the ice,” recalled Kushneriuk. “I learned a lot in just a couple months and meshed really well with the team in a very short period of time.”
He was also grateful for the fact that his now-former teammates and Colonials fans made the trip to Wheeling for his first game. “It’s definitely something I will remember. I hope to see them along with other friends and colonial fans there sometime,” said Kushneriuk. “It’s certainly an emotional boost and it’s good to know that people are still thinking about you.”
For Kushneriuk, he knew he wanted to be with Wheeling as soon as he knew head coach Stan Drulia would be back for another season. “I re-signed right away when I knew that Coach Drulia would be returning,” said Kushneriuk. “The contract came in about a month after the season ended and it didn’t take long to make my decision
His teammates were also happy about the fact that he would be back with Wheeling for the year. “Kush played really well last year for wheeling after our season ended so I’m glad he is heading back there to keep showing how good of a player he is,” said current Colonials captain, Trevor Lewis.
Coach Schooley was also proud of Kushneriuk for signing with Wheeling. “I was very pleased with how Chris came back from his concussion that he had at the end of the year and played hard for us and then he did very well when he went down to Wheeling,” said Schooley.
On Monday December 1, Kushneriuk was traded to the ECHL Bakersfield Condors.
Longpre had the opportunity after his school season ended to play seven games with the Wocester Sharks in the AHL. “Sharks it was mainly for the experience of playing professional hockey, I was given the opportunity to see what it was like and to experience it,” recalled Longpre. “It was really eye opening and pro hockey is completely different from college hockey, and I’m happy that I got the chance to do that.”
He was also quick to admit that things are much faster in the pros and it’s more of a thinking game than college.
“College is always go-go-go, lines are always rolling, meaning the coaches the coaches plays lines one after the other, in professional it’s more of a puzzle piece,” said Longpre.
Before the start of the 2011-2012 season, Longpre was invited to the National Hockey League (NHL), Vancouver Canucks rookie camp which eventually led to an invite to the main Vancouver Canucks camp.
“That was out of the blue, my name was mentioned when my agent was speaking with a member of the organization with the Canucks. They called me thinking I was already going somewhere,” recalled Longpre. “But sure enough I wasn’t and I got the invite to go to the rookie camp, and then I played well at the rookie camp and then I got invited to the main camp.
He was quick to point out that playing hockey here at RMU was very important for his career. “Playing hockey on a scholarship was the pivotal point of my career, after school I had the chance to play professionally, which I am right now for the Chicago Wolves,” explained Longpre.
Originally, he only signed a 25-game with the Wolves, on a tryout basis, but in mid-November, he signed with them for the entire season. Through his first 11 games with the Wolves, he is a +4 with five goals and three assists.
Meadows decided to take a step back and weigh out his options for whether he wanted to go play pro or go start working. He is currently playing in the Central Hockey League (CHL) with the Texas Brahmas.
“I figured I might as do it while I still can, so I got our assistant coach, Matt Nicholson to help me get to where I’m at right now with the Texas Brahmas,” said Meadows. “I just worked all summer, and I’m actually pretty glad I came down here too because I got into an AHL training camp before too so that was a good experience.”
So far he is having a great time in Texas. “It’s awesome. I can’t complain especially the area I’m in right now, down in Ft. Worth Texas,” said Meadows. “The weather is awesome, and where we’re set up is great and we’re actually able to play hockey.”
Through his first four games with Texas, he is a -1 with two assists.
Urban is currently playing for the ECHL Reading Royals, but in September, he was invited to the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs rookie tournament and then to the Leafs main camp.
For Urban getting to this level was a huge accomplishment, “Putting on a NHL jersey for the first time was an unreal experience and at that moment I knew that all of the hard work and sacrifice that I went through was finally paying off,” said Urban.
Now back in Reading, he is settling in and is relieved that he signed a contract for the entire year with the Royals. “Things are going well finally getting settled into my apartment,” said Urban. “I’m getting back into the hockey season and getting back into the hockey mindset.”
For all four players, this has been a long journey to get to the levels that they are at now, and playing at the professional level is a new journey for them.