By Leif Skodnick
Special To ECHL.com
Being a 19 year-old, second-round draft choice of the Montreal Canadiens while playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League might make a player feel as though all eyes in the Province of Quebec were on him.
Not so for Long Beach Ice Dogs forward Cory Urquhart, who was taken 40th overall by the Canadiens in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft after finishing his third season in the QMJHL.
“Pressure is part of the game and either you respond to it or you don’t. There’s people watching you wherever you play,” stated Urquhart, who is 20 years old and the third-youngest player in the ECHL. “There may have been a little more attention, and our coach Alain Vigneault had coached in Montreal, but the pressure is good. When you get to this level, people know how well you’re playing regardless of what Province or country you’re playing in.”
After playing one game at the beginning of the season with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League, Urquhart was sent down to Long Beach in an effort to get him more playing time.
“I only played in one game, but I was up there for seven or eight games,” said Urquhart. “I got a good taste of what it’s like up there, but I wasn’t getting to play much.”
If you ask Urquhart, the difference between playing in the QMJHL and the ECHL is fairly simple.
“It’s your job now, more than ever,” said the Halifax, Nova Scotia native, who played four seasons in the QMJHL. “In juniors you say that it’s your job, but you’re also going to school and you live with a billet family. Here you’re on your own.
“It’s your life. You’ve made this decision [to play professionally] and you’ve got to go after it,” he adds. “You’ve got to put everything into it whether you’re a 20-year-old guy like me or a 30-year-old guy trying to do it.”
Under contract to Montreal, Urquhart is one of three players that the Habs have assigned to Long Beach.
With the NHL players locked out by the leagues’ owners, a trickle-down effect has forced players like Urquhart, who most likely would be playing in the AHL, down to the ECHL.
The young forward, who is representative of the ECHL’s shift over the past several seasons towards a developmental focus, is taking his assignment to Long Beach in stride.
“I can’t really be worried about that, whether there is an NHL or there isn’t an NHL,” Urquhart remarked. “Maybe I could be up there. Maybe any other year I would be up there, but that doesn’t change the fact that I have to show that I can play in this league to get back up there.”
Having scored six points (3g-3a) in his first 12 games with Long Beach, Urquhart has joined an Ice Dogs squad that is off to a 9-6-0 start under new head coach Malcolm Cameron.
Cameron, who was brought in over the off-season to improve the team, is happy thus far with the team’s affiliation with Montreal.
“It’s worked out very well so far. I’m very pleased,” said Cameron, who led Cincinnati o within one goal of the 2003 Kelly Cup Finals. “We wanted to foster a relationship that would help attract quality players to our program here in Long Beach as well as give our guys a chance to get scouted and earn promotions.”
Cameron has been quite impressed with Urquhart.
“He’s extremely talented and he’s just learning his way in the pro game,” said Cameron. “The Quebec league is a more dynamic kind of hockey and it’s less defensive. When you get a skilled player like Cory, in junior hockey he’s allowed a little more leeway than he is in the pro game, so it’s been a bit of an adjustment for him.
“He’s here to learn the nuances of the pro game whether it’s defensive schemes or sticking to a game plan,” Cameron added. “It’s something Cory will mature into. He’s only 20 years old and you can’t ask him to be the best player or the most developed player every single night right off the hop.”
While not setting any numeric goals, Urquhart remains focused on learning the pro game.
“I didn’t set any point goals, but I do want to get adjusted to the pro lifestyle and take the game more seriously. You’re getting paid to play this game, this is what you want to do and there is no turning back,” stated Urquhart. “You’ve got to be serious, every game, every shift, every day, starting with when you wake up. This is what you think about and you don’t have anything else going on. I just want to dedicate myself that much more and try to improve.”