By: Stephen Meserve | AHL On The Beat Archive
Every Canadian kid dreams of playing in the National Hockey League. The road to get there usually involves plenty of youth hockey, some Tier 2 junior, a stint in major junior, a stop in the American Hockey League and then the big show.
The AHL’s leading goal scorer, Texas Stars rookie Devin Shore, decided on a less-traveled road to the show for a Canadian: NCAA collegiate hockey. And for him, that has made all the difference.
A native of Ajax, Ont., Shore was selected by the Barrie Colts in the 2010 Ontario Hockey League Priority Draft. As he reached the key decision of whether he would head to the OHL or wait a few years and head to college, he had his eye on the long game.
“I knew I was late to mature physically,” said Shore. “But I also needed to put in more work in the gym to get faster. Playing college hockey would extend the window for me to play professionally.
“In major junior, if you’re not ready when you’re 19 or 20, you get overlooked. In college, some guys play a few more years of Tier 2 junior, and their window is still open when they’re 21, 22 and 23. I just wanted to extend the window for myself to develop physically.”
Shore stayed in Tier 2 junior and set his sights on collegiate hockey in the NCAA. He selected the University of Maine Black Bears after experiencing the excitement of a college hockey arena during the recruiting process.
“Through the recruiting process, I got to see these games with the crowds, the bands, and the students,” Shore said. “With the fans I got to play in front of for my games at home at the Alfond Arena, they’re some of the craziest fans I’ve ever been a part of. Some of my best memories were playing in those games.”
The rookie forward’s assessment was correct. At Maine, he was able to continue developing his game while also working on a degree in finance. Each year, he led the Black Bears in scoring and was named their captain for his junior season.
“I’ve seen him evolve here as a player from one year to the next,” said University of Maine head coach Dennis ‘Red’ Gendron, who coached Shore for his final two seasons as a Black Bear. “I think it’s just his personality, he’s not satisfied with wherever he’s at in a particular moment. He’s always striving to make himself better as a player, teammate and leader.”
Gendron notes that the schedule of a collegiate hockey player allows for more in-season development than major junior might, which he calls “an incredible advantage to the development model.” With games only on the weekends, players have more time to practice during the week to improve the finer points of their game. They can even hit the gym to grow muscle during the season as opposed to just maintaining what they built up during their offseason training regimen.
Aside from the longer development timeline when you head to college, there is also the added security of knowing you will have a degree when you finish your NCAA eligibility whether the pros come calling or not. Often, players will think, “If it doesn’t work out, at least I have a degree.” However, Gendron doesn’t think that is the crux of the matter.
“This generation of players I’m coaching now, many of them will live into their 100’s. If you’re lucky, you’ll play professional hockey until you’re 40. You still have six-tenths of your life to live.
“Obviously having a degree creates more options in a life without hockey. It’s not even a question of, ‘What if it doesn’t work out?’ It’s a question of, ‘What is the quality of my life and what do I make myself into as a man?’ People play hockey, but that’s not who they are. I’m a hockey coach, but I’d like to think I’m much more than that.”
As his junior season with the Black Bears came to an end, Shore was offered a chance to join the Dallas Stars’ AHL affiliate late in the season on an amateur tryout contract. Shore headed to Cedar Park to join the Texas Stars, where he scored five goals and two assists in 22 regular-season and playoff contests to end the year. This season, he leads the team and league in goal scoring; it certainly doesn’t seem like he is a rookie.
“Despite the games I played last year, there are still a lot of firsts: my first NHL training camp, my first AHL training camp, and this will be the first season playing a full year of a pro hockey schedule,” Shore said. “The games I played last year really helped. They let me hit the ground running and were big for my confidence and getting to know my teammates down in Texas.”
He added, “I still feel like a rookie when I’m cleaning up the bus and picking up pucks after practice.”
The shift from a college schedule to a pro schedule can be a daunting change for many players.
Gendron explains, “I think the biggest struggle for pros initially is that their days [in college] are regimented. They typically go to class in the morning, practice in the afternoon and study at night. That’s pretty much how the day goes. As a pro, you have to be at the rink at a certain time for a stretch or practice, but all of a sudden you have a lot of free time on your hands.”
Shore agrees, “You definitely have more free time. It’s important to use that free time wisely.”
Shore takes pride in his time management skills and has been hitting the books during that down time to make sure he finishes his degree. He says he uses his online courses as an important get away from the game if he has a tough night on the ice.
“My parents raised me to treat education as your top priority growing up,” he said. “I’ll get my diploma from the University of Maine, for sure. I only have six more credits to go.
“Education is important to me. It’s also the principle of finishing what you started. I put in three years of hard work in the classroom toward the degree, and I think it would be a shame to put those years to waste when you’re so close.”
The discipline and self-control Shore has to think about his life 20 years into the future are the same qualities that are helping him mold himself into an effective player for the Dallas Stars organization today.
“He’s a very thoughtful young person who is committed to being great as a hockey player,” Gendron said. “He thinks everything through and knows what he has to do to be successful. Also, he has the discipline to follow through on that. It’s really rather simple. It’s not unlike anyone who is successful in any life endeavor. You can go through any number of successful people in any walk of life and find that they are thoughtful and disciplined.”
Shore has been turning that thoughtful, disciplined nature into goals and assists in bunches in the AHL’s Pacific Division. His eight-goal, three-assist October campaign earned him the honor of CCM/AHL Player of the Month. That put him on the Dallas Stars’ radar for an early November call-up, where he saw NHL action on the road in three games.
He rejoined Texas on Nov. 11 and eclipsed his scoring totals for the previous month with seven goals and five assists for a total of 12 points in the month, and 23 overall.
“To get to the NHL, you have to continue improving every aspect of your game,” said Shore. “Overall, you need to improve on everything and take advantage of every opportunity you have to improve any skill set. Now I know what it takes to play in this league.”
If past performance is any indicator of the future, the road that started in Orono, Maine, will surely end in the NHL soon for Devin Shore.
Stephen Meserve is the editor of 100 Degree Hockey, which has covered the Texas Stars since their inaugural season.