Just like his Comets players today, coach Travis Green's professional roots begins in the AHL.
As the American Hockey League kicked off its 55th season, Green was making the jump from juniors, to the pros. In many ways, it was a whole different world by the fall of 1990.
Moviegoers flock to theaters, as Home Alone is released. A formal proposal is published for what would be the World Wide Web. The NHL Board of Governors award provisional franchises to groups from Ottawa and Tampa Bay. The Springfield Indians won their seventh and final Calder Cup championship.
Closer to home, the Utica Devils, then New Jersey's primary affiliate, celebrate Kevin Todd's individual accomplishments. Todd collects the Les Cunningham Award (MVP of the regular season), as well as the John B. Sollenberger Trophy (top point scorer – 118).
21 pro seasons later for Green, 46, he's right back where his road to the Comets began.
"Not even close, "says Green when asked if he was ready for the next step from juniors. "I was embarrassed at some of the things in my game then."
A second-round draft selection by the New York Islanders in 1989, Green remains appreciative of the help that his older teammates offered. "For sure, I owe them a lot. They helped me learn the (pro) game. I had a lot of good teammates over the years."
For Green, chasing his pro ambitions meant doing so in New York's Capital District; at the Houston Field House in Troy. The "old barn" on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (current Comet Mike Zalewski's alma mater), with a seating capacity more than twice that of where Green's current office is at Utica's AUD, is where his introduction to the AHL begins.
Staying current, understanding and adapting to what today's players are about, remain key components to building a successful coaching resume. This is understood by the Comets' coach, now in his fourth season at the helm.
"You have to be able to relate to the guys," explains Green, after finishing his postgame press conference at The AUD after a Sunday matinee game with Syracuse.
Forward Paul Guay, who during Green's rookie season with the Capital District Islanders was seven years his senior and defenseman Rick Hayward, who joined the team the following season (1991-92), are two teammates who Green brings to mind immediately with a smile when going down memory lane. Chris Pryor, a player-coach during Green's two and a half seasons of AHL duty, is another individual who the Castlegar, BC native credits for bringing him along.
With the Devils playing in The AUD back in seasons Green skated for Capital District, he has one very distinct memory when traveling down the New York State Thruway on game day.
"I remember that voice," says Green in referencing during his rookie season hearing Utica's coach Tom McVie from the bench. The always loud, often gravelly, hoarse voice of McVie's was an attention getter, even for a rookie. "I talk to Tommy now and then. He could intimidate you."
Labeling himself as a child "hockey buff", Green recalls being very well aware of the success of the New York Islanders in the 1980's. "I lived for hockey. It (Islanders) was a proud franchise, and had a lot of history; winning four Stanley Cups."
So, when getting to his first NHL camp and being around some of the horses that took the Islanders to five straight Cup Finals, Billy Smith, Bryan Trottier, and Denis Potvin, Green remembers being amped-up. There is one member of those uber- successful Islanders teams who would have an immediate impact during Green's acclimation to life in the AHL – Robert "Butch" Goring.
During Green's second and third seasons with the Western Hockey League's Spokane Chiefs (1987-89), Goring was his coach. Fast forward to Green's signing with the Islanders and being dispatched to Capital District – he is greeted by his new (sort of) bench boss: Goring. For all of Green's 164 games with Capital District, Goring prepped him for life in the NHL.
Green also gives thanks early on in his career to Islander legend and hockey Hall of Famer Al Arbour. During Arbour's final two full seasons coaching on the Island (1992-1994), Green absorbed all the wisdom he could. "I owe a lot to Al," tells Green. "He (Arbour) was a great coach and taught me so much."
Being back in the AHL, now honing the next step in his professional career with Utica, Green offers high praise for the quality of play demonstrated. "The (AHL) is a great developmental league for the NHL. I was seven or eight-years-old when I fell in love with hockey. I feel blessed to being in the game."
Written by Don Laible