Travis St. Denis is taking the next big step in his hockey career, as the Trail native and former Smoke Eater signed with the New York Islanders’ affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League earlier this week.
“It’s a good feeling to kind of get that whole process over with,” said St. Denis from his home in Trail Wednesday. “I obviously wanted to keep playing hockey and my biggest choice is whether to stay here in North America or I had a couple different options in Europe as well. I just felt I wasn’t ready to go to Europe yet, I kind of wanted to test the waters in North America and get one step closer to the NHL.”
After taking the Bobcats to its second Frozen Four appearance in four years, St. Denis graduated from Quinnipiac University in May, and signed a one-year, one-way contract earlier this week with the Tigers.
“There were a couple other teams interested, but my agent (Dave Thomas) deals with all the negotiations and stuff. It’s a big business, so I had to do what was right for me, and Bridgeport and the Islanders organization was one of the teams at the top of my list heading into the off-season so we came to an agreement and I’m pretty excited about it.”
Bridgeport also lies about 20 miles from Hamden, Conn., St. Denis’ home for the past four years, and with Montrose native Connor Jones already in the line up, the Tigers were an attractive choice for the 23-year-old forward.
“He (Jones) only lived about 20 minutes away from me in Connecticut this year, so I saw him quite a bit during the season, and I went to a decent amount of their games so I got a feel for how it’s going to be.”
St. Denis fully expects the transition to the AHL to be another challenge, with a grinding 76-game schedule, relentless travel, and the intensity of players competing for a shot at the NHL, preparing for the challenge will be his full time job this summer.
“Pro hockey is a lot more different than college hockey but I’m excited for the challenge and my job this summer is to push myself to be better,” said St. Denis. “There’s a lot of older guys, and a lot of bigger, stronger, faster guys, so I have to match that or be better. I’m a smaller guy, so I have to use my speed against those bigger guys out there.”
Despite his five-foot-seven, 170-pound stature, St. Denis has made an impact at every level of hockey and every team he’s played with, including an RBC Cup in his last season in the BCHL with the Penticton Vees, and three Cleary Cups, a Whitelaw Championship, and two appearances in the NCAA championship game with Quinnipiac in 2013 and 2016. Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold praised St. Denis for his dedication and strong work ethic and his ability to lead his teammates by example. He told a Quinnipiac reporter that, “Travis was one of the most talented players to ever play at Quinnipiac and he is being rewarded for his tireless work. He had a remarkable career at Quinnipiac and we wish him luck with the Sound Tigers.”
St. Denis posted a career-high in goals, 22, assists, 27, and points, 49, during his senior campaign at Quinnipiac University last season. The Bobcats’ assistant captain ranked first on the team in assists and second in points. St. Denis’ career year earned him First Team All-ECAC honours and helped the Bobcats to their first ECAC title in school history. St. Denis was also up for the Best Defensive-Forward Award in the NCAA Div. 1 hockey.
St. Denis will attend the Islanders development camp at the end of the month and work out with his strength coach at Quinnipiac before returning to assist at Champions Hockey Camp run by Terry, Connor, and Kellen Jones at the Cominco Arena in August.
St. Denis finished his collegiate career with 125 points (60 goals, 65 assists) in 162 games for 20th all time. St. Denis and the Bobcats reached the 16-team Frozen Four Tournament in each of his four seasons at Quinnipiac and, over those four years, the Bobcats won more games, 108, than any other Div. 1 team in the NCAA.