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Frei Column: Denver’s Troy Terry has emerged as NHL star

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Anaheim  center Troy Terry — who was born in Denver and raised in Highlands Ranch — already has 12 goals, tying him for fifth in the NHL through Tuesday’s games.

He and the Ducks will face the Avalanche Wednesday night at Ball Arena in a homecoming of sorts for Terry, an alum of Colorado youth hockey and a former star at DU.

I did a Q&A with him in early 2018, when he still was at DU and looking ahead to playing for the U.S. in the Winter Olympics at PyeongChang, South Korea. The interview still stands as the definitive profile of the local product now having a breakout NHL season.

This is how he got there.

Q: Growing up here, who were your favorite Avalanche players?

Troy Terry: Joe Sakic was definitely my favorite, and Peter Forsberg. When I was a Mite with the Littleton Hawks, I actually played with Joe Sakic’s kid [Mitchell] during the 04-05 NHL lockout, so [Joe] was around a lot. He came out on the ice with us a lot and it couldn’t have worked out better. I went over to his house a couple of times. I doubt if he remembers it, but he put goalie pads on and I shot on him in the driveway. It was really cool.

Q: Did you score?

Troy Terry: I don’t think so. He was too competitive for that. There was a net, actually, that was a ways away. He would make a save and drop his gloves and he would try and fire the puck to the net 200 feet away. So that’s how he would score. It was really cool.

Q: How did you take up hockey in Highlands Ranch?

Troy Terry: I began playing roller hockey in Aurora. I ended up getting kind of good at it. They decided to have me try ice hockey with the Littleton Hawks. I was probably 7, and I struggled a bit my first couple of years. But from then on, I came up through the ranks. I started with the Mite group and went through squirts. Then I went to the Colorado Thunderbirds [from 2008 to 2014]. Angelo Ricci does such a great job with them.

Q: What other sports were you doing when you were fooling around with roller hockey and then were starting in ice hockey?

Troy Terry: Flag football, I wasn’t very good at. Tee-ball, I wasn’t very good at. So I was pretty much forced to play hockey because I wasn’t very good at the other ones. In fourth or fifth grade, I started playing lacrosse, and I was pretty good at it. I played that for probably three years and the time kind of conflicted with hockey season, so I had to stop playing that. I thought lacrosse was a great sport to play, too.

Q: You’ve said you went to Avalanche and DU games and were a fan. How old were you then?

Troy Terry: My dad first was just flipping through the channels and stopped on an Avs game for a while and I was drawn to it. I was probably 4 or 5, and that’s what got me into roller hockey. I remember my parents brought me to one Avs game, and I got this little plastic Avs stick and I’d play around the house with it. That was kind of where it all began. I used to pick up the programs for the Avs games and my parents would cover up the names and I could name whoever it was, just by their faces. I got super into it. Probably when I was a Squirt, was when I started coming to DU games. You can’t go to too many Avs’ games because of the price and everything. These games were easy to come to, and all my friends went to them, so we all went together. That’s when I started getting season tickets and became a Pioneer.

Q: Who were your favorite Pioneer players then?

Troy Terry: Guys like Gabe Gauthier and Connor James, and even through [Ryan] Caldwell and [Tyler] Bozak. I had season tickets, so I followed all those guys and watched all the way through until I went to the National Team Development Program, pretty much. Especially those CC and North Dakota games, those were fun to go to.

Q: If my math is correct, you were 11 when you went to the Thunderbirds, Angelo Ricci’s AAA program. Why’d you go there and how’d your progression go there?

Troy Terry: My two years of Squirt, I started to realize I could be pretty good at hockey. My dad decided to make the change and started taking it very seriously. Back then they didn’t have U-11 Thunderbirds and I think they do now. It was just the U-12. I went and tried out my first year and I was able to make it as an 11-year-old and I came back for my second year and just moved up from there. I wanted to just try the whole AAA thing and see where it took me, and I’m glad I did. My U-16 year, we made it to the national championship and we lost to Team Wisconsin in the fourth overtime of the national championship game. I’ve been very fortunate to win some team championships and that one still haunts me a little bit. We were very close. We had some really good teams.

Q: It jumps out on your bio that you only played one game in the United States Hockey League, the major feeder to NCAA hockey. What was that all about?

Troy Terry: I was drafted by the Indiana Ice and so I went and tried out that year and didn’t make it. I came back and played for Angelo. I was having a really good year and probably late December, they called me up and I went there for a week and got to play in a game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where the Pacers play. It’s nice to see the pace at the next level and get ready for it. It was a pretty drama-filled summer. The Ice folded after that year, so there was a dispersal draft of all their draft picks and I was picked by Lincoln. I went to camp at Lincoln and made the team, but then I ended up getting an offer to go to the National Team [Development Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan].

Q: Why’d you go there and how important was it in your development?

Troy Terry: They do a great job of selling it and they’ve had so many great players go through there that are playing in the NHL, so it’s a chance to play at international events and play against the other countries with the best kids. I had to play a different role there. We had guys like Auston Matthews, Matthew Tkachuk, Colin White and Clayton Keller. We had a really great forward group. I never touched the ice for the power play. It was just penalty kill and fourth line minutes. Truthfully, I think it helped me a lot because it kind of taught me to play the game that way. When I came here, my role changed and now I know how to play both sides of it. If I hadn’t gone there and kind of got my foot in the door with USA Hockey, I don ‘t k now if I make the [WJC] team last year. It’s just nice to get that experience.

Crystal Ball Bonus!

Q: How did your recruitment to DU fit into that timetable?

Troy Terry: My first year of U-16 with Angelo – he obviously has strong ties to DU – I didn’t have any offers. I was 15 and a freshman in high school. The CC Tigers reached out to Angelo and wanted to meet with me. Of course, Angelo told these [DU] guys. CC’s a good program but it was obvious I was always a Pioneer. Once they found out, they brought me in and I got the verbal offer. It took me about eight hours to decide. It was my only offer and it was only place I wanted to go. That was my first offer and I never thought about anywhere else.

Q: Did you ever second-guess not opening it up and seeing what else might be out there?

Troy Terry: Guys talk about where they got offers from, from everywhere. And I’m like, I got one offer and it was to the place I wanted to go. I was happy about it. I actually committed two weeks before [George] Gwozdecky and DU parted ways, so Monty [Jim Montgomery] came in and called me and I instantly knew he was going to be a great coach and this is where I wanted to be still. So there never was any doubt.

Q: Did you get any overtures from major junior?

Troy Terry: I was protected by the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League and they’re an awesome program, too. They let me do my thing. I think they kind of knew I was a Denver Pioneer.

Q: So you came to DU in 2015. How did you think you fit in that freshman year?

Troy Terry: My first year, we had guys like Trevor Moore and Danton Heinen and Dyan Gambrell was so great that year, he stepped right in. I was playing a second-line role and that year was kind of knowing that these guys have been here and they are great hockey players and you take everything in you can, learning from them and Monty. It was just knowing my time was coming. The next year, both Trevor and Danton moved on [to NHL organizations], and it was tough for our team, but I was ready for it. I had a good year that freshman year. It wasn’t as dynamic as my sophomore year or what this year is off to, but it definitely helped me. It was a year when I could sit back and learn and be a student.

Q: So we come to the World Juniors in 2017. As the Americans won the gold medal, you became famous for your success in the shootouts. But how did you play otherwise and are you OK for being known as “the shootout guy”?

Troy Terry: It’s weird. Everybody knows me as “the shootout guy.” Sometimes it does get a little frustrating … well, frustrating isn’t the right word. But I thought I had a good tournament. Playing for coach Montgomery helped me a lot. I felt I was ahead of some of the other players there with my work habits and coming from here. But I thought I played very good hockey the whole play, through the semis and the finals. The shootout was something I’ll remember and it’s cool to be recognized for that and everything that’s come with it. It’s been awesome. The shootout is cool, but it’s not hockey. I mean, it’s part of the game for sure, but what really helped my confidence was how I played hockey there during the games.

Q: Then came the rest of the dream year, including the Pioneers winning the 2017 NCAA title. Did that top the WJC or…?

Troy Terry: It was different. I had so much pride in both, playing for your country and here. The World Juniors were incredible. But the NCAA title, these are guys you go to school with every day, you’re so close, and it’s such a great locker room. They really are my best friends and my brothers and to be able to do that with them and go to such a big stage, it’s such a cool thing. I watched it happen here in ’04 and ’05, and it brought me a lot of pride to bring that back here. I know it meant a lot to Denver and it meant a lot to me. It was very special to do that with my best friends.

Q: The Ducks drafted you in 2015, before your freshman year. Were there major overtures from them after last season?

Troy Terry: It’s always something you have to think about and weigh all your options. It wasn’t anything where I felt like I needed to rush to make a decision or anything. I just sat back and talked with a lot of people. I’m still 20. I have plenty of time. We have such a great coach here in Monty, and I think I still have a lot to learn before I make that jump. That’s why it’s so great to be around a guy like Monty and take this year and soak everything up and learn and be the best Pioneer I can right now. It’s been great for my physical development and I love being a Pioneer.

Q: Full circle. What are your memories of Olympic hockey from when you were growing up?

Troy Terry: Obviously, I grew up watching the movie, “Miracle.” Every kid that plays hockey watches that movie. It’s very cool that they’re back to that format. I know that some people probably are upset that they don’t get to watch NHL players, but I think it will be a very cool tournament. Then I remember watching NHL players in it when I was growing up, at Vancouver and Sochi. The U.S. played a great tournament at Vancouver, and Sidney Crosby scored in overtime in the finals [to win the gold for Canada]. It always was such good hockey. The Olympics are an incredible thing, a sacred athletic event, it’s so fun to watch. To be part of that would be so cool.

POSTSCRIPT: Terry signed with the Ducks after that 2017-18 season, his junior year at DU. His career stats. This already is his first NHL season in double digits for goals.

He also seems a solid possibility to play for the U.S. again in the 2022 Winter Games at Beijing. The NHL is returning to the Games again after taking 2018 off.

He could probably score on Joe Sakic.

Terry Frei (terry@terryfrei.com) is a Denver-based author and journalist. He has been named a state’s sports writer of the year seven times in peer voting — four times in Colorado and three times in Oregon. His seven books include the novels “Olympic Affair” and “The Witch’s Season.” Among his five non-fiction works are “Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming,” “Third Down and a War to Go,” “March 1939: Before the Madness,” and “’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age.” He also collaborated with Adrian Dater on “Save By Roy,” was a long-time vice president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and has covered the hockey Rockies, Avalanche and the NHL at-large. His web site is www.terryfrei.com and his bio is available at www.terryfrei.com/bio.html

His Colorado Hockey Now column archive can be accessed here

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ricoflashback

Great story, A.D. And wishing Mr. Terry a very successful season – – but not tonight or ever against the Avs. Best ticket in town? DU Hockey. Close to the action, reasonable prices and some of the best college hockey you’ll see anywhere. Go Pioneers!

GWood

Great piece, T. Frei. He put Highlands Ranch on the map, way to go kid! I’m sure there will be more, I have heard so many stories just like that, people love hockey around here. Waaay better than following the Broncos… Avs forever!

Joshua Canfield

I really enjoyed the interview. I was born in Santa Barbara, California, but moved to Golden when I was around 6. The Avalanche moved to Denver shortly after. I really wish that hockey was as prominent as it is now. I really enjoyed playing baseball, 2nd base & SS. How things could of been different if I had picked up a pair of skates instead. 😏

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