Life as a pro suits McCourt
Riley McCourt’s first season playing professional hockey was everything he could have hoped for.
The 21-year-old St. Catharines native signed a two-year American League contract with the Toronto Marlies last fall and joined the AHL club when the season began. He played in eight games.
“I think it was obviously a different season,” he said. “Your first year of pro hockey you kind of visualize it differently with fans in the building and family and friends in the building to watch your first game but it definitely didn’t disappoint. It lived up to expectations. Every kid dreams of playing pro hockey and playing so close to home it was a dream come true.”
McCourt saw limited duty as one of the younger players on the team.
“The guys are a lot faster, a lot stronger,” he said. “Things happen a lot quicker. You can’t take any shifts off. There are a lot of guys with NHL games who play in that league so you are playing against high-calibre players who have played pro hockey for a long time.
“You have to be ready and it’s a little more of a task on your body as well but I thought I matched up well and for my first year. I thought I played well and I was happy with how it went.”
McCourt feels even though he didn’t play huge minutes, it was a great way for him to ease into the league.
“It was a good test for me this year to get my feet wet and feel it out and get myself that confidence and faith in my ability that I can play at that high level,” he said. “Not a lot of 20-year-olds get a chance to play pro hockey and I’m thankful for that. I think it’s going to be good for me next year knowing what to expect, know the pace and know how to prepare for games and the whole pro lifestyle.”
McCourt loved being a pro, both on and off the ice.
“It was awesome,” he said. “I’m a guy who loves being around the rink and the game and all the guys. To have the opportunity to be around the rink from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and practice or hang out and play ping pong or basketball with the guys was awesome. It was something you enjoy every day and you can’t complain when you’re doing something you love.”
Near the end of the AHL season the Marlies sent McCourt to the Wichita Thunder of the ECHL where the mobile defenceman picked up a pair of assists in 13 games.
“They sent me there to get more games and more ice time and develop and play a more significant role and continue to build confidence and get more reps in,” he said.
McCourt, son of Ridley men’s hockey coach and former Niagara IceDogs coach Mike McCourt (2009/10), played at Ridley before joining the St. Catharines Falcons of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League for one season. He then moved on to the Ontario Hockey League with the Hamilton Bulldogs and Flint Firebirds before turning pro.
He is already looking forward to next season and planning for rookie camp in September.
“For me, it’s having a goal in place and make sure I stick to that no matter what,” he said. “Pro hockey is a lot of ups and downs so for me it’s just believing in my ability and myself and knowing I can play and contribute at that level and work hard and be a good teammate on and off the ice and earn my spot and ice time wherever I am. Control what I can control and not worry about the outside noise or things I can’t control.”
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