|Teddy Purcell, the free-agent find of the season so far, leads the AHL with 19 assists and is tied for the lead with 25 points.|
Purcell began what’s become a season-long ritual of going out to dinner with his teammates during training camp with the Los Angeles Kings. Those early meals were paid for via the credit card game. That’s where everyone tosses their plastic into a hat and one by one they are pulled out until the last one left is used to pick up the tab.
Purcell, by his recollection, was 3-for-3 in getting a freebie.
“I was ordering the most expensive thing on the menu, hoping I wouldn’t have to pay for it,’’ Purcell said. “A couple of guys were getting upset when they lost. So we started splitting.’’
Good thing for the rest of the Monarchs. As much as Purcell has been feeling it this season, he’d probably still be chowing down gratis at the expense of his teammates. And it’s obvious that he’s quite hungry.
Purcell, the free-agent find of the season so far, leads the AHL with 19 assists and is tied for the lead with 25 points. He also is coming off an eight-game point streak, during which he posted five goals and 10 assists.
“I guess I’ve been fortunate, and a little lucky, to have the season I’ve had,’’ Purcell said. “I didn’t expect to be up around the leader board. It’s a long season. Hopefully I’ll be able to continue and not hit that (rookie) wall.’’
Purcell’s debut is an impressive one for a player who, about 18 months ago, wasn’t sure he’d amount to much in hockey.
Purcell, 22, grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He was a big fan of the former AHL team there, but was quite certain he’d never get any closer to the pro game than hanging outside the dressing room looking for autographs.
“I don’t know where it (his ability) came from,” he said. “When I started in hockey, I was clearly the worst player on the ice. I was floating on the ice, waving to my parents. I don’t think I scored a goal for the first year and a half.’’
Purcell never even played major junior, instead piling up 67 and 71 points, respectively, in two seasons for Cedar Rapids of the United States Hockey League. The output was a tree falling in the forest with nobody around.
“Sometimes I sit back and pinch myself. I never talked to an NHL team my whole life,’’ he said in reflection. “There was nothing (in terms of interest).’’
Purcell moved to the University of Maine, where he was floating on air just at the prospect of getting four years of education in exchange for playing hockey. That plan changed when produced 43 points as a freshman last season, the most for a Black Bears newcomer since 1992-93.
Suddenly, the NHL attention started raining on him.
“I was questioning myself. Why me?’’ Purcell said. “A lot of nights I couldn’t sleep. I had to pinch myself. I guess I wanted to stay in school. It wasn’t like I conquered college hockey. I knew if I wanted to play in the NHL, I had to leave. I thought it was too hard to turn down.’’
The Kings were the winning bidder, and Purcell signed with them last April. Purcell said he liked their persistence and honesty, how the scouts came to watch him and really broke down his game both good and bad.
Los Angeles started to get an idea what it had in Purcell. Once development camp began last summer, so did Monarchs coach Mark Morris. Purcell was a little lean – 6-foot-2, 175 pounds – but whether passing or shooting, he had a way of getting the puck where it needed to be even when no opening was obvious.
“It was apparent from the get-go that he has some pretty good offensive gifts. His timing for getting the puck where it needs to go is extraordinary,’’ Morris said. “When a goalie is in position and he can’t find a hole (to shoot at), he usually finds the next guy open.’’
Purcell said his steady hand comes from hours of street hockey where, even if he didn’t have anyone to play with, he’d pick away at the corners of an empty net.
“I guess I’ve always been a patient guy. I don’t get fazed that easily,’’ he said. “I think I’ve always been more a pass-first kind of guy. Growing up, I was always looking for that pretty pass.’’
The difference now is that he has a talented stick on the other end of those saucers in the form of linemate Gabe Gauthier, who is third in the league with 25 points. Gauthier is the louder of the two, while Purcell is reserved and curious.
“I’m a first-year guy coming in, I don’t want to be over-confident,’’ Purcell said. “I ask a lot of questions. We call Gabe the loudmouth on the team. He is always laughing at his own jokes.’’
It’s a mix that works. The way Purcell has assimilated into the Monarchs while at the same time leading the way may be the key to his success.
|The way Teddy Purcell has assimilated into the Manchester Monarchs while at the same time leading the way may be the key to his success.|
When he needs clothes, he takes the cue of roommate Trevor Lewis. Boston is just a 45-minute drive away, and an outlet mall is even closer. Lewis apparently has the fashion sense of the two, and when he gets something, Purcell, under the guise of peer pressure, often buys the same thing.
“We’re planning to go (shopping) next paycheck and figure something out,’’ Lewis said. “We have pretty big closets here.’’
Threads can be bought, but culinary skills, not so much. That’s one reason why Purcell was appreciative of a Thanksgiving invite from teammate Brian Boyle, a native of nearby Hingham, Mass.
Actually, the Boyle clan invited nearly everyone in New England. Boyle is one of 13 children, and counting nieces, nephews and some teammates, that put the guest list at about 100.
Asked what he planned on bringing to the festivities, Purcell didn’t exactly put on his apron and run to the kitchen.
“I’ll probably buy something for his mother, maybe some flowers and some pies,’’ Purcell said. “We’ll stop by the supermarket, pretend that we cooked them.’’
As long as the dinner table gets filled, you don’t question the means. Noting his luck at the start of the season with the credit card game and the rocket-launch takeoff of his career, Purcell is aware of the importance of payback.
So he promised that if he leads the AHL in scoring and gets a bonus for that, dinner for his pals is on him. That’s a start. Lewis, for one, has something in mind a little sooner.
“He gets his next bonus check in January,’’ Lewis noted. “He’ll have to treat all the boys. I’ll have to get on him for that.’’