Most NHL players were stars at every level of competitive hockey while growing up. They likely dominated youth hockey and were among their team’s top scorers in college or major juniors. Typically, they reach the NHL in their early twenties or – in the case of players such as Matt Duchene
and Ryan O’Reilly – in their teens.
By that definition, Chris Durno is not a typical NHL player.
The Avalanche forward took some additional time to develop and really find his niche before finally making his NHL debut last season at the age of 28. Now, after many years of hard work and perseverance, Durno is getting his first extended look on an NHL roster.
After spending four seasons playing NCAA hockey at Michigan Tech University - where he was mostly utilized as a third-or fourth-line player - Durno began his professional career with the East Coast Hockey League’s Gwinnett Gladiators in 2003-04. After two successful seasons in the ECHL and part of a third, Durno was promoted to the American Hockey League early in the 2005-06 campaign and never looked back.
The prototypical “late bloomer,” Durno began to find his niche in pro hockey despite playing for five AHL clubs in four seasons. Knowing he wasn’t always the most skilled player on the ice, the forward made himself extremely valuable by playing a gritty game, going hard to the net and limiting his mistakes.
|Durno honed his skills while playing four years of college hockey at Michigan Tech University |
“It’s about figuring out how you can be successful as a player and what kind of role you can play,” said Durno. “There are a lot of good players who drop off after a couple of years of pro, or don’t even play pro for whatever reason. So I think it’s just about persevering and waiting for that opportunity, putting yourself in the position so when you get that opportunity you can be successful.”
Durno’s attitude has always been to live in the moment. While many of his counterparts may have pondered giving up the game of hockey during long bus rides in the ECHL, Durno never wavered from his dream of playing in the NHL. In fact, he never even gave serious consideration to how he might use his Marketing Management degree from Michigan Tech if hockey was no longer an option.
“I enjoyed the whole journey, the whole process. You meet so many great guys and play in great cities,” said Durno. “I had some good runs in the East Coast League and the American League. You always kind of think about the NHL, but when you’re in the East Coast League you’re a long way from the NHL. You’d kill yourself if you thought every day about being in the NHL, so you just enjoy the moment and take it for what it’s worth.”
Signed by Colorado in July of 2008, Durno led the Lake Erie Monsters - Colorado's AHL affiliate - with 18 goals during the 2008-09 campaign and also got his first taste of NHL action by appearing in two games with the Avalanche.
After again beginning the 2009-10 season with the Monsters, Durno has appeared in 20 of Colorado's 23 games since being recalled for a fourth time on Dec. 18.
The forward experienced his greatest NHL moment to date on Wednesday night against the Atlanta Thrashers. After a Chris Stewart goal in the third period cut the Avalanche’s deficit in half at 3-2, Durno scored the third goal of his NHL career to even the contest with 5:29 remaining in regulation.
Diving out to reach a loose puck, he put a backhander past Atlanta’s Johan Hedberg to send the game to overtime, where Kyle Cumiskey would give the Avalanche a 4-3 win with a tally just nine seconds in.
For a 29-year-old forward once considered an AHL nomad, the biggest goal of his professional career was a reminder of just how far he’s come.
“It’s amazing. It makes you realize how lucky you are to be doing this for a living.”