A version of the following story appeared in the 2016-17 second edition of AVALANCHE, the official game magazine of the Colorado Avalanche Hockey Club. For more feature stories, purchase a copy of the magazine during Avs home games at Pepsi Center. All proceeds from game-magazine sales support youth hockey associations in Colorado.
It was a decision A.J. Greer didn't come to lightly. It was a decision that ultimately shaped his future on and off the ice.
Determined to be the best hockey player he could be, the Colorado Avalanche prospect made the difficult choice of leaving Boston University last December to go to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and play for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. As a result of the move, Greer gave up his NCAA eligibility.
"It was a tough decision to leave a diploma hanging, but I had to make a decision for my career and I wanted to be a hockey player," Greer said.
Greer was the youngest rookie forward in college hockey when he joined the Terriers as a 17-year-old freshman in 2014-15. He had seven points (three goals and four assists) in 37 contests, which included scoring a key goal in the national semifinals against No. 1-seed North Dakota to help BU advance to the NCAA Frozen Four championship game.
After the Avs picked him at No. 39 overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, Greer headed back to Boston for his sophomore year. He began the 2015-16 campaign with five points (one goal and four assists) in 18 games but concluded midway through the season that it would be better for his growth to play major junior in Canada. The QMJHL has more of a pro-style schedule with 68 games compared to the maximum of around 40 in college.
"I think BU is a great program, great facilities, great coaches," Greer said. "It just wasn't the right fit for me from a development standpoint."
His transition to junior hockey life wasn't easy, as he didn't record a point in his first four games with the Huskies. But when he finally got settled, he broke out with his first points coming as part of a five-game streak.
"It helped build up different aspects of my game and basically built up my confidence to be honest, because my confidence was at an all-time low," Greer recalled of going to a new league. "I was stressed out. I was nervous. It was basically a make or break situation to leave Boston University and come to the 'Q.' I had to prove myself."
And he did.
Greer finished the year with 27 points (16 goals and 11 assists) in 33 contests, helping the Huskies on a historic run through the QMJHL that resulted in their first league championship and a spot in the Memorial Cup tournament.
Despite the success of bringing the city of Rouyn-Noranda its first title, the team's fairy tale season ended in an overtime loss to the London Knights in the Canadian Hockey League's championship game.
"I'm so proud of those guys. We went to the Memorial Cup, and you can't really dull on the fact that we lost. We played such a great game," Greer said. "I was there for half a year, but it felt like I was there for three years. Those guys just welcomed me so well, the whole city. It was definitely a great experience."
Greer's play was noticeable during the five-game Memorial Cup as he showcased his two-way game while adding two points (a goal and an assist) and 30 penalty minutes. This was on top of a successful QMJHL Playoffs where he had 22 points and led the club with 12 goals (tied).
The Joliette, Quebec, native's wild year then culminated on July 1 when the Avalanche signed him to a three-year, entry-level contract.
"It's something that you don't imagine," Greer recalled during the team's development camp this past summer. "One year ago, I would have never imagined that I would be here with a contract in my hand and have been through what I've been through."
Greer spent part of this past summer in Denver training with Colorado strength and conditioning coach Casey Bond in hopes of making the jump from the junior ranks to the pros. He had a good training camp with the Avs and began the year with the club's American Hockey League affiliate in San Antonio, and he didn't look out of place at the pro level.
In the left wing's first 13 games with the Rampage, he had a seven-game point streak and recorded 14 points (five goals and nine assists), which led all league rookies in scoring at the time.
Greer's dream of playing in the NHL was soon realized as he was called up by the Avalanche on Nov. 12 and made his debut the following night against the Boston Bruins.
Looking back at his big decision from a year ago, Greer is glad he chose the route he did.
"There are always pros and cons when your making such a big decision like I did," Greer said. "Obviously, there is leaving a diploma from one of the best universities in the world, and another thing was if it doesn't work out in hockey, I don't have that backup for school. School is very important for myself and my parents, so whether I play hockey and it doesn't work out or something I can always go back to school. For hockey, it was a big risk. It was a make or break situation. I just gave it my all. I knew it wasn't going to be as easy as it seemed, so I just came in here with the mentality of being ready to work hard."
His risk paid off.