Truth be told, Matt Pope
didn't expect to get off to this type of start. And if the Bakersfield Condors keeps this up, he won't be in the ECHL much longer.
Pope, a 24-year-old rookie, entered Wednesday night's contest at Alaska with 11 goals in his first 15 games. After a four-year run that saw him rack up 71 points with Bemidji State University, Pope expected his professional career to start slowly. Instead, he's on the fast track to the American Hockey League.
"Everything's going well so far," Pope said. "I worked hard in the offseason. I think it was good for me to do the four years in college. I think it really helped developed my game. Coming here really wasn't that much of a step up."
It sure hasn't seemed that way. Condors coach Marty Raymond has been so impressed with the first-year forward that he believes Pope has the ability to wear a letter at some point down the road.
"He acts like he belongs, which is good," Raymond told NHL.com. "We call it a one-year, 10-year kid. He's a first-year kid, but he's not afraid of making his presence known. I like that. It's important for a rookie not to be shy and wait and see what's going to happen."
Bakersfield has seen a lot already happen in 2008-09. The Condors have been hit hard this season by the call-up/injury bug, and Pope may very well be the next man in Bakersfield to get a crack in the AHL. It’s an opportunity Pope says he's ready for.
"I think so," said Pope, who trails only Mark Derlago
for the team's scoring lead. "I'm talking with my agent and trying to get some sort of deal set up. Obviously, it's my goal to keep moving up. But I'm not unhappy here. I really like it here. I just hope that I can keep doing well and get called up one of these days."
Two months ago, even Pope probably would have admitted that a promotion to the AHL at this stage of his career was far-fetched. It's amazing how 11 goals in 15 games can bring out the scouts.
"I didn't know a lot (about the ECHL), but I knew enough to know that this would be a good spot for me to start my pro career," said Pope, who signed with Bakersfield on Sept. 3. "I was hoping that I would do well, but I didn't expect to do this well. I'm doing better than I thought."
Before he goes, both Pope and Raymond believe the Langley, British Columbia native has some things to work on. While Pope feels he needs to be more consistent, Raymond is working with Pope on his defensive game.
"Sometimes defensively, he gets caught and doesn't react right away," said Raymond, who is in his fifth full season as Bakersfield's coach. "When he wants to play defense, he's excellent. When it comes to offense, everything is natural to him.
"He's got some really good speed -- deceptive speed. He's a tough kid. He doesn't look like it, but he finishes his checks and he drives to the net. When he's on his game, he's dominating at this level."
Raymond was asked if he's surprised by Pope's fast start.
"Yes and no," the coach said. "We knew he had some potential. We talked to his (college) coach, and he had great things to say. He's a kid that could go all the way to the top if he plays consistently. That's the reason why he's still here. He's still got some stuff to learn."
"I worked hard in the offseason. I think it was good for me to do the four years in college. I think it really helped developed my game. Coming here really wasn't that much of a step up." -- Matt Pope
With a handful of his teammates currently in the AHL, Pope has been handed a ton of playing time. With that ice time comes added responsibility to help the Condors win games, but Raymond feels it's nothing Pope -- or any other rookie, for that matter -- can't handle.
"We make so much of being rookies … guys play hockey," Raymond said. "If they're meant to be those type of players, they're going to go up. It's good that he's got this on his shoulders. He knows he's got to be good every night. We remind him that every night there could be a scout in there. That's how he's going to get his call-up. He understands that."
Pope was excited about Bakersfield's chances prior to the numerous call-ups and injuries. These days, the Condors need a 60-minute effort from everyone in order to be successful. Bakersfield entered Wednesday's action in last place in the Pacific Division at 6-9-3.
"At the start of the year, we had such a good group of players and I was thinking that we would do really well," Pope said. "We had a tough start. Now, we've lost a few guys to call-ups and injuries. It's going to be even harder for us to do well. It was kind of disappointing that we didn't do as well as we should have with the kind of lineup that we had. Now, we have to pick it up without those few guys."
Contact Brian Compton at: email@example.com.