Ryan Del Monte
has been familiar with the ECHL for quite some time now. Ten years ago his cousin, Dion Del Monte, had 58 points in 67 games for the Roanoke Express.
Now it's Ryan's turn. The ECHL All-Star has been terrific in his rookie campaign with the Johnstown Chiefs, notching 37 points in his first 54 games. Not bad for someone who waited seven years before turning pro.
"I thought I could do pretty well," Del Monte told NHL.com. "I came in as a 25-year-old, so I wasn't the young guy. I thought with the added experience I've had in hockey, I could put up decent numbers. I didn't know I'd be given the chance to play as much as I am right now, but so far I've been pretty happy with how I've been doing. Coach (Ian Herbers
) has shown some confidence in me. It's been great."
Del Monte's junior career began with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League in 2001. In 131 games, he had just 16 goals and 26 assists. He then went on to play one season with the Georgetown Raiders (OPJHL), where he racked up 90 points in just 47 games.
He then was left with a decision to make. Despite having offers to play in the ECHL, Del Monte opted to go to college. He dreamt of one day playing in the NHL, but just in case that day never arrived, he wanted to get his degree.
So it was on to Brock University, where he enjoyed a solid four-year run. The Mississauga, Ont., native appeared in 91 games, tallying 45 goals and 58 assists.
"The (ECHL) kind of knocked on my door after my 20-year-old year," Del Monte said. "I thought it would be a good idea to get my schooling taken care of considering the NHL wasn't in the near future. I thought that would be the smartest thing to do. Brock was there for me. I got to play at a good hockey school and a good academic school. I had a lot of fun there."
He's having a lot fun in Johnstown, too. His play has helped the Chiefs stay in the hunt for the North Division title; Johnstown entered Wednesday night's game in first place with a record of 31-19-3.
"We know what we're going to get from him every night," Herbers said. "He goes out and competes. He plays hard and gives it everything he has every shift. He's been able to put up some numbers for us, but he's also been responsible on the defensive end. I can play him against top lines on other teams."
Judging by his plus/minus statistic, it's easy to see why Herbers puts his rookie forward in such situations. Del Monte leads the club with a plus-17 rating, which is amongst the best in the entire league.
His ability to play at both ends of the ice and his prior experience makes Del Monte unique. Technically he's a rookie, but his age and his numbers this season would indicate otherwise.
"I'm a rookie, but I'm not the youngest guy on the team," Del Monte said. "I'm not afraid to be a little vocal in the room. With the amount of ice time Coach has given me, I feel like I've gained some respect from teammates. It's all about Coach showing me the respect, and then in turn, teammates have respect for me."
Del Monte appears to possess the character Herbers was searching for when he began putting his roster together last summer. So far, it's paid off as Johnstown has been able to put forth 60-minute efforts more often than not.
"We've got a great dressing room and he's one of the reasons why," Herbers said. "He was a big part of the recruiting process last summer. We always want to have a good dressing room. We want guys who will battle for each other and compete every night."
Del Monte's willingness to compete and his solid two-way play could earn him a trip to the American Hockey League. While he wasn't sure if he would ever play in the NHL several years ago, his performance this season certainly won't hinder his chances.
"I thought it would be a good idea to get my schooling taken care of considering the NHL wasn't in the near future. I thought that would be the smartest thing to do. Brock was there for me. I got to play at a good hockey school and a good academic school. I had a lot of fun there." -- Ryan Del Monte
"When you play in this league, I think that's what drives most guys," Del Monte said. "You want to get that chance to play in the American League and then show your stuff to get up to the NHL. That's still my dream and I'm still hoping for it. Hopefully in the next year or two I can get a few games in or even sign with an American team. It's just a matter of hard work and dedication. Guys in this league are pretty hungry."
Del Monte fits that bill -- so much so that Herbers believes soon he will get his chance at the AHL level.
"I'm sure he will … there have been a lot of injuries that have been going on in the National Hockey League and the American League," Herbers said. "It filters down to us. It was a great opportunity for him to go to the ECHL All-Star Game and opening up a few eyes there. If he keeps playing hard, the chance will come."